3. The Circles of Control, Influence and Concern

By Chris Chittenden

To my knowledge the distinctions set out below are not referenced by either the Newfield Network or Newfield Institute approach to ontological coaching.

Human beings’ relationship with the future throws up two major apprehensions about life. The first relates to the certainty of death; a certainty we will have to address at some stage in our life. The second relates to the uncertainty of everything else in the future. How we face up to the certainty of our death and our uncertain future plays a large part in our self-story and way of being.

We can utilise the ‘Big Three’ (‘I’, ‘We’ and ‘It’) to create a useful perspective on how to address the challenge of the future and where you can put your energy to achieve a more fulfilling life. We can create this perspective by defining three areas of life – what we can control, what we can influence and what concerns us.

Let us start with what matters to an individual. This is delineated as the ‘Circle of Concern’ covers all ‘Big Three’ domains. The ‘Circle of Concern’ represents everything that matters to a particular individual. This includes aspects that someone can control and influence. However, by its nature the ‘Circle of Concern’ will always contain many things outside of a person’s influence or control. For example, most people have an interest in the weather and its impact on their daily life; yet can do nothing to influence it.

Within the ‘Circle of Concern’ lies the ‘Circle of Control’. This resides exclusively in ‘I’ domain and represents the aspects of a person’s world they can directly control. From an ontological perspective, ‘Control’ relates to what we can directly make happen as a result of our choices regardless of the agreement of others. In this regard, our ‘Circle of Control’ can only relate to one’s self and, for that matter, only to our conscious self. Why is this?
In the ontological approach, ‘Control’ is seen as being directly linked to conscious choice. Indeed, the claim is ‘Control = Awareness + Choice’. As such, it can then be said a person can only exert control over aspects of their own way of being of which they are aware. As most of what we do is habitual, what we term ‘transparent’ in the ontological approach, we generally act without conscious decision about how we will act and play out well-worn patterns of action. To act that way means to be outside of our direct control. It is useful to appreciate those habits are not just physical actions but include how we observe and interpret our observations. It follows that the greater our capacity for self-awareness then the greater our capacity to have control over our way of being.

Another aspect of this relates to addiction. Sometimes we are well aware of our habits and seek to change them. However, we may be aware of ourselves falling into an habitual act, such as eating high sugar content food when we say we wish to eat healthier foods, but find our habit still has us snack on a chocolate bar. Clearly this speaks to a lack of control even when we find ourselves in a choice point, so it is important to recognise that to fall into our ‘Circle of Control’ our moment by moment choices have to be aligned with our bigger declarations for the future.

It is central to the ontological approach to also appreciate that, when we become aware of our transparencies, we can seek to create new and more useful ones. In doing so, we can create greater alignment for ourselves leading to a greater sense of authenticity.

Finally, given human beings are social beings, an individual is able to impact on their ‘Circle of Concern’ through others. This is their ‘Circle of Influence’ and is related to the quality of their relationships and the quality of the conversations that happen within those relationships. It speaks to our capacity to build our authority with others and gain substantive promises from them. The bigger the promises we can gain from others, the bigger the impact on our ‘Circle of Concern’.