Models for coaching

Circles of Influence

The Circles of Influence look at the areas in and outside our control – helping us understand the parts of our life we can change and those we can’t.

Useful in coaching for Building a Plan, Exploring Options, Self-Awareness, Understanding Behaviour 

Circles of Influence Template The Pathfinder Coach

What are the Circles of Influence?

The Circles of Influence are a visual tool to explore the aspects of your life that you can control, those you can influence and those that are outside your control.

It’s used as a way of exploring the aspects of your personal life, work or general perspective which you can directly change and those which, for whatever reason, are beyond your control and therefore not worth energy worrying about.

The concept has been around since early civilisation, and was originally introduced by Marcus Aurelius as part of stoicism. It was subsequently used by Stephen Covey’s book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (1989). In Covey’s book he uses it to distinguish between proactive people who focus on what they can control and reactive people who tend to focus more on things outside their control.

The Circles of Influence in this guide adds an extra layer to these two circles – that of “influence”. Those things that you can’t directly control but you can have some influence over.

How are the Circles of Influence used?

The key use of the Circles of Influence is to explore the parts of your life that you have direct control over and to pay less attention to those you can’t control.

This is useful when you feel overwhelmed or are struggling to find some control in your life. More recently, it can be useful in combatting Weaponised Apathy (the feeling that the world is falling apart and there’s nothing you can do about it, so why bother).

Overall, the Circles of Influence are useful as a starting point to exploring parts of your life and choosing to focus on the things that you have most direct control over.

Uses for the Circles of Influence:

  • To explore the aspects of your life that you can take more control over.
  • To build an action plan for the parts of your life you can control.
  • To spend less time focusing on the areas of your life you can’t control.
  • Understanding how you can influence certain parts of your life.

How to use the Circles of Influence

The Circles of Influence can be used to explore any aspect of your life, from work to relationships, and build a path to taking back some control.

Choosing the focus for your Circles of Influence

It sounds obvious but the first step is to clearly define the problem you’re looking at. It’s worth noting this down as a problem statement and then build from there.

If you’ve not built a problem statement before, it’s simply a clearly articulated summary of the issue you’re facing. You generally build it by:

  1. Explaining the problem in the clearest possible way.
  2. Outlining the impact (emotional, financial) it’s having on you.
  3. Back-up your statement with examples – the more the better.

This will help you clearly articulate what you want to explore in this Circles of Influence exercise and help guide your thinking.

Areas to include in your Circles of Influence problem statement:

  • Issues at work where you feel you aren’t able to fix or improve things.
  • Wider society issues where you feel powerless to fix or have an impact on them.
  • Personal issues or crossroads where you feel out of control.
  • Frustrations with others where you feel their behaviour is impacting you.

2. What you can control in your Circles of Influence

Circles of Influence Template - 1. What you can control - The Pathfinder Coach

Next, we’re going to explore the first part of the Circles of Influence. Those things that you can control. This is an opportunity for some self-reflection and analysis of what you have complete control over.

This can include anything you like, but often people choose to put their behaviour, how they react and how they choose to feel in this area. These may be impacted by the situation but are ultimately within your control to change.

Other areas might be how you choose to “see” the situation – or you perspective. Or how you communicate with the other parties involved. Or even how involved you get in the situation.

The key is to look at those aspects you know you can control. For example, how much you watch the news or scroll through social media is totally within your control.

Observations to make:

  • What aspects of the situation can you control?
  • How easy is it to acknowledge that these aspects are within you control?
  • What personal responsibility can you take in these aspects?
  • What might stop you believing these aspects are within your control?

3. What you can influence in your Circles of Influence

Circles of Influence Template - 2. What you can influence

The next stage is focused more on those areas you think you can have some influence on. You can’t control them directly but there is an opportunity to influence them.

An important note on influence: you can’t be sure of the outcome. It may be things go as you’d hoped, but it also might not. This is important because you’re accepting that you only have limited influence on the outcome.

In this step we’re looking at the practical, emotional and behavioural aspects that might have an influence on the situation. We’re interested in things that, although you can’t control them, you feel by changing something in yourself you may guide things in one way or another.

Some people include things like conversations they can have, or levels of emotional honesty with others, or explaining to the other party how they feel.

Observations to make:

  • How could your perspective on the situation influence things?
  • How could you behaviour and communication influence the situation?
  • Are there conversations you can have that might influence things?
  • Are there actions you can take which would go towards influencing the situation?

4. What you can’t control or influence in your Circles of Influence

Circles of Influence Template - 3. What you can't control

Finally, we’re going to look at things that you can’t control or influence. These are aspects which are simply beyond any intervention you can make. A good example is the weather (if not the climate).

It’s worth reflecting on how much of your time or energy you spend on these, and how they might be influencing you state of mind. It’s often easier to fixate on the things we can’t control because it reduces the personal responsibility we need to take for our lives or our state of mind.

While you’re looking at these areas it’s also worth asking if there is anything you can do to, indirectly, contribute towards making things better in these areas.

You might not be able to influence world policy to stop a war, but you can donate to charities who work in those areas. You might not be able to control the outcome of a company merger, but you can build relationships with people who are going through the uncertainty too.

Observations to make:

  • How much of your time and energy are focused on these aspect?
  • Is it easier to focus on these to avoid focusing on what you can control?
  • Is a focus on these areas giving you a level of catharsis?
  • Are there any small steps you can make to make a small but important impact?

5. Reflection and action

Finally, it’s time to spend some time reflecting on each of the three areas, comparing it to your problem statement, and thinking about what this means for creating action.

An important part of the Circles of Influence process is to look back on what you’ve put into each of the three areas and ask if it’s the right place to put it. You might find that aspects you feel you have no control over are actually something you can influence. Or that things you thought you have control over are actually outside your control. Often, frustration can arise when we think we have control over parts of our life that we actually don’t.

It’s also time to think about how your reflections might change your own behaviour, actions or perspective. Are there some small changes you can make to make things a little easier for you?

It’s also worth considering where you’re putting your energy. Do you tend to focus on the things you can control or are you more focused on things you can’t – and what does this mean for your state of mind?

Observations to make:

  • On reflection, are there any changes you would make to where you’ve put things?
  • Are there aspects you felt you controlled but perhaps don’t?
  • Are there small things you can do that might change how you feel?
  • Are you investing energy into the right things?

That’s it!

You’ve followed the steps to build your own Circles of Influence, and hopefully learnt some lessons to improve how you feel and behave towards the situation.

Example Circle of Influence Template

To help you get started, I’ve put together an example you can start using today.

Circle of Influence Coaching Tool and Template

Use this template as a starting point for running through your own Circles of Influence.

The Circles of Influence Coaching Tool

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