Managing change through uncertainty

Change is ever-present in our lives and learning how to manage and adapt to change is key if we want to thrive. Stephen Covey offers us a lot of insight with his famous Circle of Concern and Circle of Influence so in this article, we’re exploring how to use this to help manage change.

Let’s face it, it’s been a challenging year in many different ways. Even the most resilient of people have been tested. As coaches, this year was the time to take a good hard look at our tools and resources and work on ourselves periodically, sometimes every week, sometimes even every day.

The Circle of Concern and the Circle of Influence

Stephen Covey talks about the circle of concern and circle of Influence in his book, ‘7 Habits of Highly Effective People’. As part of habit 1, he shares this model which is based on the idea that we can become more aware of our productivity by looking at where we focus our time and energy. We all have things we are concerned about – like a global warning, schools staying open, economic uncertainty, lockdown. Each of us has our circles of concern, but the important thing about this circle is that it is very little we can do to change them. We might worry about them, but we cannot control them. 

We also have our circle of influence. It’s smaller, and it will vary on individuals, and this includes all the things we do hold some influence over.

What might fall in here? You can influence your partner’s mood with a hug or a joke, but you cannot control it. You can choose to go to the shop at the earliest time to catch the best offers but you have no control over the empty shelf where toilet paper would sit. By noticing which of these two circles takes up most of our time and energy, we can start to see the level of our proactivity.

As a Coaching Academy student I studied this book as part of my training and many who travel down the road of self-awareness and self-improvement may come to learn that the only thing in life we can control is ourselves: our thoughts, our behaviour, our action. 

Remember no one can make you do or say anything without your consent.

Your Circle of Concern

And in serene times it would even seem logical, easy to take on board. But what happens when we’re all living through a pandemic? When we have to stay strong for our kids and families? When the world is going through one of the most challenging periods we’ve known and most are affected, one way or another? 

Our lens starts to get blurry. Without clarity all around us, we start focusing in on one specific negative thing. We can’t find perspective anymore and we fall into the pitfall of assuming everyone sees what we see, everyone feels what we feel, everyone fears what we fear. Then the negative energy created by that focus, causes the circle of influence to shrink further

‘Yes, I’m good thank you, I’d feel even better if the other shoppers were wearing a mask in here.’ 

What happens next is that we respond in a way that we wouldn’t normally respond in. We start acting differently. Our brain and emotions take over control to protect us but they end up causing more damage. 

So this is the moment we need to take a step back and ask ourselves – what is in our control? How can we be the boss of our brain once again? 

First of all, view yourself through the lens of a best friend. Give yourself the time and grace to deal with emotions and acknowledge your truth. 

The next step is to work out what is one small, tiny-tiny thing you can do in this specific situation? Get your notebook ready and get to work. 

Here are some questions that will help you reflect on this

  • What one small thing around that topic is in your control?
  • Looking at that topic, what parts of it do you like? 
  • What unhelpful influences do you need to get rid of?
  • What unhelpful routines or habits do you need to get rid of? 
  • What helpful habits would you add to feel more in control? 

After you’ve answered all these questions, stand back and look at these answers. What’s their impact? And what is that one action that you will do? 

The circle of concern and influence is a good resource to remind us that even in the midst of our challenges, there is always one thing we can control – our thoughts, our behaviour and our action. 

Victor Frankl famously wrote, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

So whenever a situation feels hopeless, remember the answer lies inside you. You simply have to ask the right question to get to it. 

Check out my 5 simple steps to change

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Excerpt courtesy of The Coaching Academy

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