How to reduce worry - Find a foothold of control!

How to reduce worry - Find a foothold of control!

By Sally Evans


‘God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference’ (Reinhold Niebuhr)

One thing I have come to understand over the years is that people experience and choose to respond to, change in many different ways.

Some years ago, Stephen Covey shared his theory of the Circles of Influence and Circles of Concern and I found this to be life changing for me. He surmised that those who spend their time in their Circle of Concern are focussing the majority of their time on their concerns and their problems.

He even suggested that they may be in such a negative and downward spiral of despair, that they cannot see, or choose not to see, how they can take responsibility for their own situation and try and change it. They may be reactive people who focus their energy and attention on things that are beyond their control. Reactive people sometimes have an attitude of victimisation and blame.

He suggested that it was more helpful to devote the majority of our time and energy to changing what is in our control and focus on what we can influence. This way our life is likely to improve significantly, and we can stop blaming others for the predicament we find ourselves in! Easier said than done right?

In order to do this and help us to reflect on how we can bring about some change, it is helpful to first draw two circles. One inside the other. The inside circle is our ‘circle of influence’.

The outer circle is our ‘circle of concern’

Write in this outer circle, all the things that are concerning you right now – it could be your lack of a job, trouble with finances, your children’s choice of friends, the state of the economy and your lack of savings. It could be your weight, your health, your sleep or your relationships. There will be a real mixture of things that may be concerning you and the list could be long.

Now move the items that are directly within your control to the inside circle. This is your ‘circle of influence’ and these are all the things that you can choose to act on because they are in your ability to influence.

The key is to focus your energy on those things that you can actually influence and to stop focussing any attention or energy on the things that are outside your control.

This will enable you to make effective changes. If you do this, you will find your circle of influence starts to increase, as this circle relates to what we can directly make happen as a result of our choices regardless of the agreement of others. 

Remember, we have the power of choice.



There is a lot going on in the world at the moment that is way outside of our control. And if we are in physical isolation, as so many are right now, we may feel our choices are limited. But they are not. We can choose to control and influence so much:

- how we respond to news and certain situations that develop. Indeed, we can control how frequently we look at the news and media during the day. We can choose to ‘re-frame’ difficult or disappointing situations into opportunities.

- whether and how we exercise.

- how we connect with others; what we talk about, how we respond to others worries, how compassionate and empathetic we choose to be.

- how we use our time (what are you doing that is sucking the life out of your day? Are you watching the news too often and noticing how the day disappears beneath a cloud of grim social media posts and dancing cats?)

- what I focus on; what new things I choose to do, that I haven’t been able to find the time to do before.

- who I connect with and why (do I need help, and do I need to talk to someone? Take care to choose people who will energise or help lift you, rather than collude with you in your worry).

The important thing is to try and establish little pockets of control in our life and to the best of our ability attempt to segment our time during the day. Finding time to exercise (even for 15 minutes), scheduling calls, fresh air breaks, connecting with others. This may even mean shutting ourselves in a room, playing music or exerting some kind of silence in your environment to enable you to ground yourself and breathe.

If you don’t have the luxury of introspection because you are working on the frontline or may be at home in an unhealthy environment – connecting with others will be crucial. Seeking support and help is within your control. Being honest about how you feel and getting trusted help is hopefully within your control to do.

So, remember

Control (comes from) = Awareness + Choice

First, we need to be aware that we are ruminating on things that are either outside of our control, or over we can choose to act differently and influence the outcome.

Then become aware that you are acting unhelpfully and decide – choose – to change something. Sometimes it need only be a small thing.

So how are you going to apply this knowledge:

1. Where are you currently spending most of your time? In the Circle of Concern or the Circle of Influence?

2. What strategies can you employ to change your thinking?

The greater our capacity for self-awareness then the greater our capacity to have control over our wellbeing and reduce our worry. Why not share on LifeBuddy what has worked for you and how you have been reducing your worry?


Sally is the Founder of LifeBuddy.

She is an Organisational Development consultant and is a Practitioner with the Association for Business Psychology.