One of the most useful concepts — for anyone, really, but especially for change agents because we so often find ourselves spinning our wheels — comes from Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
This is the distinction between our circle of influence vs our circle of concern.
My circle of concern might encompass the entire Earth and beyond. For example, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch — an unusual concentration of plastic, other garbage and chemical sludge reported to be twice the size of the continental US — is in my circle of concern. Famine, in Africa and other parts of the world, is in my circle of concern. However, these lie largely outside my circle of influence.
My circle of influence are the things that I can actually do something about in my day to day existence. It’s not that I can’t do something about the humongous garbage patch in the ocean or people starving. I can. And my degree of influence over those things is relative to how powerful I am as a change agent. I can buy less trash and not throw it in the ocean. But I would still need to influence millions of other people to do the same, and we haven’t even gotten to the cleanup. Or the complex international political barriers to people having access to food.
And here lies the crux.
If I spend a lot of my mental and emotional energy in the parts of my circle of concern that lie outside of my circle of influence, I am leaking energy. I am ineffective.
However, if I focus intensely in my circle of influence, I find that my circle of influence grows.
So we tackle the problems and the issues that are in front of us and around us. We make the contribution that is within our power to achieve. Maybe we have to stretch, get a little bit uncomfortable, find the edge of our fear and lean into it a bit, to really find our personal power and expand it.
But if I spend my time outside my circle of influence, all I will be doing is spinning my wheels. And the world needs all of us fully engaged, right now, not only with good intentions but also with skillful means, with love, with compassion, making the difference we can.
“We do no great things, only small things with great love.” – Mother Teresa