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Managing Under Stress

So this week, I’m going to chat to you about a way stay sane and empowered as a parent.

So if you want to be more proactive and less impacted by other people’s faults and fails, or if you’re just feeling out of control on one or other front, this one’s for you.

It’s called the

Circle of Influence and the Circle of Concern

I’m not sure who originally came up with it, but I’m going to credit Stephen Covey, because that’s where I first saw it. I think he got a credit last week too. I’m grateful for his legacy.

This is basically your short cut to being proactive and empowered.

You’ll have heard me say in previous blogs

"I manage me

You manage you"

And this is a great outworking of that.

You’ll get the most out of this if you can grab a pencil and paper, just a small notelet or the back of an envelope will do. But if you can’t, don’t worry, you can picture it and if you’ve found it valuable you can always come back to it.

So here goes

Draw or Imagine a circle

Now put another circle inside that first one.

So you’ve effectively got a polo mint, or a frisbee.

The outer ring is your circle of concern

And the inner circle is your circle of influence.

Inside these two circles are all the things that are troubling you.

That could be

  • finances

  • It could be something someone said

  • Or something you said - perhaps you’ve said something you regret to a child or a friend

  • Maybe your job is at risk

  • Or a you feel one of your children drifting from you

  • Perhaps you’re feeling distant from your partner

If it’s something you feel you can do something about

Pop it in your circle of influence.

If not, pop it in your circle of concern, for now.

Your circle of concern - that outer ring is often the place where we react from our emotions.

It’s the place where we find our minds looping around an issue

Being distracted and returning to it over and over.

It can hijack the day sometimes.

We feel powerless in this place because we can’t mend it or change it.

Perhaps, if you’re like me, you can find yourself getting a little short with the children because your mind is in that place.

Our language is different when we’re living from our circle of concern too

  • It can be defensive

  • blaming

  • Self protective

The Circle of influence is a different space

That’s the middle circle.

That’s the place from where you can consider your options

You may not be able to change the situation but you might find that you do have some choices around it.

The circle of influence is where we act from our principles and values

So it’s proactive

Rather than reactive.

Our language is different when we’re operating from here.

It’ll be more like

  • What I can do is this

  • What I can learn from it is this…

  • What I can accept is this...

Let’s take a practical example.

Here’s one we can all relate to.

Your child’s room is a terrible mess. Food plates, empty crisp packets, can’t tell the clean clothes from the dirty ones. Virtual health hazard.

What’s your language like around the problem? That’ll quickly tell you where you’re operating from.

Does it sound like this?

  • They’re so ungrateful to have their own room

  • I can’t believe thy keep it like that.

  • I’m going to have to tidy it again.

  • I’ve told them a million times to keep it nicely

  • Why do I have to be the one to clear it every time?

If it does sound like that, I can’t say I blame you. All the above may be true. But they’ll keep you in the circle of concern.

But those sentences of

  • Why

  • Complaints about not being listen to

  • Disbelief

  • Feeling like a victom

  • Labelling them

They’re disempowered!

They may even make you say unhelpful things to your child and cause disconnect.

So how do we move that issue into the circle of influence?

We can’t make them care about the room

Or make them grateful that they’ve got one

We can’t micro-manage what food goes in there

We can’t make them want to keep their clean clothes in the cupboard.


But we can manage ourselves.

What can we manage

What can we learn

What are the principles

We can look at the emotions it causes

We can be self-empathetic.

I’m not going to veer into a blog about how to get a child to clear their room, or we’ll be off course, but roundly speaking here are some examples

  • We can manage what snacks we buy

  • We can have a time of the week that that room gets inspected.

  • We can permit them to go out when the room has passed inspection.

  • We can make a time to talk it through when you’re not at the height of emotion and have steadied yourself to be non-accusatory and blamey.

  • We can decide who gets which rooms depending on responsibility levels.

Careful here. Because remember, this isn’t the place where we react from emotions. I’m not suggesting you move the rooms around in a fit of fury when they’re at school one day.

We can decide

  • What the consequences are going to be

  • When we’re going to express them.

  • What language to use

  • Be aware of our emotions

  • Manage when we don’t have the conversation

Let’s take another issue.

Say a friend of yours has been a bit aloof lately and you can’t work out what you’ve done wrong.

Let’s describe that in reactive terms.

I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve it

She never seems to realise when she’s hurting me

I never do that to her

Has someone said something?

Has she talked to people about me?

I think I’ll give her a wide berth, see how she likes it.

Now let’s put it in the circle of influence.

I’m not sure what it’s about

I can’t think of anything, so it’s probably not about me

I could drop her a text and ask if everythings ok

I could give her a bit of space

I could assume it’s not me unless she says differently

I could be non-defensive if she does address something I’ve done

I can make time for someone else.

All of those things depend on you, not her.

They don’t take the problem away

But simply moving them across will have a physiological impact on your cortisol levels.

You’re engaging your frontal lobe

You’re telling you’re amygdala (your fight or flight reactor) who's boss.

They’re all proactive. You can probably think of some much better ones, but by way of example, they veer your mind away from

  • Self pity

  • Victim mindset

  • Catastrophising

They don’t guarantee that it wasn’t you, but they enable you to manage it either way.

It doesn’t mean there wont be emotions and that it wont be hard but you won’t be feeding the negative emotions.

And here’s the magical part.

The more time you spend in the circle of influence the bigger it gets and the small the ring of the circle of concern becomes.

It doesn’t eliminate issues

It does change your mindset.

What can you identify in your family culture that you’re frustrated about?

  • Dinner times?

  • Lateness?

  • Rudeness?

  • Untidiness?

  • Lack of homework?

  • Use of screens?

Notice your language when you describe it.

See if you can put it in one circle and then the other and notice how you speak about that child and about yourself In the different spaces.

Notice whether you’re more proactive in the circle of influence.

Have you ever seen the Lion King? I love that film. There’s a part where Scar, the anagonist, is feeling frustrated beasue his lackeys, the Hyenas, just aren’t doing at his bidding.

He’s definitely in the circle of concern

His language and demeanour is

Why is this happening to me

I can’t believe how others are behaving

Poor me

And his famous line is

“I’m surrounded by idiots.”

He’s not empowered, he’s overpowering, but disempowered. His language gives him away.

I would not be drawn to spend the afternoon with him.

You know, proactive, empowered people are much easier to be around.

They’re not overpowering, they’re just less draining.

Their needs and moods don’t all depend on other people’s behaviours.

  • They’re more stable

  • More consistent

  • They’re not controlling

  • They’re in control

Think of someone you know who is empowered.

I don’t mean someone who is eternally sunny, never has a problem and can’t admit that nothing's wrong.

I mean someone who has needs but lives from their circle of influence.

That person is an influencer

A culture builder

They’re more energising to be around.

They don’t speak unkindly about others

That builds trust!

Nobody has a charmed life, but we all react differently to our challenges.

I have a friend who is going through a really tough separation. The challenges are crazy.

But she’s worked out where she has influence.

How she can manage herself

What areas she can do nothing about

And what areas she can do something about

And in spite of her crazy circumstances, she’s not draining to be around.

It can be hard to change overnight, but is there one small challenge that you could flip from one circle to another?

It might feel counterintuitive at first

Dare I say courageous.

But it’s empowering and it will impact your connection to the people around you.

Thanks for visiting,




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