Circles of control


There are many parts of life over which we have no control, yet this can sometimes be a difficult truth to accept and can become a source of stress. Common ways of coping with this may include micromanagement or ongoing worry.

In order to cope effectively it is helpful to reflect on where our stressors lie within our circles of control. That is, do we have no control, some control, or total control over it? This process allows us to identify the concerns over which we have influence and can guide how we can manage our responses to those concerns.

  • No control

  • This circle may be quite difficult to cope with, because something may be causing distress or discomfort and there’s nothing we can do about it. However, the very act of noticing that a stressor is out of our control is helpful two fold: it allows us to let go and it also allows us to take a step towards establishing what is within our control.

  • Some control

  • If we identify a concern as something over which we have some influence, we can explore it further and figure out what aspects fall within our total control and what parts we have no control over.

  • Total control

  • The components of this circle are most likely to be related to how we think, feel, or act. The key is to develop acceptance skills to open up and make room for these unhelpful thoughts or uncomfortable feelings, and to learn to reduce the struggle with them.

The more open you are to these uncomfortable feelings, the more easily they can come and go, and the more easily you can continue to do things that are meaningful to you. Techniques from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), such as mindfulness and strategies to unhook from thoughts, will be most helpful.

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