Reduce your worries using circles of control

Fretting? Follow these five steps to regain a sense of control


It's interesting, isn’t it? We get het up about something whilst another person doesn’t. We can roll with some of life’s punches but get knocked down or paralysed by others.


The difference comes down to how we are relating to the issue. Are we being re-active or pro-active?


When I first learned this it was difficult to take onboard. And, if you are feeling overwhelmed due to a heavy workload, a change in circumstances has you spinning or you're wound up by something at work, I can imagine that you don’t see how you can take a proactive stance.


It all seems out of your hands.


Yet, I have found through research, observation and personal experience that we can be proactive about things that are seemingly beyond our control.


What is a proactive stance?

Being proactive means taking ownership of how something effects us.


If we think someone or something else holds all the cards, we put ourselves in the back seat of our lives. We feel powerless and soon get lost in either worrying and/or complaining.


Those who work with me know that I call this reactive stance “living life at effect”.


When we consider how we might respond to a situation we are confronted with, we put ourselves in choice and gain a sense of control. In other words we take a proactive stance in how we relate to the situation.


We are no longer living at effect, we are living at cause.


How do we take a proactive stance?

To manage our stressors and leave worry behind, we need ways to become proactive when we encounter a challenge.

Outlined below are five steps that provide a means of retaking control, the accompanying worksheet provides a means to practice.


1. Remember what you can control

If you are worried about something, you are probably thinking that nothing is within your control.


Yet there are three pretty major things that are always in your control:

  • Everything you think (perspective, beliefs)

  • Everything you say (to others and yourself)

  • Everything you do (or not do)

2. Know your stressors

To get to a point of exercising your control, you need to know what issues are weighing on you. What exactly is in your backpack of stress?


Take a moment to get them out of your head and onto some paper. Make a list!


3. Identify how you can reduce their impact

Steven Covey (1) called the items on your list “concerns”.


He believed we can help ourselves live happier lives when we move them from what he termed the Circle of Concern, far away from our control, closer to us.


We move them from the Circle of Concern into the Circle of Influence by identifying actions that “influence” how they impact us.


We need to put our thinking hats on. Take each item on the list and ask yourself:

>>>What am I actually concerned about?


There may be more than one thing that is bothering you about the issue. Note each as a separate answer.


Then ask:

>>>What can I do to insert answer


Tip! Using “what” or "how" questions engage the brain in solution-finding


Example impact reduction questions

  • Family member’s health what can I do to feel I am doing something?

  • Workload what can I do to deliver this work to my and client's satisfaction?

  • Covid19 what can I do to not catch Covid19?

  • Redundancy what can I do to understand the process?

Now your brain will come forth with ideas about what you can do.


By using your mental energy to consider options that minimise the stressor's impact, you become proactive. In doing so, you regain a sense of agency which in turn dials-down the stress response.


4. Decide how you can make peace with what is left

There may be some issues that you think you can take no action on.


This may well be true but, you still need to find a way to allow and accept them to be as they are. Fretting drains our energy and lowers our mood.


Ask yourself:

>>>What would help me feel less worried/upset/concerned about insert answer?


Tip! Don't suppress the emotion. It's important to process and express your feelings.


Go tell it to the sky or wall for 5 minutes. Tell someone who can support you. Journal it out of your mind. Write a letter that you don’t send. Someone I know has a rant with friends, another goes for a long walk whilst another uses relaxation techniques.


Whatever you choose, make it a responsible choice.


5. Ready to reclaim control

I’m a coach remember so I want to see you move forward. Don’t drift after doing the solution-focused thinking.


To energise your ideas, make them into concrete actions and decide when you intend to do them.


Planning your actions gets you out of the back seat and into the driving seat.


Now go do them!


Take care of you.


I use this Circles of Control exercise in worklife coaching to help someone manage their stressors. If you would like help considering how to reduce the impact of a stressor, sign up for a free Advance coaching session


Further Reading

1. Covey, S. (1989). The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Simon & Schuster.