First came news of a new virus that quickly became a full-blown pandemic that we’re still battling today. Racial inequality, environmental devastation, economic downturn and more left the U.S., and the world, feeling uncertain about the future.
I can’t say I blame you if you’ve been wanting to put 2020 behind us and hoping for better things to come in 2021 – don’t we all? This past year we have all learned that what happens in the world is largely out of our control. But what we can control are the ways in which we respond and react in times of crisis.
The fact of the matter is that every single year has its ups and downs. Some years have more ups than downs, some more downs than ups, and it’s up to us to learn how to manage them accordingly. Those who sit back and wait for a day that everything goes their way will only see that day will never come, all the while missing out on the beauty and wonder of life hidden right under their noses.
Dealing with this ebb and flow of events that life constantly throws at you comes down to controlling the flow of information that enters your mind. Everything you feel, perceive, and think starts with an idea, and those ideas can come from any number of places: TV, social media, books, conversations–the sources are endless.
When you step back and think about the entire universe of thoughts that run through your head during your waking hours, you can effectively split them into two groups:
- Things you have some degree of control over, and
- Things you don’t
In the classic self-help book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, author Stephen Covey works this into a mental model called the Circle of Concern vs. the Circle of Control, which you can see below:
The Circle of Concern includes everything you spend time thinking about that you have little to no ability to change, like politics, the stock market, Covid-19, etc.
The Circle of Control represents everything that you have a direct and immediate impact on, such as the projects you tackle at work, the time you spend with your kids, books you choose to read, and so on.
Reactive people–that is, people who spend a lot of time reacting to external events that take place–spend a disproportionate amount of their time within the Circle of Concern, which leads to undue levels of stress, anxiety, and worry.
Which shouldn’t come as a surprise–what do you think is going to happen when you spend a bunch of time worrying about things you have no control over?
Proactive people, on the other hand, spend more of their time within their Circle of Control, thinking about the things they can do right now that will have a direct and positive impact. As a result, they feel less stressed, more productive, and more at peace with the world.
Now, that’s not to say that the more proactive folks never worry about things outside of their control. We’re all human, and it’s in our nature to respond to threats and evaluate new pieces of information that could affect our health and wellbeing.
However, they understand that there’s a balance to be struck. It’s okay to turn on the news every once in awhile, or indulge in the latest celebrity gossip, but everything outside your Circle of Control needs to be taken in moderation. You don’t eat pizza for breakfast, lunch, and dinner everyday, do you? (I sure hope not!). Well, you need to take the same approach to the information that flows into your mind as you do with the food that goes into your body Garbage in, garbage out, as they say. The more garbage you let in–the more things that lie outside of your control–the worse you’ll feel, and the more your mental health will suffer.
So if you’ve been dwelling on all the negative events that have come our way in 2020, do yourself a favor. Turn off the news, log out of social media, and put your focus towards something you have 100% control over. Crack open a book, take a walk in the woods, start a new project with your kid. The sun will still rise tomorrow, I promise. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll have the mental clarity to sit back and actually enjoy it.
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