This past week, so many people have found themselves worrying about the tragic circumstances surrounding the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Were you one of them? I have to admit that I have consciously chosen not to be one of them.
I typically avoid watching the news. I get the top ten headlines compiled into a daily email from the Slate, the rest comes from what others are chatting about in the office or sharing on social media. Maybe that’s irresponsible of me, but it’s also what keeps me sane.
As a naturally empathetic person, I just can’t stand to watch, read, or hear what’s reported in the news. More often than not, it leaves me feeling depressed, angry, or helpless. I find myself carrying around the weight of a burden I have little or no control over.
All of this changed a few years ago when a wonderful friend and mentor introduced me to a simple model that has significantly changed the way I think about life. It’s from Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
The Circle of Concern versus the Circle of Influence
This simple model forces us to think about where we choose to focus our time and energy. We all have many concerns that fill our lives. There are concerns about our work, our families, and our health, and then there are concerns about issues such as poverty, the national debt, the war on terror, global warming, and natural disasters, such as the recent earthquake in Japan.
All of these things fall into our Circle of Concern. However, only some of these concerns are things we actually have any real control or influence over. This smaller subset of concerns fall into what can be called our Circle of Influence.
Those who choose to focus their time and energy in the Circle of Influence are not only happier, they are the movers and shakers of the world. Rather than spending hours pouring over the news and worrying themselves into a fit of despair or helplessness, they are making a difference by focusing on the aspects of their lives they can actually control. By pouring energy into our Circle of Influence, we are actually able to expand it. Conversely, when we focus on the negative aspects of life, we cause our circle to shrink.
This is why I no longer choose to worry about what I see on the news. Take the tragedy associated with the earthquake in Japan as an example. I first heard about it as my husband and I were settling into bed. An alert was sent to his phone via the CNN app. I immediately thought, who do I know in Japan? Right away, I jumped on facebook (of course), and messaged my friend Anthony to see if he was okay. After receiving his confirmation, I lulled off to sleep.
Over the next couple days, I caught glimpses of the destruction and grief that has nearly swallowed Japan. I allowed myself a few minutes here and there to allow the pain of it to wash over me, and then I pulled my focus and energy back to my Circle of Influence. Watching the videos and worrying about Japan will not do anything to actually help the thousands of Japanese who are suffering right now.
Inside the Circle of Influence
So what will help? Fortunately, I didn’t have to look very far. My wonderful friend Sandra shared this link to a call to action by Mary Jaksche of Goodlife Zen. Mary shares some very useful ways to actually make a contribution, to stay focused in our Circle of Influence.
The ten minutes it took to contribute to the Japanese Red Cross and the All Hands Volunteers, and the few minutes it took to send some positive and loving energy out into the universe will go much further than hours spent ogling over the TV, gossiping with friends, or worrying in bed at night. (Please pass it on!)
Like Katie Tallo of Momentum Gathering, I chose to look at my life, with all it’s glorious imperfections, and to be grateful. As I lay in bed at night, I pulled my husband just a bit closer, I felt the soft fur of the dog curled up by my side, I sank a bit deeper into the bed underneath me, I peered up at the roof over my head, and I allowed my heart to swell with gratitude.
As we’ve seen this week, all of this could be taken from me in an instant. But even if it does, I will choose to focus my energy inside my Circle of Influence…on what really matters right here, right now, and on what I can actually do about it.
Where will you choose to focus your energy? What’s inside your Circle of Influence? Finally, who and what are you grateful for?
He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has. ~Epictetus
When you think about worrying or grieving, choose to take action and show gratitude instead. Make a contribution in any way that you can. Pet your dog. Hug your children. Smile at your neighbor. Water your garden. Choose positive energy, gratitude, and love over and over again.
Be wise. Live life!