Rudey's Room

Stop Worry in Its Tracks with Three Circles


“When we can no longer change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”

– Viktor Frankl


Turn on the news and bam! This, this, and that. If you spend too much time dwelling THAT starts to feel like a big, bad scary world out there.

You have a wide range of concerns – from general to specific, broad to narrow, big to small.

I do too.

There’s this and that and crap, not that again. Then suddenly you hit your breaking point, right?

Everyone’s threshold for frustration is different. There are easy going types that seem better equipped to roll with the punches. There are others, like me, who are wired Type A. We have to practice mindful reconfiguring or we break down. In one shape or another.

I spent most of my teens and a fair amount of my twenties wishing I could just “roll with it” until I realized, my efforts were futile. I got help on a major problem. Simply willing myself to be chill wasn’t an effective path to be chill.

In my thirties, I learned to work with how my brain is wired. I found formulas this way.

I can easily spiral into worry and anxiety. It’s what I do if I allow myself. It is what it is. But I’ve trained myself to stop obsessing outside of my control and stay focused on what I can do. I find when I hone on the things that I actually can do something about, the stress in my life decreases. It’s a step up from fretting over the things I have no control over.

Easy to say. Harder to do.

Last night, my oldest crawled in bed with me and shared a problem she had with a friend. She ended with, “I’m not the kind of person that just lets things go. I speak my mind.”

Speak your mind? Yes! We’re raising a strong girl. Never letting it go? Oh baby girl.

Is this hardwired? I’m not certain, but I was well on my path to “letting go” and “picking my battles” before I had her.

I have to intentionally walk go through the motions to manage my mind.

It seems like Veronica is on the same path. I will help her. I will provide a compass.

I want to share a tool with you that I’ve learned to direct energy and action in meaningful ways on the things that you do have control over, the things you can influence.

In the early summer 2012, I took a Leader in Me workshop at my school. That day I learned about Covey’s circlesIt was a great help to me when I was going through the Chicago Public School application process

What’s the Issue, Dear?: Figure out what’s bothering you. Grab a piece of paper and write down your top five complaints. What are you worried about? What’s heavy on your mind? Here are some possible scenarios …

  • My daughter wakes up every day at 5:30 a.m. and I’m exhausted.
  • My best friend and I have grown apart since we had children.
  • There was a gunshot on my street last night and I’m scared.
  • I travel too much and see my family less than I would like.
  • My house looks like a bomb exploded and I feel like I’m going crazy (probably two issues 🙂 )

Oops, that last one was real. My upstairs neighbor’s pipe burst and the water leaked into ours. Yes, we are missing part of our ceiling and walls …




and some hardwood floor in our kitchen:




The electrical in our kitchen is toast, which means no dishwasher. We’re either hand washing dishes or living off paper products. With the lack of functioning outlets, we’re making coffee on the floor in our eating area.

This is my circle of concern. It’s pretty pedestrian. My basic needs are met, so what do I have to complain about, right? This too shall pass … I get that. Yet I have concerns. And I know you have yours.

That’s why I suggest you make a list. You can certainly talk about it in lieu of writing, but I’m a to-do maker so I like the paper-pen method.

Write out your grievances, but make three columns. I say this because it’s a trap to play too much in your circle of concern. Spend some time there, but don’t waste valuable energy without action. Once you know what’s on your mind, take a step away and move onto your circle of control. Here’s a worksheet if you’d like.

Tame the Control Freak: Next up, ask yourself: What can I control? You can control your thoughts, your reactions to outside stimuli, your actions, your choices. You cannot control other people’s thoughts, reactions, actions, or choices. You can influence others, but you cannot control them – ’cause “people are people, you know what I mean.” The sooner you realize your circle of control is internal versus external, the happier you will be. So …

Be a Person of Influence: What can you do to change your situation for the better? Brainstorm ways to act upon the things that you can change. What action can you take today or this week to tap into your circle of influence? How can you make a difference in what matters to you?

I joke about a fourth circle: The circle of I Don’t Care. This is the spot where I know that my energy is not worth expending. It’s when I know it’s time to focus my efforts and attention elsewhere. That’s the Circle of I Don’t Care. 

Let me share a personal example of how to work though the circles.

Circle of Concern: The housekeeper on our floor patted my youngest’s tush.

I can’t pass to the circle of control before I say: Eeek. Big concern and explain.

The backdrop: Last weekend we went skiing. We stayed a night in a hotel after we skied. The hotel had a pool so we decided to take a dip in the a.m. We all fully covered up (pants and tops) en route to the pool, except my youngest, Stella. She only put on a shirt on top of her bikini. On the way to the pool, we passed the housekeeper. My husband asked her for a couple towels. As we made our way down the hallway – my husband in front, Stella second, and Veronica and I taking up the back – the woman ran after Stella and touched her bottom.

Circle of Control: In this case, my reaction is what I could control. I was stunned that this happened. I reacted with a nervous giggle and a dirty look directed at the woman, what the what? Stella’s reaction was: “What did you just do that? That was creepy.”  I wish I would have said more to the housekeeper, but I think Stella handled it.

Circle of Influence: I talked to the girls. They know about boundaries and the three Rs. I called the hotel to report it and let my girls know I was doing this and why. I wasn’t looking to get anyone in trouble, but it felt best to report what happened. We talk about reporting versus telling, and this was most definitely reporting.

In the end, the manager of housekeeping called me back to say that she had a sit down with the woman. The housekeeper said she was terribly sorry and said she had thought Stella was adorable, meant no harm, and realized it was inappropriate.

I was glad I called.

The trifecta of circles is a cool model to have at the ready when you start to feel overwhelmed. It helps me to work through frustration and focus on what I can control and influence versus spinning energy on things I cannot control.

It’s also a good habit to establish earlier, before a you feel too out of control (perhaps weekly as maintenance? or daily in the shower).




4 Responses to “Stop Worry in Its Tracks with Three Circles”

  1. Bill Radue

    I know that I am a little bias but your are awesome. Remember I believe that Mark Twain said you will see 10 problems coming down the road remember 9 will turn before they get to you

  2. Joan radue

    Nice! Sometimes it is hard to keep it in perspective. good points to grow on!


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