Sphere of Influence: How To Apply This Life-Changing Coaching Tool
Perspective is everything. Compared to the vastness of the universe or the magnitude of billions upon billions of people on planet Earth, a single person might appear insignificant. But how much influence can one person have to effect positive change? How far do the ripples of a single life spread out into our family, peer groups, community, and beyond?
One of my favorite quotes comes from American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer. There aren’t many single phrases that pack as much wisdom into three lines as: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.”
Putting aside spiritual connotations, this is a powerful mindset that can radically change the amount of energy wasted on things outside of your control. This mindset is the ethos of this article, which will offer a practical tool to allow you to refocus your attention and energy on the areas of life under your control — your own sphere of influence.
Stephen Covey’s circle of influence
I say influence sphere, Stephen Covey said influence circle. At least that was the description the iconic self-help guru chose in his hugely influential book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. In the first section of the book, Covey’s first habit of self-mastery is to Be Proactive. He explains his model for proactivity with two diagrams; the circle of influence and the circle of concern.
- The circle of influence covers the things in life we have an influence over. These are things you can take direct action upon. Covey emphasized the importance of focusing energy on areas of life where you can make an impact.
- The circle of concern: these are things outside of our direct control, such as the economy, international relations, or even the behavior of other people, to some degree. Getting caught up in these areas leads to a feeling of powerlessness.
Within these two models, Covey saw that those who focus on what they influence in a positive manner generally expand their circle of influence, thus having a greater impact on the world. Conversely, those who overly focused on elements outside of their exclusive control exerted less overall influence, becoming passive, reactive, and at the mercy of external events.
The practice is to identify as clearly as possible when you’re worrying or obsessive over things you have no control over.
All of this is wasted energy. Instead, focusing on what you can influence is likely to inspire momentum and feelings of empowerment, which in turn, reduces feelings of overwhelm.
What is a sphere of influence?
The sphere of influence is a popular coaching tool that has been adapted from Covey’s earlier model. The same purpose applies but is condensed into one model with three distinct areas:
- Areas within my control
- Areas I can influence
- Everything else.
The purpose of the model is to identify what you have direct control over, where you can have an influence, and what is completely outside of your control.
Focus on your own sphere
The key is to take action on areas within your control or areas of influence and work on letting go of everything else. Letting go is easier said than done. It’s an ongoing practice of acceptance and exploration.
It’s worth noting that projecting excessive focus on global events deflects from inner work or responsibility, so it might be worth exploring underlying beliefs if you often find yourself focusing on things outside of your control.
How to apply an influence sphere mentality to your life
The sphere of influence cultivates proactivity and empowerment. Building clarity over your sphere of influence will give you a greater sense of control and autonomy over your life and, in turn, highlight the impact you can have on the world.
Below are 4 steps to apply the sphere of influence to your life.
1. Consider everything that is contributing to overwhelm or worry
List as many things as you can that take space in your consciousness. It can be something basic, such as paying bills, or something more existential, such as maintaining health during the pandemic. Don’t judge the process, but allow yourself to brain dump all of your concerns and worries in a stream of consciousness.
2. Organise the list into the three categories
“If a problem is fixable, if a situation is such that you can do something about it, then there is no need to worry. If it’s not fixable, then there is no help in worrying. There is no benefit in worrying whatsoever.”— DALAI LAMA
Once you have your list, it’s time to categorize them into the sphere of influence. Start with the things completely inside your control. Paying a bill, or exercising, and eating well are things you can directly control (though they are not guarantees to avoid illness or ill health). I’d like to note that, in Covey’s words: “if I really want to improve my situation, I can work on the one thing over which I have control — myself.” Attitude, mindset, and perspective all fall under what you can control.
Next, the influence category covers everything that you can have an indirect impact of influence over, even if some elements are outside of your control. During a job search, you might not be able to control an employer’s decision-making or create a job offer out of thin air, but you can influence the process by writing an attractive CV and making a good impression.
Lastly, under list the remaining items into everything else, for those things you have no control or influence over. Using the above example, that might include further restrictions or lockdowns during the pandemic. While you can look after your health and act reasonably, it’s impossible to change the political decisions of foreign powers affecting entire countries or continents. It’s best to face facts:, if you are having trouble with some aspects of your own day-to-day, there is no point in worrying about the Russian empire or the British empire.
3. Create an action plan
Covey’s original conception of the sphere of influence model was to create habits that lead to proactivity and effectiveness. That means that, once you’ve identified your concerns or worries, the next is to create an actionable plan of what you’ll do next.
For everything inside control, decide what action you can take, and start by taking action as soon as possible. For everything under your influence, break down the process into tangible goals — for example, a real estate agent’s sphere of influence might include getting better headshots or expanding their network — and setting deadlines for when they will start taking steps to influence their circumstances.
4. Practice letting go
As someone who’s experienced an anxiety disorder, I’m aware it’s not a straightforward fix to let go of certain worries at the click of a finger. When it comes to concerns that are completely outside of your control, the aim is to minimize the amount of time, energy, and attention you pay them.
Acceptance is also a process. Breaking this down into sizeable chunks might look something like this:
Acknowledge that worry has little impact
You’d be surprised how many people have internalized a belief that worry makes certain outcomes less likely, or is productive in some way. Recognize your energy would be better used elsewhere.
Validate the worry
Trying to push the worry away or to minimize worries will likely only cause them to resist. Instead, validate the worry and view it as compassionately as you can.
Be mindful of rumination
Using self-awareness, catch yourself when caught up in worry about things outside of your control, and gently bring your attention back to your sphere of influence and actions you can take.
The sphere of influence is a powerful tool that can help you reclaim that energy, and shift focus to the impact you can have on your reality.
However, attempting to control the uncontrollable is one way to live a life in a high state of panic, powerlessness, and burnout. Knowing what battles to face, and having the wisdom to know what is under your direct control, is one way of reserving time and energy for the things that matter. Focus on your backyard, and not necessarily Eastern Europe.
It’s completely natural and human to worry about the unknown. But by being smart about your use of energy, you can establish a field of influence that can grow. With a willingness and desire to be a positive influence, you have the power to send out ripples in your respective spheres of influence that could influence the entire world.
Not bad for a single person on planet Earth!