What Can You Actually Control?

What Can You Actually Control?
March 11, 2020

When I was newly married and going through the transition of being single and living alone for a very long time to cohabiting, sharing every part of my life, and dealing with someone else’s idiosyncrasies, I was fortunate to have incredible female mentors in my life. I don’t know where I would be without them.

One of my mentors during that time introduced me to the Circle of Influence and Control, a tool created by Steven Covey. It is a very simple diagram of a circle. You write down all the things in life that are stressing you, bothering you, or are an area of concern. 

Then, inside the first circle you draw another circle that represents what you have influence over. The third and final circle drawn inside the circle of influence is the circle of control. Ahhh, this is where it gets interesting.

Looking back at the list of concerns, you would move them to the appropriate filter - either influence or control, remembering that some items won’t fall under either category and may permanently remain out of your control.

When Control Means Leaving

In the fall of 2019 I left a perfectly good job. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but something inside me was shifting. I couldn’t control my life evolving and I couldn’t make any particular job fit exactly what was developing in my heart when I wasn’t even sure what that was. But I had control over staying and keeping myself in a rut of safety (which, by the way, safety as a primary motivation can’t be good for you or the organization in the long run) or stepping away.

The nagging thing inside me wasn’t going to be quiet until I did something. I tried waiting for the perfect time, but guess what? There’s never a perfect time. You have to just do it and figure it out as you go.


Leaving was literally the ONE thing I could control. This year was guaranteed from the beginning to be a full year of transition, so I am quickly discovering everything that is outside my control. Some pieces I am able to influence, although it is all new territory.

One of my clients’ needs are primarily sales and brand awareness. I can influence how many people may discover this brand by getting it in front of their eyes, but I have little control over their response to believe that what we are offering is exactly what they need.

Recognizing the part that is beyond my control keeps my frustration to a minimum as long as my effort is one hundred percent.


Back to the reason this Covey tool came into my life in the first place - marriage. Ah, marriage. Or any relationship.

People are complicated. You are complicated. I am complicated. 

Every day you have multiple relationships you are juggling between friends, bosses, coworkers,  spouses, partners, and more. They range from wonderful to frustrating to downright maddening.

Sitting with my mentor reviewing the Circle of Influence and Control I listed situations in my life with Brooks and she would ask me which category each one fell into. I easily put every scenario into the influence or no-control category. My expectations of our relationship and of him were realistic but something about seeing it written down and categorized so subjectively branded this concept into my brain.

Now, for every situation I face, whether it’s not meeting marketing and sales goals or when someone in my life creates friction, I pause and process through this tool. What are the elements I can control and what is out of reach that I need to let go of or move on?

I’m guessing you might be able to relate with me, not in specifics, but in navigating conversations and situations that have the potential to cause internal conflict.

Spend some time reading about Covey’s diagram and thinking through elements you may have control over and which one you need to let go of. You could find a lot of freedom in this practice. You could even find yourself moving away from something you’re currently doing and venturing into a new season.

Go for it!