How to Focus Your Energy for Maximum Effect

In this article, we're going to explore how to focus your energy in a way which is most effective. You want to focus on what you can control, or at least can influence. You don't want to focus on things that you care about but have no ability to influence at all.

In permaculture, this is known as the Prime Directive. In Steven Covey's Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, it is called "Be Proactive" and it is the very first habit listed in the book. Some ideas are so important that they surface in the cultural awareness under multiple names simultaneously from slightly different perspectives. 

The Prime Directive

"The only ethical decision is to take responsibility for our own existence and that of our children." - Bill Mollison

Change starts with you. It starts inside yourself and with your family. From there, perhaps it starts effecting your social circle and, in a best case scenario, maybe even the entire world. The best way to change the world, or even to create a best version of your own individual life, is to utilize this sort of build-up approach. We each make changes for ourselves in our own lives and then the cumulative effect of that is also large-scale change at a societal level. Similarly, Aspire's goal is to transform individuals (mainly ourselves) so that we can reach a critical mass in which society actually starts functioning in a superior way, more consistent with our ethics

The Circle of Influence vs. The Circle of Concern

Think of a small circle inside of a larger circle. The small circle is your "Circle of Influence." The Circle of Influence includes all the factors that your actions actually have an ability to affect at some level. These would include, for example, what you decide to eat for breakfast tomorrow or whether or not you choose to meditate today. Anything you can influence at all is within your Circle of Influence. 

The larger circle is the "Circle of Concern." The Circle of Concern includes everything that you care about. In my case, I care about earthquakes on the other side of the world. I care about the state of the Amazonian rainforest. I care about many, many things, but for most of them I have very little ability to directly influence them.

Here's a visual depiction of these two circles. Of course, the Circle of Concern is larger and includes everything in the Circle of Influence.

Almost by definition, all energy spent trying to influence things outside of your influence are a complete waste of energy. For example, perhaps you hear a political pundit on TV with whom you disagree. Well, your ability to change that person's mind is zero.

The only criticism I have encountered related to this model is the possibility of mistakenly thinking something is outside of your Circle of Influence when in fact this thing is inside the circle. We think this is more of a theoretical issue than a real problem with the model. In general, it's easy to identify what you have the ability to influence and if you happen to be wrong and influence more than you thought, well that's perfectly fine. 

The Circle of Control

A similar, even smaller circle exists inside of the Circle of Influence and this smallest circle is called the Circle of Control. You might directly or indirectly influence a lot of things, but you have direct control of even less than that. You primarily have control over yourself and your thinking. It's your attitude. It's your decisions about where to focus your attention. Are you taking care of yourself physically? Have you cleaned the kitchen? You get the idea. Here's a visual depiction of the three circles:


Returning to the Prime Directive, focusing your attention on what you can do yourself and helping to mold your children is specifically how to direct your energy to the Circle of Control. You are freeing yourself up from wasting your energy in the Circle of Concern outer ring and to some extent even the Circle of Influence middle ring (because there are things you can influence but not totally control). Yes, you can incrementally increase the size of your Circle of Influence, but in our view it's not possible to radically alter the relative size of these circles when compared to each other. 

Why is This Important?

The Prime Directive is important because it provides a practical analysis framework to evaluate where you are spending your energy. Are you wasting your energy on your Circle of Concern? Hopefully instead you are increasingly focusing your energies on your smallest circle, the Circle of Control.  This will allow you to be more targeted in your decisions and more effective overall in life. 

Article Copyright Aspire LLC