Circle of Concern
Updated: Sep 21, 2022
When considering what impact I have on my life, on the lives of others, and the world as a whole, I find it useful to identify Stephen Covey’s circles of concern and influence to inform my perspective.
SMO narratives are a crucial component of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT). Not always are these unhelpful internal statements readily identified.
REBT highlights how others do not upset us, though how we disturb ourselves. That’s correct; I said we tend to disturb ourselves.
While I will discuss REBT herein, the current post represents my views and not those related to the Albert Ellis Institute. REBT uses the ABC Model to elucidate the Epictetiannotion, “It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.”
Incorporating REBT, Covey’s circles, and Epictetus’ declaration, “There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power or our will,” I invite you to consider how these principles may benefit your life.
People frequently maintain that an action (A) leads to a consequence (C). Someone misusing your preferred gender pronoun (A) is said to lead to anger (C). However, REBT maintains that rather than an A-C connection, we disturb ourselves with beliefs (B)—this creates a B-C connection.
In this case, someone misuses your preferred pronoun (A) and you think, “This shouldn’t happen, and because it has, I’ve been wronged [B]!” As a result of this unhelpful belief, you disturb yourself to an angry disposition (C).
First, understanding the formula of REBT is necessary to approach this matter.
(A)ction – The (A)ction that occurred
(B)elief – What you told yourself about the (A)ction that resulted in a (C)onsequence
(C)onsequence – What you felt (emotion or bodily sensation) about what happened and what you did (resulting behavior)
(D)isputation – How you challenge what you told yourself (Belief) about the (A)ction
(E)ffective new belief – What (E)ffective new belief you can tell yourself about the unhelpful or unhealthy (B)elief
Second, I find it useful to explore a modified version of Covey’s circles.
The orange circle represents the sphere of concern (macro-level), over which one has no control or influence. Think of natural disasters, traffic patterns in a foreign country, past events, or the person on the other side of town who’s chewing with his mouth open right now.
The green circle depicts the sphere of influence (mezzo-level), in which one has no control, though may retain some influence. Think of how you can’t control—though may influence—how your children are raised, who you vote for, where a family reunion takes place, or where you and your partner will eat…unless your partner is indecisive and it’s like working with the Drake equation to figure out which eating establishment is preferable when given only two options.
The blue circle demonstrates the sphere of control (micro-level), representing the individual. Even here, when focusing solely on yourself, your control isn’t absolute. This circle encapsulates your words, reactions, decisions, and so on and so forth.
Whether using the terminology of destructive, unhealthy, unhelpful, or otherwise, the consequence of our beliefs is often what impacts these emotions. My approach to REBT incorporates elements of personal responsibility and accountability—collectively: Ownership.
Not quite the same as the concept of extreme ownership, because not all events that occur in our lifetimes are the fault of our own actions, ownership does entail looking at what role we play in actions and what alternative effect we would prefer—and which we may effect.
When considering the personal sphere of control, I demonstrate to others how little control people actually have over their own lives. This may be done by inviting people not to think of a zebra.
The instruction is clear. Don’t think of a black and white striped, horse-like animal. Don’t do it. Now, what are you thinking about?
When understanding how the mind functions, it isn’t as though one inputs data to an instrument of artificial learning and the command is obeyed. There are far too many variables that impact one’s mental process than to pretend as though people are naturally formulaic.
Still, we can learn to become more methodical in our behavioral processes. This may lead to improved cognitive, mental, emotional, and behavioral functioning.
For now, let’s further explore how little control one has over oneself. This may better demonstrate how pointless it is to behave as though we have control over others.
Suppose I encouraged you to stop your digestive processing, heart rate, blinking for a full day, breathing for a full hour, or growing hair through sheer will. It is unlikely most people would be able to control these processes.
Further considering how “[g]ut microbes are part of the unconscious system regulating behavior,” or how “gut microbiome can affect emotional behavior,” the circle of control begins to shirk a bit.
Add to that how a “strong argument in support of the behavioral manipulation,” concerning toxoplasmosis and its impact on behavior, one may conclude that “there’s a whole lot less free will than we would like to believe.”
Nonetheless, the sphere of control is the only area of life over which we maintain some command. Still, we may deceive ourselves by pretending we can control or absolutely influence other people.
As such, when working with individuals, I collaborate with them to address what a person can do to bring about change in one’s own life—not society as a whole. Taking ownership of one’s own actions, to lead to a more helpful outcome, is the goal.
Third, I combine REBT and modified Covey spheres to demonstrate the process of self-change.
(A) – Someone refers to you as she rather than by your preferred gender pronoun, he.
(B) – You tell yourself, “Others must respect my preferred pronouns, and if they don’t, it’s as though they’re erasing my existence. They’re literally trying to kill me!”
