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  • Writer's pictureTamsin Hartley

Circles of Agency and Concern


Do you ever find yourself pulled in all directions, trying to meet the needs of others? Or frustrated by the things that others do? Perhaps there are times when you feel out of your depth, or overwhelmed by the busy demands of life?


The concept of Circles of Agency and Concern is a useful tool for reflecting on the way that you are thinking, feeling and behaving in any given moment so that you can identify solutions to the challenges you may face. This concept has been adapted from the work of Stephen Covey.


It works like this. Imagine two circles, one inside the other.

The central circle represents your Circle of Agency. This refers to the things that you have direct control over. In this circle lies:

  • the things that you do

  • the things that you say

  • your conscious thoughts

  • the decisions that you make


The Circle of Agency is a ‘choice-full’ place. You will be engaging the more rational part of your brain (your prefrontal cortex) to evaluate the situation you find yourself in. You will have let go of trying to control the things you have no direct control over. Instead, your attention will be on taking responsibility for your actions. You will be making choices that respect your own needs and desires as well as considering the needs of others. This is a place of self-care.


The circle around this represents your Circle of Concern. In this circle lie the things that affect you, but that you have no direct control over:

  • the things others do and say

  • the opinions and expectations of others

  • the needs of others

  • the things that happened in the past


This is a more reactive place to operate from. It is where internal ‘drama’ resides – you can read more about this in my previous blog series – and the reactive part of your brain (your amygdala) takes centre stage. You may be wanting to change others or blame them for how you feel. You may feel victim to things that lie beyond your control. Or stuck in the hurts and grievances from the past. You may experience a sense of anger, frustration or hopelessness.


Your Circle of Concern can be an exhausting place to be! Whereas, standing in your Circle of Agency is both empowering and liberating – even if the choices available to you are limited.


Thankfully, there are two simple steps needed to help bring you into your Circle of Agency:


1.     The first step is about noticing which circle you are operating from. It is about awareness. You can ask yourself:

  • How am I experiencing this situation?

  • What aspects of this situation lie in my Circle of Agency?

  • What aspects of this situation lie in my Circle of Concern?


2.     The second step is about exploring the choices available to you. Ask yourself:

  • What are my choices in this situation?

  • What can I do?

  • What can I say?


The video below guides you through exploring a situation in this way. It is taken from the Coming to Calm video course.

Many people have found this simple tool invaluable in managing the stresses and strains of their everyday life. Just bringing up a mental image of the two circles has helped them step into a more resourceful way of handling a situation.


You can learn more about the Circles of Agency and Concern, and other mindful tools for everyday life in two ways:


·       By purchasing the Coming to Calm video course

·       By joining a group live online Coming to Calm course


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