A “crazy-making vicious cycle of stress and discontent”

circle of concern

by Carolyn Thomas @HeartSisters

The best business management lesson that Jen Thorson ever learned may well be a lesson worth learning for all of us – particularly those of us living with heart disease (or any other chronic and progressive diagnosis).

Early in her business career, Jen (now a 30-something mom, distance runner, heart attack survivor and blogger), took a management course called “Dealing with Difficult People Without Losing Your Cool” (and who among us has not signed up for such a course at work, usually with a verrrry specific person in mind?) 

Jen ThorsenThere was plenty of great content in that half-day session, Jen explained, but the piece that she has used over and over again — in work as well as in life — is: 

“Always know — and always heed — your circle of concern and your circle of influence.”

Here are the basics as Jen describes them:

Your circle of influence is what you have control over or the ability to affect. These are things like what you do, think, and say, how you spend your time, who you spend time with, tasks that are your sole responsibility, the decisions you are responsible for.

Your circle of concern are all the things that affect you but over which you have no control. These are things like what others decide or how others react to a decision you made. Even though it might concern you, they are simply a concern. They are not yours to control.

“The problem is that we get stuck trying to control or change things in our circle of concern and we do not succeed. This creates a crazy-making vicious cycle of stress and discontent.

“But mostly, it makes you lose your mind”.

Whether at the office or at home in the kitchen, it’s important to know and remember these two circles.  Jen believes, for example, that many people worry most about what concerns them and spend way too little time on what they can actually do, or influence.

Doesn’t this sound familiar to those of you who are living with a diagnosis like heart disease?  Just so many concerns to worry about – it’s a full-time job feeling anxious about every scary twinge, and what might happen, or what might not happen.

Instead, Jen recommends that once you’ve figured out that you’re stuck in the quagmire of concern, start working on getting back into your circle of influence:

“In your influence circle, you can:

  • Stay in control of your thoughts and actions; this is where your power lies.
  • Keep others from having power over how you think, feel, and behave.
  • Focus your time and energy on what you can control.
  • Develop a new outlook on the problem.

“Of course nobody can simply ignore all the things that are a concern. You can still work to improve the situation, solve the problem, set the next goal. The value of identifying the circles, however, is in realizing that there’ s a reason it is so hard.”

Thanks so much to Jen Thorson for this inspiration.  Jen’s a 38-year-old mom of two, distance runner, and heart attack survivor. She is a heart health advocate and speaker, and currently serves as the American Heart Association of Minnesota’s Go Red for Women spokesperson. (Watch her compelling story in the 6-minute video there!) She writes about her experience living with heart disease at her blog, My Life In Red.


Q:  Can you recall a time when you got stuck in a “concern” and found a way back to your circle of “influence”?

11 thoughts on “A “crazy-making vicious cycle of stress and discontent”

  1. Pingback: Nancy's Point
  2. Hi Carolyn,

    There is a basic assumption that we can accurately differentiate between the circles at any one point in time. But let’s look at heart disease – we would expect it to be within both circles, and with adherence to heart healthy living we’d sway the epigenetics our way IF we had genetic predisposition.

    At least in my case it has not been in my circle of influence . . .very low BMI, very low cholesterol, no genetics, very active, in a life that I loved with people I loved. 4 years of medical hell later they are no closer to explaining it.

    My point just being (since I can feel a bitter rant coming on) that experts and others may tell us something is within our sphere of influence and it may not be so.

    It goes back to Chopra telling us to THINK ourselves well. Or others telling us to “embrace” our illness or our symptoms when they reappear. That’s a lot of embracing and I’m just NOT that kind of girl 😉

    Ok teensy bit of rant leaked out . . .


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, maybe just the teensiest little rant… 😉 You are so right, JG! The difference is that just because we try to move something out of our circle of concern, we have no guarantee that we’ll definitely have the power to influence that concern! The focus here, as I understand it, is encouraging us not to get stuck in the downward spiral of that circle of concern. As I wrote here last week, sometimes bad things happen to good people – no matter what we do or don’t do!


        1. Can I just say that I am not getting my money’s worth out of my psych professional ?? 🙂 too much ranty anger . . . There should be an app for that!!



          Liked by 1 person

  3. We have our secret society of having a hidden illness that we deal with every day. We all deal with things differently and there are many things that can put you in an elite group that simply changes your life and your outlook forever. The loss of a loved one, living in an abusive situation, loss of a job, loss of a home on a stormy, tornado night and certainly having a chronic illness.

    The best thing to do is educate yourself on whatever you are dealing with. Number One, you will learn a lot of coping information. Number Two, you will find you are not alone and not the first to endure these things.

    There is strength in numbers and there is also comfort in it. Thanks to all those that spend a few minutes a day to interact and share on this site. It is an inspiration and a comfort to all of us.


  4. Thank you for these words of wisdom. It is true that it is easy to get caught up in all the things you want but can’t control. With the best of intentions family, friends & doctors aren’t always helpful- they offer advice as if it is a solution & in the end that only adds to your stress.

    The reality is there are some things that can’t be fixed & try as we might to take preventative measures things still go wrong. The greatest comfort you can give is just to be there when we falter or fall.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Stress and discontent sum up my biggest challenges. I love the saying: “it is what it is”, but I still find myself wanting to change that which is not changeable.

        I am a big fan of Seinfeld and in our house we use the phrase of George’s father: “Serenity now”, he who is anything but serene. This is a great motto for we who have heart disease!

        Life happens and we can’t control many things but we can work on some things , especially through such techniques as Mindfulness Meditation, that is, changing our brain pathways.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Hello Barbara – I know what you mean. Intellectually, we buy the ‘it is what it is’ sentiment, but in reality some part of us might still believe that we are in charge around here and somehow we can figure out a way to make it NOT what it is. Now I have that image of George’s father stuck in my mind, screaming Serenity now! 😉


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