(C) – As a result of the unhelpful Belief, you become angry, your head becomes noticeably warmer, your heartrate seems to accelerate, you scream at the person, and you punch the individual in the face.
(D) – Disputation is the portion of my sessions during which unhelpful Beliefs are challenged. Clients are encouraged not to Dispute the Action or the Consequence of the Action, because those are elements that actually occurred. Rather, Disputing Beliefs that do not serve a person well—as a means of changing oneself, using the circle of control—is what takes place.
While Disputing unhelpful Beliefs may occupy more time in my sessions than any other element of the ABC Model, I won’t go too far into detail about the finer points of Disputation herein. Suppose after an active period of challenging the unhelpful Belief, the following Effective new belief results.
(E) – “While I would like for others to use my preferred pronouns, no one is obligated to do so. If or when they don’t, I’ll be fine. I won’t be erased when others misgender me, and I know I have control of only myself.”
Last, the Effective new belief is used in place of the unhelpful Belief, which may result in a healthier outcome (Consequence). For the following example, a modified (E) will suffice.
(A) – Someone refers to you as she rather than by your preferred gender pronoun, he.
(B) – You tell yourself, “While I would like for others to use my preferred pronouns, no one is obligated to do so.”
(C) – As a result of the Effective new belief, you are able to shrug off the occurrence and continue on your way.
What are some other examples you can think of that may serve as helpful ABC Model practice?
When working with clients, using this approach to REBT, my ultimate role is to:
1. Identify maladaptive cognitions (e.g., rigid demands).
2. Actively and persuasively challenge these maladaptive cognitions.
3. Provide practice to clients for challenging maladaptive cognitions.
4. Negotiate homework which affords clients an ability to identify, evaluate, and challenge maladaptive cognitions, and to rehearse rational alternatives.
If my approach to REBT sounds like something in which you may be interested, I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website.
Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW
Abraham, M. J. (2020, March 16). What can I do? The circles of concern and influence. Abraham Law. Retrieved from https://www.abrahampc.com/blog/2020/3/16/what-can-i-do-the-circles-of-concern-and-influence
Aguilar, E. (2014, January 22). Spheres of control. EducationWeek. Retrieved from https://www.edweek.org/education/opinion-spheres-of-control/2014/01
Albert Ellis Institute, The. (n.d.). AEI [Official website]. Retrieved from https://albertellis.org/
Albert Ellis Institute, The. (n.d.). Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy. Retrieved from https://albertellis.org/rebt-cbt-therapy/
Britannica. (n.d.). Drake equation. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/science/Drake-equation
Britannica. (n.d.). Information processing. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/technology/information-processing
Brown, S. (2021, April 21). Machine learning, explained. MIT Sloan School of Management. Retrieved from https://mitsloan.mit.edu/ideas-made-to-matter/machine-learning-explained
Coleman, J. (2012, August 30). Take ownership of your actions by taking responsibility. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2012/08/take-ownership-of-your-actions
Counseling & Wellness Center. (n.d.). Module 4.4 – Spheres of influence. University of Florida. Retrieved from https://counseling.ufl.edu/resources/bam/module4-4/
Dassani, R. (2016, February 12). Values and principles. Dazne. Retrieved from https://dazne.net/vp/
Development Partnership. (n.d.). Stephen Covey’s circle of concern and circle of influence. Retrieved from https://dplearningzone.the-dp.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2015/06/Covey.pdf
DiGiuseppe, R. (n.d.). Distinctive features of REBT. Retrieved from http://www.numc.edu/wp-content/uploads/old/our-services/primary-care/Distinctive%20Features%20of%20cognitive%20behavioral%20therpay%20and%20REBT.pdf
Dinan, T. G., Stilling, R. M., Stanton, C., & Cryan, J. F. (2015, April). Collective unconscious: How gut microbes shape human behavior. Journal of Psychiatric Research. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022395615000655
Eco-Social Work. (n.d.). The micro, mezzo, & macro levels of (eco-) social work practice. Retrieved from https://ecosocialwork.wixsite.com/ecosocialwork/blank-1
Goal Chaser, The. (n.d.). Epictetus quotes – The power of our own thoughts. Retrieved from https://thegoalchaser.com/epictetus-quotes/
Hall, J. (2020, October 15). Rational emotive behavior therapy simplified: The ABC in REBT & how it can help you! Retrieved from https://www.keystocounselingtampa.com/post/rational-emotive-behavior-therapy-simplified-the-abc-in-rebt-how-it-can-help-you
Hollings, D. (2022, March 15). Disclaimer. Retrieved from https://www.hollingstherapy.com/post/disclaimer
Hollings, D. (n.d.). Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.hollingstherapy.com/
Larapedia. (n.d.). What does it mean direct command. Retrieved from https://www.larapedia.com/glossary_of_computer_terms/direct_command_what_does_it_mean_direct_command.html
