This New Year, I'm Drawing Circles

I’ve often told my friends that I have “chaotic” thoughts. By this, I mean that I frequently find myself speaking too quickly as I try to share each new thought that crosses my mind, often cutting off my own sentences in enthusiasm. While this may sound like what ‘excitement’ looks like, it’s often not the case when these overlapping fragments turn into more scary and anxiety-inducing spirals of thought. Given the uncertainty in which we’re living, with the political and socio-economic instability at the very forefront of most of our minds, it’s very common for these fearful thoughts to circle not only my mind, but everyone’s minds. I recently came across something which helped me unpack these thoughts, and I believe it’s something that everyone should at least understand, if not engage with themselves this new year.

The first step is to list out all the worries, problems, and inconveniences you may be feeling. We all have a pretty long list of all the things that might be troubling and keeping us up at night. Now the basic concept is to think of each of these thoughts as categorized by two circles. The innermost circle is the “Circle of Influence” which refers to all the things we as individuals have direct control over. These could be things like what food we decide to eat for breakfast, what clothes we wear, and how we choose to react in different situations. The outer circle is called the “Circle of Concern” which consists of all the things we as an individual do not and cannot have an impact on. This refers to larger things in the world like the news, the economy, and even things such as how someone else reacts, what they choose to share or post on social media, or how they choose to spend their time. They are all things that concern us, but are not within our control. Some versions of this have a third circle, but put simply, the circles represent situations which are within and outside of our control. 

These circles shrink and expand based on how much time and effort we put into them; obsessing over things outside our control expands the circle of concern and pushes our minds into overdrive, filling it with worry and anxiety. This in turn impacts how much time we can give things which we actually can control, such as how much time we spend with the people we care about, or how much time we spend taking care of ourselves. This expanding and shrinking of our circles happens constantly and it is up to us how we choose to organize them. The point of this is to understand that there are certain things which are useless worrying about. Essentially, each situation which you are worried or concerned about can be split into one of the two circles, and if it happens to fit into the circle of concern, it is simply not something that we as an individual can do anything about therefore we should spend our time on better, more productive things. 

woman looking at the trees in front of the sun Photo by Leon Biss from Unsplash This distinction helped me navigate the dominating thought I currently have in my mind: the health and safety of me and my loved ones during the ongoing pandemic. If I had to split these thoughts into the two circles, I’d say the progression of the pandemic and the state of the world itself is outside of my control, but how I react to it emotionally as well as physically, how I comply with health and safety guidelines and how I choose to spend my time during this time is well within my circle of influence. This gave me a sense of security in knowing that I am doing my absolute best to take care of myself, and the rest is not up to me. This refocusing of my thoughts allowed me to not let the anxiety control my mind, rather helped me control it.

This practice is something I will definitely be carrying into the new year, and I’d hope it’s something everyone finds approachable. Ultimately, if everyone did their own little bit to take care of their innermost circles, there’d be a lot less in our outer circles of concerns.