Circles of Influence and Concern

Circles of influence and concern
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Circles of Influence and Concern comes from Steven Covey’s book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (1989).

It can be very useful if you are worrying about several different things, or one big thing which has lots of different factors.

A Circle of Concern contains all the things which have an impact on us and which we worry about.  These can be anything on your mind, from big to small.  These might include the weather, the economy, work, family worries…  Some we can do something about, some we cannot.

A Circle of Influence sits inside the Circle of Concern and contains the things we are worried about, but which we can do something to change.  Hence sometimes it is called the “Circle of Control”.

You can start by just drawing your Circle of Concern and dumping everything inside.  Then add your Circle of Influence and start moving things  into it – those you have some influence over.  You can do the whole exercise with pens on a big sheet of paper or you might like to use sticky notes to make it easier to move things around.

By focussing on your Circle of Influence, you can begin to be more active in making things better.  Identifying areas where you can do something is the first step in planning what your actions will be.  This exercise might also help you to accept that there are some things you cannot change right now.

You might feel more empowered and even discover your Circle of Influence grows bigger as you feel able to take on more challenges.  If you only look at your Circle of Concern, you could end up feeling powerless and demotivated instead.

Here and here are examples of how the exercise works.  You can use the provided template or draw your own.  You need not restrict yourself to drawing on paper, either – feel free to experiment with small objects, craft materials, sand…  It’s yours!

Emotional boundaries

Image courtesy of anankkml at
Image courtesy of anankkml at

There are many types of personal boundaries, some of which I will look at in later posts, but today I will talk about emotional boundaries.

A boundary is any kind of line or limit that marks the difference between two places.  As in the phrase “good fences make good neighbours”, healthy boundaries can aid healthy relationships.

Do you take the blame for other people’s feelings and emotions?  Do you feel responsible for ‘making’ them feel a particular way?  Or vice versa?  Do you find yourself easily influenced and unable to work out what you really feel, finding instead that you go along with what other people believe?  Do you need to rescue others from their problems, or need them to rescue you?  Are you often finding yourself caught up in other people’s drama?

Feelings of guilt, anger or resentment can be signs that something isn’t working.  Perhaps you feel that you haven’t got the right to say no or to have any privacy.  Possibly you didn’t learn how to have strong boundaries when growing up and are afraid of what will happen if you start asserting yourself.

You can set boundaries by learning to say no and valuing your right to do that, by spending time getting to know your own beliefs and feelings without the influence of others, by taking note of how you feel in the company of certain people (nourished or drained?).  Ask yourself, are you giving other people more than you can afford to?

Meditation and grounding exercises might also help you to feel more secure in yourself.

Setting boundaries is part of self care and getting to know yourself better.  It can be hard going, and you and the people around you might need time and space to work out and get used to where your boundaries lie.  You may find it easier to start small.  Boundaries also need regular maintenance – like regular repairs to that fence!  Practicing asserting boundaries with a supportive friend or a counsellor can help you to work through this.  Sometimes there will be steps backwards as well – that is okay!  Building new emotional boundaries can be like breaking the habit of a lifetime, so be kind and encouraging towards yourself.


If you would like to make an appointment for counselling around this issue or others raised in this blog, please contact me.


The Stand for Self-Love

“The Stand for Self-Love” an excellent TEDx talk by Amy Pence-Brown.

Screen Shot 2016-05-20 at 14.45.08Amy discusses her performance-art piece intended to look at self-love, vulnerability, self-acceptance, body positivity and self esteem.

One thing she said which really struck me was “that’s the thing about vulnerability – right when you open up and you start to live with your full hearts… there’s no going back“.  I think that is very true – once we find a way to live fully and reach self-actualisation, we don’t want it any other way.

She describes how we are encouraged to doubt and bully ourselves and offers another way with words of encouragement.  She asks, “what do you stand for?“, which can be a difficult question to answer.  However, you may find that facing the question head-on can lead to rewarding (and maybe surprising) answers from places within yourself that maybe you hadn’t listened to much before.

Do you tell yourself bad things about yourself or knock yourself down?  Do you insult yourself?  If so – would you talk to your best friend that way?  Would you accept it from your best friend?

It’s easy to think, “but everybody does it”.  While it may be true that it is a common thing, it does not have to be that way.

Give it a try.  Listen to your inner voice, the one that needs encouragement and nourishment. Try to stop insulting yourself for a day, a week, a month.

How do you feel?


Support networks

support networks
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Support networks can be very valuable in helping us get through problems – but what do we mean by “support networks”?

