Circles of control, influence, and concern, and realm of no concern
In blogposts entitled Circle of Concern and Revisiting the Circle of Control, I addressed the topic of control— the power to influence or direct people’s behavior or the course of events. In both entries, I used a Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) perspective.
As well, I drew heavily upon Stephen Covey’s concept relating to the circles of concern and influence. Essentially, one’s circle of control is the self, the circle of influence relates indirectly or directly to others, and the circle of concern encompasses everything else.
As an example, one has control only over oneself—and to a limited degree. The current post highlights these limitations.
As well, one may be able to influence people one knows or with whom one has an indirect relationship (e.g., voting for a politician). One may also admit that one has no control and little influence over other matters with which one is concerned (e.g., climate change).
It’s worth noting that some people suggest there is a fourth dimension, the area of no concern. In this realm are things about which one knows nothing—though they still may exist—and one has no control, influence, or concern regarding the unknown (e.g., whether or not there is an alternate version of yourself in another dimension who is eating cake at this very moment).
If the reader grants the hypothesis outlined thus far, I would like to focus more on the circle of control. This is a topic I’ll keep revisiting in the future, largely because I find it a worthwhile use of time to consider which resources are worthy of devotion and which are not.
In a blogpost entitled Mind Tricks, I stated, “Not to oversimplify matters, I think it’s important to note that the mind is not the same thing as the brain. Whereas the brain is the hardware, the mind relates to software.”
Presuming the reader doesn’t reject this premise, I’d like you to consider the materialist perspective—conceptualizing the brain as a hunk of tissue that is hardwired to the body, predominantly by the spinal cord and then by other connective means.
Take a moment to think of how many processes the brain is capable of simultaneously monitoring. You likely have hair all over your body. Each of these hairs can detect movement.
If a gnat lands on your eyelash, a signal can be sent to the brain. If someone jerks a strand of hair from your head, another signal can be sent. You get an ingrown hair in your groin area, a signal is likely sent.
All the while, your outer layer of skin is detecting changes in temperature. Your eyes detect movement. Your ears detect alteration of sound. Your nose detects subtle changes in smell. Cumulatively, signals related to each are processed in the brain.
At the same time, your heart, lungs, stomach, and bladder are operating from signals controlled by the brain, as are other organs. Stub your toe, experience a headache, or feel hunger pangs? All are processed in the brain.
Meanwhile, memory creation and storage, thought generation, physics and mathematical calculations, and the impact of emotions are processed, where? You guessed it, the brain.
Depending on how you frame who you are, how much of these brain processes are you in control of? Perhaps you take the Freudian perspective and conceptualize the mind as maintaining conscious, preconscious (subconscious), and unconscious plains.
When you think of yourself, is the “I” with which you identify associated with past memories (unconscious), interim heuristics (preconscious), or are you here-and-now interfacing with the world (conscious)? Let’s say for the sake of discussion you opt for all three concurrently.
Your concept of self is across all plains. You frame your identity as a multiprocessing being.
You say, “Deric, I am all those plains of consciousness at once.” Great. Now, your mind—the process of consciousness associated with the brain—is in control of which of the aforementioned psychological and physiological processes?
For instance, can you right now—at this very instant—stop your digestive process merely by sending a mental signal to the brain? Can you stop your heartbeat by simply thinking, “Stop”?
No? How about this, can you at this particular moment recall all memories you’ve ever stored in your mind? Perhaps you’re able to accurately remember something as arbitrary as what color shirt your third grade teacher wore on the 28th day of class. No?
If unclear at this point, the inference I’m making is that you aren’t in control of as much of yourself as you may have otherwise thought. You—the conscious being reading this post—simply do not have mastery over all processes of the mind or brain.
Presuming you grant this proposition, now revisit the concept regarding circles of control, influence, concern, and the realm of no concern. You don’t have full control of yourself, so why, oh why, do you deceive yourself by assuming you have control over other people, the world, or the unknown?
So often, I hear of people trying to control their children, family members, romantic partners, rival political parties, or other nations. It’s absurd to me.
