You may or may not have noticed that my first few articles don’t necessarily cover the coolest topics in the world, but realize that we are developing the base of understanding for the cool stuff that we can do later. Michelangelo once said, “If you knew how hard it was for me to gain all of my mastery, it wouldn’t feel so wonderful at all.” He didn’t start off painting magnificent artwork like the Sistine Chapel; he started with basic shapes just like everyone else.

We’ve already discussed how all of our thoughts are choices, but let’s move further now and talk about knowing what thoughts or things to concern ourselves with. Stephen Covey did this in his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and I thought it was a fantastic way to re-frame things.

For this exercise, you need either a sheet of paper or a dry erase board. You will draw a large circle (which is the circle of concern) and fill it in. You will then draw a smaller circle inside (which is the circle of influence) and fill it in.

What is the circle of concern?

The circle of concern is everything that concerns you. It can be financially-related, relationships, friends, school, parents, movies, music, games, training, work, travel, upcoming competitions, team/crew mates, gear, etc. Anything that concerns you at all will be in the circle of concern. Take a few seconds and write your personal concerns into the circle of concern.

What is the circle of influence?

With all the things that concern us, there are only a few things that we can directly influence. These things are always in our influence, if not under our control. Now, based off the previous example, let’s see what we can control. You can’t control what you make, but you can control how you spend your earnings. You can’t control what your friends, parents, or teammates do, nor how things are going at work. You also can’t influence those things. You can’t make those people change their minds, and you can’t change what they want you to do. Therefore, these things don’t go into the circle of influence. You can, however, control a few of these things: what you do in a training session, which competition you will be doing, what gear you will be using, and what you do for entertainment. These things do go into the circle of influence.

So take a second to write those things you can control in the circle of influence.

How to use the circles

The circles show what you can influence and what you can’t. There are many things that concern you, but you can’t do anything about them. So why waste your energy on them? You can, however, focus your energy on the things within the circle of influence in order to be a much more productive athlete.

Here are some examples of concern vs. influence:

  • You can’t control what your coach says to you, but you can control how you respond.
  • You can’t control what your teammates do, but you can tell them how it helps/hurts the team.

When times feel dire, look back to the circles of concern/influence and remember, “when all else fails, I am in control of me and my responses. Nothing can bother me unless I let it.”

The realization of this is quite liberating. I control my responses.

For instance, let’s say that my training partner missed today's workout. This could potentially completely wreck my training session. For one, I wouldn't have spotters or anyone to help me with my with gear, and two, it could cause me to completely fall out of my routine and have a horrific workout...and it would be my training partner's fault for not showing up. He screwed me and everything that I’d been doing to prepare for a meet. This thinking, consequently, begins a downward spiral—this workout was off so the next one won’t be right either, and so forth.

Now, if we go back to the circles of concern and influence, we can change this thinking. I can’t control what my training partner does—if he shows up or not. So I can’t worry about it. What I can do is control my response and choose my next action. In this case, I can alter the workout to get some sort of similar effect. For instance, I may not be able to squat in full gear, but I can get in a heavy session with briefs or briefs and suit bottoms. Maybe I hit some doubles or triples instead of a heavy single because of the lack of good spotters. Or perhaps this leads me to finally making the decision to get a new, more reliable training partner or training crew (where if one person misses, the whole workout isn’t destroyed).

You can always do something. You can always control how you respond.

How the circle of influence grows

Over time, if you focus on the circle of influence, that circle will grow in size. For instance, by focusing on what you can control—your own performance, your leadership abilities, or developing your own abilities, you will become a better lifter and leader. In turn, by becoming a better lifter and leader, you will eventually become a person of leadership on the team and be able to influence your team/crew mates.

From now on, don’t spend any time worrying over things you can’t control. It’s pointless to do so, as nothing will ever change. Instead, focus on what you can do to improve your future—that is under your influence.