Humans are a social species, we all need some degree of human interaction in order to be well physically, mentally and emotionally.  A support network is made up of the people around you who offer you time, energy, care and practical or emotional help when you need it.  These people might be family, friends, coworkers, members of hobby groups or even therapy group members.

It can be difficult to know where to begin to build a support network if you feel you don’t have one.  These links give some tips on how to build and maintain support networks.

If you are a member of someone’s support network, it can be hard to know how to offer and accept support with in it.  The network is likely to end up as more of a “web”, with relationships criss-crossing all over.

I like the “Ring Theory“, which is a model of the directions in which to offer an accept support.  The idea is that the person going through the problem is in the middle with concentric rings around them.  The closer someone is to the person, emotionally, the further in they would be in the rings.  For example, family members and friends are likely to be on an inner ring but coworkers are more likely to be on an outer ring.

The mantra is “comfort in, dump out”.  Offer comfort and support to people on a ring which is further in than yours.  Seek comfort and support in doing that from people who are on a ring which is further out.  It will be easier for people further removed from the problem or situation to help care for you.

You might be part of several different groups in different ring positions, as well as being the centre of a ring yourself.  This is where it is important to remember self care.



Finding meaning in struggles

finding meaning in struggles

I’ve just watched an excellent TED talk by Andrew Solomon about finding the meaning in life’s struggles as a way of moving forward, entitled “How the worst moments in our lives make us who we are”.

In it, Solomon describes how he and other people he has met have used adversity and terrible experiences to grow their inner strength through finding meaning in what happened to them.  He draws on interviews he has done with victims of crimes and political prisoners.  He describes the discrimination he has suffered due to homophobia, and how he believes the courage and strength he uncovered in facing it have made him the man he is today.  He suggests that our identity is forged in adversity, not when things are easy.  That reminds me of the John Churn Colins quotation, “In prosperity, our friends know us; in adversity, we know our friends.”  I would also add to that, “and ourselves.”

A section which really struck me with its power was when Solomon said When we’re ashamed, we can’t tell our stories, and stories are the foundation of identity. Forge meaning, build identity, forge meaning and build identity. That became my mantra. Forging meaning is about changing yourself. Building identity is about changing the world. All of us with stigmatized identities face this question daily: how much to accommodate society by constraining ourselves, and how much to break the limits of what constitutes a valid life? Forging meaning and building identity does not make what was wrong right. It only makes what was wrong precious.”

This talk reminded me strongly of Victor Frankl’s book “Man’s Search for Meaning“, which made a strong impression on me when I read it some years ago.  Frankl writes about his experiences in the concentration camps, and how he transcended those experiences in order to survive them and be able to move on with his life after he was liberated.  His discoveries led him to develop a whole new model of therapy, and use his experiences to help many many other people.

Re-integrating your experiences into your life story can be hard work.  You may find yourself denying that you have any of the strength you showed – it might be hidden from you.  It’s there.  How will you find the meaning in your experiences?  How will you use what you have learned about yourself and others to forge a new and stronger identity?  What does your story look like?  What do you want it to look like?


If you would like to make an appointment with me, please contact me.

Saying No

saying no
Image by David Castillo Dominici at

I found the article “The People-Pleaser’s Guide to Saying No” this morning, and thought it was excellent.  It isn’t easy to say no, as I have written about before.  However, saying no is a necessary part of self-care – sometimes, the things people are of us are just too much to take on.

You might find yourself unable to do the things you need to do, because your time and energy is taken up elsewhere.  You might even find yourself resenting the person who asked you to do the task – and they may not even realise how much you have taken on and how you feel about it!

Saying yes can be very rewarding – the satisfaction in having a good interaction with someone, the joy of helping someone do something, the pride in an achievement.  However, when there isn’t a balance between your yeses and your noes, things can go very wrong.  It might not be just you that suffers – the article gives a good example of a man whose nearest and dearest were suffering because of his inability to say no!

The book “When I Say No, I feel Guilty” by Manuel Smith is a useful classic if you find you have difficulties in saying no.  After all, it isn’t just saying the words which is tough (yes, getting such a little word out can be really difficult!), but there is also potential fall-out to consider.

You may find that people react badly to a bald “no”, so the article linked above has some handy suggestions for ways to soften it and help things go a bit more smoothly.

Like anything, being comfortable saying no takes practice.  You may get it wrong or stumble several times – that’s okay!  Reasserting your boundaries may be tough for a while as the people around you get used to it – that’s okay too!

What changes might you see if you balanced your yeses and noes more?  Would you like to make those changes?

Taking yourself on a date

Taking yourself on a date
Image courtesy of Suriya Kankliang at

With Valentine’s Day approaching, shops and restaurants are full of images of couples – but if you don’t have anyone to spend Valentine’s Day with, you might feel a bit left out.  In that case, have you considered taking yourself on a date?

