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  • Writer's pictureMark Talbot

Mastering your Spheres of Control, Influence, and Concern

As the Information Age continues to unfurl, many of us are experiencing an increasing rise in stress levels. I’ve been listening to my friends and colleagues as well as the social media rage-o-sphere. I’m paying attention to the issues people are facing, and most vocal about. What I have discovered in my casting about for this feedback is that people generally fall into one of two camps: Those who pay most attention to what they can directly control and indirectly influence, and those who pay attention primarily to the things that concern them but over which they have no control.

For now let’s leave aside that in the final analysis, we don’t really have much control over anything,. We all die after all - and rarely in the manner and method of our choosing. Yet - there still seems to be a modicum of control one can exert in one’s life to avoid many of the cosmic 2x4’s that the Universe continuously swings at us. This inner Sphere of Control includes things like caloric intake, exercise and movement, media diet, education, time spent with family and friends, time spent sleeping. (BTW - sleep is your A#1 superpower)

Then there are the events and/or people over which you can exert some form of influence, but you cannot directly effect. What falls here in the middle Sphere of Influence is just about anyone/anything outside of our selves but within proximity: the people we interact with in our daily lives at home or at work, and to a lesser degree the people we have short term contact with like the clerk at the grocery store, the UberEats delivery gal, your neighbors, or the people you pass while walking (because you are at least out exercising during Covid-19 right?!)

At its broadest level is the Sphere of Concern. Here lie the events and people over which you have little to no control or influence and perhaps fleeting to no interaction. At the inner fringes of this sphere lie people like your boss’ boss, your local or state politicians, the citizens of your town or city; out at the outer fringes are famous actors, musicians, politicians, owners of large companies. Or, god forbid, that asteroid that might be heading for Earth. For whatever reason, you have allowed them into your awareness, usually through some sort of gossip or media channel. With social and news media models evolving to capture our attention with hyper-personally tailored rage-inducing queues, this outer sphere can encroach on our middle and inner spheres. From an evolutionary biology perspective, we are hard-wired for hyper-awareness of these potential and actual threats. Good news: as a highly evolved creature, you also have the power of discernment and choice.

If you are looking for a simple way to take back control of your anxiety and neuroses, what I’d recommend is this: give most of your precious attention to those things within your sphere of influence. After that, some attention to those things over which you have influence. Last, and very least-ly, sprinkle just enough attention toward the Sphere of Concern so that you at least have feelers out for that cosmic 2x4 that might be swinging your way. Hint - this probably does not involve any celebrity misbehavior whatsoever.

In doing so, you just might find that your outcomes look a little more like the second diagram: Your own sphere of control will expand, and thus your sphere of influence. Now - and here’s the catch - the surface area of your sphere of concern might also expand, but you will be more equipped and well prepared to face those things, or decide they do not merit your attention. The exogenous threats won’t stop coming, but with a practice of focus on the inner sphere, you’ll be building capacity for the next moment. And the next…

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