I’ve even interacted with people who yell at their televisions during sporting events, as though members of their supported teams are capable of being controlled through time and space. I once had a friend whose wife was so passionate about the San Francisco 49ers that she would upset herself when favored players wouldn’t obey her demands as she watched the game.
She couldn’t even command her own brain to delete all memories prior to age nine, though she deluded herself into believing she somehow had control over football players far across the country. It was the essence of irrationality.
Let me not harshly judge her, because I have also engaged in nonsensical behavior. In fact, when I once participated in organized religious faith, I actually believed I could somehow control G-d by praying so reverently that I would receive what I wanted. My behavior was ridiculous.
We have limited control over ourselves, though we do have command over our beliefs with which we can impact our emotions, bodily sensations (e.g., reducing tightness in the chest), and behavior. Though we have some ability to manipulate them, even our thoughts aren’t under our full control.
Yes, I differentiate thoughts from beliefs. I think people will read this post, though I don’t believe they have to do so. In this way, a thought is merely a description while a belief is a prescription. One informs of what is while the other declares what ought to be.
Ultimately, I think it’s worth considering how little influence we have over other people and certain matters within the circle of concern. Moreover, we have zero full control over these spheres and the realm of no control.
No more control
There was a time during my social work education when I was trained to become an activist. In 2016, and despite not supporting the cause, I even attended a Black Lives Matter (BLM) protest at the Texas State Capitol.
Rather than solely critiquing beliefs with which I disagreed, based largely off of secondhand information, I wanted to directly hear from members of the movement. Ultimately, I concluded that focus on my circle of control and limited range of influence was a more meaningful use of my resources.
By “resources,” I’m referring to time, money, energy, effort, and other assets that can be drawn on in order to function effectively. Devoting my resources toward self-improvement and taking measures towards life coaching efforts at the time was the practical option for me.
Still, I didn’t abhor the efforts of the people at the BLM protest. One imagines many of them, perhaps believing they were conducting themselves in a morally upright manner, thought they had more control or influence over other spheres or realms than I did at the time.
That was my charitable consideration of the group. Now, thinking about the measure of control an activist actually maintains—and given the main position of this blogpost, one wonders about the efforts of activistic individuals and whether or not their resources yield desired results.
Dear reader, this isn’t to suggest that people shouldn’t, mustn’t, or oughtn’t to protest, because it’s not my concern to mandate how others behave. Besides, I support the ability of United States (U.S.) citizens to freely exercise their First Amendment right to assemble and express views.
With that stated, the question remains: Are one’s resources used most efficiently when devoted to the circle of control, circle of influence, circle of concern, or realm of no control? One supposes it largely depends on context.
In 2016, on a social media app, I posted my stance regarding this issue by expressing, “Marches, demonstrations, riots, and protests rarely yield effective and lasting change.” Some people agreed, others disagreed, and still most ignored my assertion altogether.
I further stated in a separate 2016 post:
Subsequent to the worthless march, the ruling powers of the world will continue to remain in place. Obvious predictions are not difficult to issue. Utilizing simple deductive reasoning methods, many people may arrive at similar conclusions. Historically, marches have had little lasting effect on the status quo.
One person who disagreed ultimately concluded that it didn’t matter to her whether or not actual change resulted from her devoted resources, because protesting made her “feel good.” Her logic may be represented as follows:
Premise 1: People who participate in protests feel good about their actions.
Premise 2: Person X participates in protests.
Conclusion: Consequently, person X feels good about her actions.
This logically sound presumption makes sense to me. As such, I then turn to the question as to whether or not person X’s efforts made any difference.
However, doing so is an error in judgment, because person X already stated that regardless of a desired outcome, she experienced joy, pleasure, or fulfilment through devotion of her resources. Therefore, it doesn’t matter whether or not her efforts made a difference.
Essentially, I was speaking a separate language than person X, as it were. I spoke the language of logic and reason while she spoke of emotion and satisfaction.
I challenged whether or not person X’s resources would better have been served by focusing on herself and others within her circle of influence. However, her attention was directed at the circle of concern.
In actuality, I wasn’t as focused on my circle of control, because I can only control myself. Naturally, person X and I were not one in the same. She was not in my circle of control.