Making Better Mistakes. (2019, February 16). Success you can control. Retrieved from https://www.makingbettermistakes.com/success-you-can-control/
Matweychuk, W. J. (n.d.). Why fallible humans may dislike REBT. REBT Doctor. Retrieved from https://rebtdoctor.com/28-why-you-may-dislike-rebt.html
Mayer, E. A., Knight, R., Mazmanian, S. K., Cryan, J. F., & Tillisch, K. (2014, November 12). Gut microbes and the brain: Paradigm shift in neuroscience. The Journal of Neuroscience. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4228144/
Mayo Clinic. (2020, October 13). Toxoplasmosis. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/toxoplasmosis/symptoms-causes/syc-20356249
Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Delude. Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/delude
Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Disputation. Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/disputation
Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Formulaic. Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/formulaic
Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Methodical. Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/methodical
Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Misgender. Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/misgender
Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Rational. Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/rational
Nesbitt, K. (2018). Don’t think about a zebra. Poetry 4 Kids. Retrieved from https://poetry4kids.com/poems/dont-think-about-a-zebra/
Organizational Development & Learning Services. (2021). Circle of control. University of Victoria. Retrieved from https://www.uvic.ca/hr/assets/docs/working-remotely/getting%20along%20docs/Circle%20of%20control%20Job%20Aid.pdf
Oworkers. (n.d.). Difference between data entry & data input. Retrieved from https://oworkers.com/difference-between-data-entry-data-input/
Powell, A., Rice, D. & Stokes, G. (2020, October 20). Micro vs. mezzo vs. macro social work. SocialWorkGuide.org. Retrieved from https://www.socialworkguide.org/resources/micro-vs-mezzo-vs-macro-social-work/
Prabhat, S. (2011, January 8). Difference between mind and brain. Difference Between Similar Terms and Objects. Retrieved from http://www.differencebetween.net/science/health/difference-between-mind-and-brain/
Puiu, T. (2020, November 16). Scientists are teaching robots to say ‘no’ to commands. Is that a good thing? ZME Science. Retrieved from https://www.zmescience.com/research/technology/teaching-robot-say-no-0543/
Robert Sapolsky Rocks. (n.d.). Toxoplasmosis. Retrieved from https://www.robertsapolskyrocks.com/toxoplasmosis.html
Sandra Rosenbaum School of Social Work. (n.d.). Micro, mezzo, and macro practice. University of Wisconsin-Madison. Retrieved from https://socwork.wisc.edu/about/micro-mezzo-macro-practice/
Selva, J. (2021, December 13). Albert Ellis’ ABC model in the cognitive behavioral therapy spotlight. Retrieved from https://positivepsychology.com/albert-ellis-abc-model-rebt-cbt/
Surbhi, S. (2018, August 22). Difference between should, ought to and must. Retrieved from https://keydifferences.com/difference-between-should-ought-to-and-must.html
TEDx Talks. (2017, February 2). Extreme ownership [Video]. YouTube. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ljqra3BcqWM
Then Somehow. (n.d.). Circles of influence. Retrieved from https://www.thensomehow.com/circles-of-influence/
Therapist Aid. (n.d.). ABC model for REBT. Retrieved from https://www.therapistaid.com/therapy-worksheet/abc-model-for-rebt
Theravive. (n.d.). Rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT). Retrieved from https://www.theravive.com/therapedia/rational-emotive-behavior-therapy-(rebt)
Turner, M. J. (2016, September 20). Rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT), irrational and rational beliefs, and the mental health of athletes. Retrieved from https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01423/full
University of Wisconsin Milwaukee. (n.d.). Gender pronouns. Retrieved from https://uwm.edu/lgbtrc/support/gender-pronouns/
Vyas, A., Kim, S. K., Giacomini, N., Boothroyd, J. C., & Sapolsky, R. M. (2007, April 10). Behavioral changes induced by toxoplasma infection of rodents are highly specific to aversion of cat odors. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17404235/
Weaver, T. (2021, March 3). Stoic quotes on control. Orion Philosophy. Retrieved from https://www.orionphilosophy.com/stoic-blog/stoic-quotes-on-control
Weebly.com. (n.d.). Rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT). Retrieved from https://psychodynamicandanalytic.weebly.com/rebt.html
Wikipedia. (n.d.). Autonomic nervous system. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autonomic_nervous_system
Wikipedia. (n.d.). Epictetus. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epictetus
Wikipedia. (n.d.). Free will. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_will
Wikipedia. (n.d.). Stephen Covey. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_Covey
Wikipedia. (n.d.). Stoicism. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stoicism
Wilder, K. (2012). Victim of the A-C connection. Retrieved from https://albertellis.org/2012/12/victim-of-the-ac-connection/