It might sound odd, but treating yourself to an indulgent trip out or a fancy meal might be just what you need to recharge your batteries and work on your relationship with yourself.

What do I mean by “relationship with yourself”?  What I mean is that you can end up spending so much time focussed on the external world – e.g. work, household matters – that you forget to meet your own needs and understand more about who you are.

Are you, for instance, someone who really loves going to the theatre?  If so, have you been lately?  If you haven’t, why not? What is holding you back from doing something that brings you joy – are your reasons realistic, or do you shy away from something that you see as “self-indulgent”?  Perhaps you think you don’t ‘deserve’ such a trip out?  Do you see yourself as worthy?

If you don’t have someone to treat you to these activities, it is easy to brush them aside.  Your might even find yourself saying, “It would be lovely if someone else took me there, but I would never do it myself…” – sound familiar?

It is often true that we treat our nearest and dearest much better than we treat ourselves, and need to be reminded to be our own best friend.  Taking yourself on a date, somewhere special, is a good step towards maintaining that friendship.

Have fun!

Goals and “To Do” lists

Last week’s blog post (New Year’s Resolutions and SMART goals) proved quite popular, so this post is a slight extension of that.  Goals and To Do lists are closely linked, and can be a source of satisfaction or strife!

Goals and to do lists
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

Someone suggested that adding a goal to your list that you know you will definitely complete can be a great motivational tool.  I agree!  No matter how small the item, putting a tick beside it can be very satisfying – and if it is something you enjoyed doing, double win!  She suggested adding “drink a can of coke” to hers, as that is something she enjoys and knows she will do that week.  What might yours be?

As I have said before, self care is important – just as important as other must-do tasks.

However, To Do lists can cause problems.

  • Are there too many items on your list, so you feel overwhelmed?  Try adding a note of how long each task will take you – you may find you have 23 tasks, but they only add up to about 2 hours’ work?
  • Are you taking on too many tasks?  If so, it might be worth looking at why – do you find it difficult to delegate?
  • Do you have trouble getting started when confronted with a list?  Perhaps you know you don’t have time to do everything.  You might like to try arranging them differently – for example, in order of priority.

There are a number of apps and systems available online to help organise tasks, and plenty of discussion about how to make things better.  A pen and pad by the side of the bed might give you a chance to relax if you know something is written down, so you don’t have to hold it in your mind while trying to get to sleep.  A pretty set of stationery or a convenient app (especially for recurring tasks) might make things easier – choose what works for you!

Good luck!


If you feel overwhelmed, anxious or just don’t know where to start to make things better, I am here to help.  Please contact me.

Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a form of depression which appears over winter, affecting about 3% of people in the UK according to the Royal College of Psychiatrists.  It seems to be linked to a lower amount of sunlight, but it is not clear exactly how and why some people are affected more than others.  Some people have suggested that humans once hibernated, and this might be a cause!


SAD has many of the same symptoms as clinical depression – including persistent low mood, lethargy/sleepiness and a feeling of disconnection or lack of interest in activities you normally enjoy.  You may find you are sleeping and eating more (particularly carbohydrates), and being ill more often. It is also common to find it more difficult to think clearly or manage stress well.


If you think you have SAD, it is a good idea to see your GP in the first instance.


Your GP may offer you medication or lifestyle advice to ease symptoms.  Some people find that making sure to get as much natural sunlight as possible eases symptoms, or use daylight-simulating lightbulbs or light boxes at home.  Eating well, taking appropriate exercise and maintaining social links all seem to help.


As always, good self care can not only ease symptoms in themselves but also help you feel more in control.  It is an important aspect of a healthy lifestyle but one that is often brushed aside – some people feel guilty or self-indulgent for prioritising it.  However, good self care not only helps us to feel better but it also means we are more able to help others.  Nurturing of yourself is just as important as (if not more important than) being able to nurture others!


Some people benefit from counselling to tackle SAD – if you would like to make an appointment with me for this, please contact me.


You might also seek advice from The Seasonal Affective Disorder Association or try the MoodGYM online CBT program.

Time for yourself

Do you make time for yourself?  It is very easy to rush around non-stop taking care of things that other people ask for – but is anyone doing that for you?

Taking time for yourself to refresh and recharge is a really valuable part of self-care.  It can be difficult to find the time, very difficult to ask others to help us make the time.  However, the only person who can make that time for you is you… and you are also the best person to stand up for your right to do that.

Saying “no” is not necessarily selfish or unkind – it can be a necessity.

After all – if you never say “no”, what is your “yes” worth?