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  • Writer's pictureKevin Humphreys

Circle of Control

Helicopter rescue - Kevin Humpreys

Ever felt emotionally or mentally out of control? Been frustrated by the actions (or in-actions) of others? Hastily reacted to a situation and then in hindsight realised you were out of line or your efforts were wasted?

Understanding and embracing the Circle of Control can help bring all these back into balance. It can help you regain control, be Teflon to the actions of others and enable you to respond in a timely manner rather than react off the cuff.

In life, there are things we can control and things we cannot control. Sounds obvious, but it’s easy to forget in the heat of the moment. The Circle of Control is a concept that helps us focus our energy on the things that matter and let go of things that don’t. In this article, we’ll explore the Circle of Control, what it is, and how it can be used to help lead ourselves and lead others.

What is the Circle of Control?

Before we get to the Circle of Control, we need to look at the Circle of Influence. The Circle of Influence was popularized by Stephen Covey in his book "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People." Covey’s original Circle of Influence was made up of two circles: one inside the other. Items within the inside circle are within our ability to influence whilst items in the outside circle are things we have concern over but no ability to influence.

The Circle of Influence model is excellent however, it requires an understanding and application of Covey’s seven habits to make it truly effective. Whilst I strongly encourage everyone I work with to read the 7 Habits book, I like to add a third central inner circle that focuses exclusively on what’s within your control. See figure 1 below.

The Inner (green) Circle represents the things we can control. Despite what you may want, there are only four things we can actually control: our own thoughts, feelings, words and actions. That’s it! You (and only you) have complete control over these four things, you choose how you think, act, and respond to situations.

The Mid (yellow) Circle represents the things we cannot control but can attempt to influence to bring about change. Importantly though, whether that influence is successful is up to the other person and external factors. Also, it goes without saying that influence should never be used for negative or coercive behaviour, for example, domestic violence.

The Outer (grey) Circle represents the things we cannot control but may give some level of concern. These things are beyond our influence and we have no ability to change them. Examples of things in our Outer Circle include the weather, traffic, and national economy. We cannot influence let alone control these things yet it’s common to forget that fact, so they often cause us stress and frustration. Instead, you must accept them as they are.

Figure 1. Circle of Control

How to use the Circle of Control

The Circle of Control is simple to use, but that doesn’t make it easy. Just being aware of the concept will bring about immediate benefits however, when harnessed regularly, it will help focus your energy on the things that matter, leaving you feeling more empowered and less stressed. Use it daily by doing the following:

  1. Focus on the Inner Circle. This means focusing only on the things you can control, ie, your thoughts, feelings, words and actions.

  2. Accept that the Mid Circle cannot be controlled. Influence these things through your words and actions, but don’t lose sleep because you can’t control them.

  3. Let go of the Outer Circle. This means accepting there are things that you cannot influence or control. This step is liberating!

  4. Prioritize your energy. Focus your energy on the things that matter most to you. By prioritizing your energy, you’re more productive and achieve your goals more quickly.

  5. Practice mindfulness. Be present in the moment and observe your thoughts and emotions without judgment. This takes effort and gets easier the more you do it. When you practice mindfulness, you become more aware of your Inner Circle and less affected by the Mid and Outer Circles.

When you do these things, you are living at cause. You are taking responsibility for your actions and inactions which expands your circle of control, increases your influence on others and reduces your areas of concern as shown in Figure 2. You are creating your destiny and curating your legacy.

Figure 2. Living at Cause.

What if I don’t use the Circle of Control?

Without focus on what we can control, we become reactionary. If we fail to be mindful of our thoughts, feelings, words and actions, or put excessive effort into what at best we can only influence, we can become highly frustrated. If we attempt to control or influence those things in the areas of concern or no concern – it’s madness. Additionally, when you take the attitude of ‘why bother?’ and wait for things to happen you are living at effect.

Figure 3 shows when you’re living at effect, your circle of control diminishes, your influence diminishes (indeed, the influence of others upon you increases) and the circle of concern increases. Life becomes a heavy weight to bear.

Figure 3. Living at Effect


The Circle of Control is a powerful concept that helps you live a more peaceful and productive life. By focusing on what you can actually control and letting go of the things beyond your influence, you become more empowered and less stressed. It allows you to prioritize energy and achieve your goals more quickly, improving relationships along the way. Additionally, by practicing mindfulness and becoming more self-aware, you lead yourself to be the best version of yourself; others will notice the change and follow your example. So, the next time you feel stressed or overwhelmed, remember the Circle of Control and focus on the big four things that matter most.

This article was originally published in Issue 8 of ANTARES: The World of Military Aviation


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