Focus on what you can control

Some things are within your control, and others aren’t.

Getting angry about the state of the world is a waste of time (even though I frequently have a rant about it!). So if you hate an ugly office block there isn’t much you can do about it.

On the other hand, your behaviour and your attitude to others are definitely something you can change. This is called the Circle of Control (see the image below). It helps us focus on the things we can definitely change.

Beyond that is the Circle of Influence. It shows the things that are partly within your immediate control.

The outermost Circle of Concern has things that you have no control over, so there’s little point in worrying about them.

Exercise: Circles of Control, Influence and Concern

In the table below, write the things you have control over, and those you don’t.

Things I am completely in control overThings I have some control overThings I have no control over

Anxiety about things you can’t affect

Climate change can cause you anxiety. You worry about how your children or grandchildren will cope with a planet whose weather is more extreme and sea levels are rising.

What can you do about that? You can lobby your politicians, you can reduce your waste and consume fewer resources. You can join demonstrations. And that’s mostly it. The rest is up to the politicians – they have to bring in laws that will reduce the use of fossil fuel, and they must invest in renewable energy.

 If you focus on the things you can change, it’ll give you a sense of agency. When I see bad news on in a newspaper or an article on a news website, I say to myself, ‘I can’t do anything about problem A, but I can help in some small way with Problem B’. That reduces my stress levels.

I also tell myself that, although I have no control over X, I am doing something about Y.  So it even us the score. I’m doing what I can. That’s Agency. Whatever is outside my control is just that – I can’t be blamed for it, or take responsibility for it; and I’m not going to get anxious about it.

If a war breaks out somewhere, I can give some money to a relief charity – and no more. If there’s a local election I can put up a poster in my window for my preferred candidate. If I have time, I can support their campaign with leafleting, and if I have money I can give a donation. And whether they win or lose, I’ve done my bit.

And I’m going to limit my range of activities., because everyone knows that trying to do too much will make you less effective. So, pick a couple of things you can do, and accept that your time, energy and money are limited.

Where can you make a difference? Everyone has their own interests. I’d like to help illiterate adults learn to read. I’d like to do more for my children and grandchildren. I’d like to build schools and dig wells in Africa. I could learn to use a digital audio workstation to write songs. I’d love to acquire DIY skills. But right now I don’t have time for any of those things, and if I spent time on them I would do other things less well, and cause myself stress.

Do you want help with achieving change in your life? We have a coaching programme that could help you. Learn more.