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How to Create Your Own “Circle of Control”

When I feel out of control, feelings of anxiety are usually not far behind. My shoulders become tense, restless energy finds me cleaning the bathroom (I hate cleaning the bathroom), and those closest to me are subject to my short temper.   

When I feel out of control, I notice that I’m overly sensitive to sounds, textures, and light. The normal sounds of my kids playing seems amplified by one thousand, the tag on my shirt is now a thorn in my side, or the beep of the microwave can send me over the edge and I’m now screaming for it all to stop!

Can you relate?

When we feel out of control, our bodies and minds go on alert. 

Many years ago, I came across a quote that I continually come back to. “What you focus on grows.” It’s so simple yet so powerful. What I pay attention to, give space in my life and in my brain becomes the biggest and most important thing. 

When I feel out of control, it’s helpful to pay attention to what I can control. 

“Circle of Control”

Today I want to share with you a simple exercise called “Circle of Control.” I’ve found this to be helpful to use not only for myself, but with my kids as well. By intentionally looking at a situation and identifying what I have control or influence over and what I can let go of helps calm my anxious and frantic feelings. When I focus on where I do have influence, those places grow in my life. It brings a sense of control back to the situation and often uncovers what the right next step is for me and my family. 

Here’s how it works. I start with a blank piece of paper. On the paper I draw a big circle. Inside the circle goes everything I have the ability to influence or control. If I can’t control or influence it, it goes outside the circle. Here’s an example:

“Circle of Control” with Kids

Just as we feel anxious and uncertain about things that are out of our control, so do our kids. The “Circle of Control” can be helpful, especially for upper elementary, middle schoolers, and high school age kids. They are learning where they have influence and where they do not. It can be on a large scale or small.

Sometimes I do this using paper and pen like I demonstrated above and sometimes I will simply ask “Is that something that you can control or change? 

With elementary age kids, I will provide examples and have them sort. For example, if we are talking about problems with a friend at school I might offer the following situations:

  • Where your friend eats lunch (no control)
  • Where you eat lunch (control)
  • Feeling sad that friend is eating with someone else (no control)
  • What you do with your sad feelings (control)
  • Inviting another friend to eat lunch with you (control)

As children get older, they are able to come up with their own possibilities but may still need some guidance. 

Why is this Important?

I think that most of us will agree that life is not always easy. Some things are harder than others and right now, a lot of things feel hard. We can be our best selves when we have the tools and resources to respond to hard things in healthy ways. Using the “Circle of Control” is just one tool that can help us sift through a hard situation and focus on our places of influence and let go of the others. Teaching our kids to do the same will help them not only now, but in the years to come. 

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