I had proper sleep and felt well rested. My coffee had just the right proportion of milk and sugar. My kids were cooperative and fun this morning. My idea to change hours in my work schedule to avoid sitting in gridlocked traffic had proved wise. I even heard “Little Bird” by Annie Lennox on the way to work (and subsequently stayed in my car, in my awesome parking spot I found, until it was over so I could keep that music-high it had given me). I even thought my outfit was a perfect combination of business and leisure on this casual-Friday. I was feelin’ good.
Like I said, then I got to work.
I am usually able to maintain calm and focus in the midst of a workday, but as the cliché says, there was a straw that broke the camel’s back (or since in reality I do not have a camel, put my abilities to a test). I stayed calm, but the stress levels were definitely higher than I care for. I decided to go for a walk.
And walk I did. And I brought my phone with me so I could blast “Little Bird” again. As I walked I thought about what I’d seen in just 90 minutes of being at work. What could I influence? What couldn’t I? I was trying to be a thoughtful, inspiring, problem-solving leader and come up with all of the perfect answers when bam…I looked up.
I walked to it. Shut my phone off. Sat on a swing and starting kicking my legs. Out. In. Out. In.
And then it hit me.
Most of the “ick” at work was “stuff”—urgent, but not important things that I had zero influence over… yet it was the exact stuff that was stressing me out. But, how should I deal with it? As any book-hoarding-knowledge-crazed-research-nut does, I turned to the experts.
The Circle of Concern is the area that we have no control over.
The Circle of Influence is the area that we have control over.
Covey tells us that in life our Circle of Influence is most often smaller than the Circle of Concern. As we react, we tend to focus on the Circle of Concern (for example, we can’t control the economy or a company merger), which depletes our energy because we have no control over it.
In fact, if you focus on the Circle of Concern and neglect the Circle of Influence, eventually the Circle of Influence will get smaller. This will only add to feelings of stress and helplessness, because you cannot change anything in the Circle of Concern. It’s a waste of energy.
This concept is easy to remember and is a great tool to direct our energy and actions in meaningful ways on things we do have control and influence over. Are you spending your time in the Circle of Concern worrying about things you have no control over? What can you do today to expand the Circle of Influence to build more positive energy in your life and at work?
I made it back to my office refreshed after my epiphany and better able to put my energy where it matters. So, my advice is this: if life or work gets too “icky” for you and you find yourself focusing on the stuff you can’t control (or the unimportant things), go for a walk. Find a park. Kick up your feet and find a new perspective.