Accordingly, I attempted to persuade person X who was in my circle of influence. Upon having a discussion about our differences of opinion, I then shifted her into my circle of concern and went about my business.
There were no hard feelings, no self-disturbingly unpleasant emotions. Person X and I simply agreed to disagree. What I gained from our interaction was a lesson about control.
It wasn’t my responsibility to control outcomes. I controlled only myself. If people in my circle of influence rejected my assumptions, I didn’t need to devote further resources to managing their reactions.
This understanding helped shape the way I approached life coaching—effort towards helping people improve performance in regards to goal-specific challenges. If I were to work with clients who refused to focus on their circle of control, I didn’t need to further devote the resource of my time to them.
In this way, I acknowledged to myself that I had no more control over anything other than myself. What an invaluable lesson!
Of this, I’m reminded of a Murs song from his album Have a Nice Life, entitled “No More Control.” Murs states:
They had a rally for police brutality up at the park
But when we killing ourselves, don’t nobody want to march
We got to start to take a look in the mirror
If we don’t respect ourselves, then they always gone fear us
If Black Lives Matter, then black lives matter
And the color of the killer shouldn’t even be a factor
Most of these rappers ain’t equipped to lead
‘Cause most of these rappers illiterate—can’t read
This is educated street music for the educated street movement
It’s fucked up what the police is doing
But motherfucker, look what we doing
Murs appears to advocate responsibility and accountability, though pertaining to a group and not on an individual level. Presumably, the rapper is addressing black U.S. citizens.
For an individual with such a large platform, this matter relates to the circle of influence. Murs has the ability to reach many thousands or millions of people with his message, as he apparently rejects hollow activism and instead favors effective and lasting change that comes through uncomfortable critical analysis.
Person X may “feel good” about marching through the streets of her city with her fist raised and while echoing chants fed to her via a megaphone. It may very well be cathartic to return home and say to oneself, “I really did something worthwhile today.”
However, it’s another matter altogether to ask challenging questions of oneself and examine how one may be contributing to the problem at hand. One may ask, “Am I doing anything to truly change myself, or am I shifting my resources towards matters over which I have no control?”
When working with clients, my aim is not to help them feel better. Rather, I help people push through the discomfort of self-challenge so that they may get better.
Person X and those like her are welcome to give dogs what is sacred and throw their resources to pigs. Reckless disregard such as this, concerning that over which one has no control or influence, may result in the trampling and tearing to pieces of one’s psychological and physiological health.
For the rest of us, focusing on the circle of control may be a rational starting point. We may also hope to influence others while doing so with the understanding that we do not seek to control that over which we have little or no authority.
When I attended the BLM protest in 2016, a vocalist sang “Redemption Song” from Bob Marley and the Wailers—“pardon me, y’all, the great Bob Marley.” Lyrics of the song include, “Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery. None but ourselves can free our minds.”
Though it may be tempting to think we can control others, the world, or the unknown; in actuality, we have no control over anyone other than ourselves. In this way, we can emancipate our minds from the shackles of self-deception.
Likewise, it may “feel good” to fantasize about making a difference by not focusing on oneself and instead chanting down perceived oppression. However, marching with mental manacles which restrain your ability to escape may not lead to the effective and lasting change of the self.
All the same, the choice to make is yours and yours alone. Will you tether yourself to pseudo-control or unchain yourself by freeing your mind of unrealistic jurisdiction while opting to change yourself?
Whatever you decide, I hope you Have a Nice Life. Even if you don’t, you in another dimension who is eating cake at this very moment very well may.
If you’re looking for a provider who works to help you understand how thinking impacts physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral elements of your life, I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website.
As the world’s foremost old school hip hop REBT psychotherapist, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues from anger (hostility, rage, and aggression) to relational issues, adjustment matters, trauma experience, justice involvement, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, and other mood or personality-related matters.
At Hollings Therapy, LLC, serving all of Texas, I aim to treat clients with dignity and respect while offering a multi-lensed approach to the practice of psychotherapy and life coaching. My mission includes: Prioritizing the cognitive and emotive needs of clients, an overall reduction in client suffering, and supporting sustainable growth for the clients I serve. Rather than simply helping you to feel better, I want to help you get better!
Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW
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