Struggling? Thoughts on being open and controlling what you can

Photo by Philipp Berndt on Unsplash

This week, I’ve been thinking a lot about being open. Because for so long, so much has been closed. The world has been shut down; access to things we want and need has been closed. Travel has been halted. Here in Portugal, schools have been virtual. Physical access to our family back home has been closed off. In-person connection has been limited. Beaches have been closed, and free access to public roads has been limited. Even access to public books, toys, and games has been banned. And amidst this, we have been trying to sort through a challenge as a family that requires a lot of medical visits and experts and driving and research . . . with very little answers and even more questions.

Openness—to possibility, to joy, to hope—has felt hard at times when so much is closed.

Which has made me think of control. And not in the sense of being controlling or trying to control everything. Instead, I’ve been reflecting on the circles of control, collaboration, and concern from Growing Influence, the business fable I coauthored with Ron Price. Because when everything seems closed or inaccessible, it can be easy to retreat from openness and go to a dark place in one’s mind. To imagine the worst. To feel helpless or myopically frustrated or like a pawn in this confusing chess game of COVID (and life). To wonder if you’ll ever find answers or return to normal life or achieve the things you dreamed of for yourself and your family back in January 2020.

Learn more about the circles of control, collaboration, and concern in Growing Influence, the business fable I coauthored with Ron Price.

For me, the anchor in a sea of uncertainty is what I can control. The circle of control is those things you have direct influence over, what you can take 100 percent ownership of: what time you wake up in the morning, what food you eat, what and how much you drink, what and how much you read, how you treat others, and what proactive steps you take to solve a problem. When I feel lost or overwhelmed, I ask myself, What can I control? What can I directly influence? What is 100 percent within my power right now? Then I take action to focus on what I can control.

The next anchor is collaboration. The circle of collaboration is those things you can achieve collectively with others to achieve a desired result—something you all want. That “thing” is something none of you can do alone but can do with the partnership of others; together, you find power, sometimes compound power. Collaboration can be community rallying around someone who is struggling. It can be a work team working through a challenge to achieve something they all want, like a celebratory work culture or a successful product launch or advancing equity within the company. It can be in a marriage, like spouses working together to support a child’s learning challenge or meet financial goals together. It can be in the health field, with a team rallying around the medical care of one patient. It can be in a city or an industry or a company or a family or even on the internet. When I want to tap into collaboration, I ask myself, How can I achieve what I desire with others? Who else desires this thing I also want? How can we achieve it together? What first step do I need to take to build collaboration?

And finally, I remove an anchor: the circle of concern. The circle of concern encompasses those things that seem outside your reach of influence—they steal your focus and energy, resulting in frustration or a feeling of powerlessness. This is an area that you have no clear influence over, like public policy, national and local government, and bad things happening around the world. Focusing too much on the circle of concern can be an addiction to news, reading it too frequently beyond simply being informed. It can involve going down a rabbit hole, researching all the worst-case scenarios when a medical diagnosis is given (or even suspected). It can be focusing conversation or attention on an annoying coworker or a no-good ex-spouse or that person at the grocery store that made you mad. The circle of concern can rob your energy and suck the hope out of you if you let it. If I find myself doing this, I ask myself, Is this habit, conversation, or thought pattern helping? Do I feel empowered or as if my power has been stolen? Are the relationships in my life bringing me into the circle of concern or throwing a lifeline to pull me out?

The thing is, where your attention goes, the circle grows. The circle(s) you don’t nurture will shrink, like three balloons sharing the same air; you have to squeeze the air out of one to make the other(s) bigger. So if I find my openness beginning to wane—if I find myself feeling sad and helpless, or worried and anxious, I stop nurturing the circle of concern. I shut off the news and stop googling and focus on positive conversations and relationships. I work toward controlling what I can and collaborating with people who want what I also want.

Because this is a public space, and because I value privacy, I won’t share all the details of why this is on my heart and mind right now. But I’m sharing because I know you have experienced similar concern-spirals in your life. We all have. And the anchors of control and collaboration can change everything. They bring an openness to solutions, possibility, and hope. Even if the end results of the thing that’s burdening you look not-so-good, you can find peace in the journey.

Because all we have is this moment, right now. Control and collaboration bring us to presence. They force us to be in the moment, the here and now, the only place that really exists.

Will you embrace the now? I choose yes. I choose to be open.

How about you? What are your “anchors” when things are hard or uncertain? How do you focus on what you can control? Share with me in the comments—I love to learn from you.

8 Comments

  • J Wheeler Reply

    Hey, I’m here for you. Just an email, virtual hug, and smile across the miles away. Hugs.
    Always,
    JW

    • Stacy Ennis Reply

      Thank you, Jennifer. Funny, I was just telling someone about you today. 🙂 Hugs right back!

  • Mike Johnston Reply

    Hey Stacy! Whatever personal or family challenge you’re facing, just know you have a large, extended group of people who care about you. I hope things get better for you, and for all of us. I choose to be optimistic and think that better days are ahead.

    Your topic this week resonates with me. I have been consciously limiting my consumption of news, particularly political news, for several weeks. This has allowed me to focus more on the more important priorities of family, home and my business projects. So, without having a label for it, I’ve been shrinking my circle of concern and enlarging my circles of control and collaboration. That’s a great model. Thanks for sharing it with us.

    Muito obrigado.

    • Stacy Ennis Reply

      Thank you for this thoughtful comment, Mike, and for the generous note. I appreciate it! I’m glad to know limiting media has helped in growing your circle of control and hope you continue to feel anchored in optimism. Here’s to better days!

  • Helen Mandley Reply

    Dear Stacy,
    What a well-crafted message of intention and systematic perseverance!

    I am 74 and for the last few months, I have been studying for my FAA Private Pilots’ Written Test. Despite the concerns and doubts of friends and the overwhelming tsunami of aviation material to be learned, I persevered, knowing the only control I had was to study and review, and then study and review more. I completely avoided the news, or any online news drama. I simply the work.

    Last weekend we went to dinner with friends. The conversation drifted into the negative dialogue about our inept city council and I sat silent, chastising myself for not being better informed. What I now realize is that I have been unknowingly managing my “circle of concern!”

    So thank you for your post. I now feel completely vindicated!

    And by the way, I left the FAA testing center this morning with the results of my freshly taken Private Exam in my hand, 97%!

    Thank you for sharing your insight and wisdom.
    😘👩‍✈️

    • Stacy Ennis Reply

      Thank you for sharing this story, Helen! And wow, a 97%! That is absolutely amazing. Congratulations! I love that you were focusing on the circle of control without even realizing it. You clearly have strong intuition that tells you what to focus on, and it served you well. I’ll look forward to hearing about your aviation adventures! Incredible. ✈️

  • Mike Green Reply

    Thank you Stacy for this timely well written read. I am grateful.

    • Stacy Ennis Reply

      I’m glad it connected with you, Mike. Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts.

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