After the past few weeks (well, let’s be honest, the last few years) we’ve had in our country, so many of us are having moments when we feel completely out of control. When we feel out of control, it can be easy to react in ways that we aren’t proud of. Perhaps we slip back into old coping mechanisms even if we know they don’t serve us. Perhaps we shut down and shut out the world. Perhaps we feel that if we cannot be in control, then we tell ourselves there is nothing we can do. This feeling of helplessness is scary and often immobilizing.
Typically though, control isn’t so black and white. Just as we are never truly in full control of a situation, we also never have zero control. Today, I want to introduce one therapeutic exercise you can try at home in a moment you are feeling out of control that helps explore the gray areas. This is a version of Steven Covey’s Circle of Control exercise.
First, grab a piece of paper and a writing utensil. Now, on this paper, you can draw three concentric circles. Don’t worry, no one will see your paper so the circles certainly don’t have to be perfect, mine never are! At the top of the paper write down one situation that you are struggling with and feel out of control over. As an example, we can say that you have a big job interview coming up. Now, in the smallest circle, I want you to brainstorm and write down all the things that are within your control as you prepare for the job interview. What can you do that you have full control over? For example, you may write: getting there early, researching the company beforehand, seeking out reviews on what it’s like to work at the job. Now, in the second circle, you will write down things that you may have some control or influence over.
For example, I can control how I respond to interview questions even if I can’t know for sure what they will ask, I can prepare some grounding tools for if I get nervous at the interview, I can have a salary range in my head that I feel comfortable with even if I may not get it here. Now, in the final circle, you are going to write down things you cannot control (also known as the circle of concern). In this circle, for example, you may write: what the interviewer asks me, whether they hire me, how the job treats/respects someone with my identity/if there may be discrimination.
When you’re done, take a look back at the circles. Oftentimes, when I do this exercise with clients, they find they have a lot more in that inner circle than they initially thought. Generally, this is the case. Even when we feel totally out of control, there really are some things we do have control over. If we choose to only focus on the things we don’t, it can be so easy to forget and lose the power we do have. As we begin to acknowledge our inner strength and power, our circle of control grows larger and we learn we are strong enough to cope with the things outside our control.