By Barb Ward

It’s 2:30 a.m. and again, you are lying awake worrying about things that you can do nothing about. As you toss and turn, your anxiety increases to the level where you have to get up, because sleep is no longer an option. You simply cannot accept that you have no control over this situation.

In this time of constant and relentless change, both in your everyday life and in world events, it is more important than ever to understand your circles of control. What does this mean? This means that it’s important for each of us to be diligent in focusing our energy on those things we can change and letting go of those we can’t.

Sounds easy, right? But in truth, this is most times easier said than done. The simple fact is, the more we focus on things we cannot change, the greater our anxiety, lack of control, and feelings of helplessness become. At the very least, these thoughts and emotions can derail us from truly accomplishing what we want in life, robbing us of the fulfillment and joy we seek. And, in extreme cases, this can lead to desperation and depression, threatening the very fabric of our lives and the lives of those around us.

Additionally, sustained anxiety can cause other serious psychological and physiological issues that can range in severity, such as:

  • A paralyzing sense of fear or dread
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Insomnia
  • Muscle tension
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • A weakened immune system
  • High blood pressure
  • Chest pain
  • Loss of appetite

However, while it may take hard work and intentionality, it is always possible to manage and regain control of your thought processes. A tool that can help you “re-center” yourself is the Circles of Control model shown below.

The center circle focuses on things that are directly in our control. Such as our own behaviors, actions, words, or thoughts.

The second circle demonstrates things that we don’t directly control, but that we can potentially influence through our behaviors or actions. For instance, while we cannot control another person’s behavior, we may be able to alter it based on our own words or actions.

The outer circle illustrates circumstances, issues, problems, etc., that we have absolutely no control over. An example would be something that happened or a decision we made in the past that we cannot change. When we focus our energy here, our anxiety increases.

It’s important to note that although we may not be able to change a circumstance or outcome, we can always maintain control over the way we interpret or react to it, and this can make all the difference.

People who are resilient, are able to moderate the way they react to situations, enabling them to keep their minds open to possibilities and to remain optimistic in the face of adversity.

Try thinking about the things that worry you and place them in the appropriate category on the model. As you become more aware of the three circles of control and the things that reside in each category, you can begin to analyze them to determine if any of them can be moved into the circle of influence if you change your perspective. If you cannot influence, change, or control them, you have identified those things you need to let go of, in turn, helping you release the anxiety they create.

With any luck, once you have done this, you can turn off the light, roll over and get a good night’s sleep!