Sometimes you run for the sidelines
When I was in grad school I hit a rut where I wasn’t doing what I needed to do each day.
A friend recommended Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” which had come out in paper back that year.
I still remember the two main things I took from the book.
The first was to think of the things you have to do on two axes: Not important to important on one axis and not urgent to urgent on the other.
Covey argued that we spend far too much time working on tasks that are urgent but not important.
Of course, he said, we have to work on the ones that are urgent and important and we shouldn’t spend time on tasks that are neither urgent nor important.
But good things happen the more time we devote to those things that are important but not urgent.
The other thing I remember was a diagram with two concentric circles.
The outer one is the Circle of Concern and the inner one is the Circle of Influence.
Now if the last four years has taught us anything, it’s that these circles are not actually one inside the other.
We’ve seen people with influence far beyond the worlds that they care about.
The circles should probably look more like a classic Venn Diagram with overlapping circles. That would give us four regions much like the four quadrants in our Urgent/Important diagram.
There would be an area of things that we aren’t concerned about and can’t influence. But that’s not really important to our story.
There would also be an area of things that we can influence but aren’t concerned about. It turns out that that’s not really relevant to the point of the story either.
We can artificially make ourselves happier if we shrink the circle of things we’re concerned about. But if we do we also would never be satisfied.
So back to the book’s drawing.
Assume that the Circle of Influence sits inside the Circle of Concern.
This means that we assume for the sake of this exercise that we only have impact over things we care about.
Now look at the region outside of the inner circle and inside the outer circle.
This is filled with things you worry about all day that you can’t influence.
This is the stuff that raises our stress level and there’s nothing we can do to change their outcome.
Some of it might be fun - say a favorite sports team winning. Despite what our superstitious selves might think, there’s nothing we can do to influence the outcome of the game. In fact, we might be rooting for the wrong thing to happen.
At the end of last week’s Browns game, the Cleveland Browns led by three points with about a minute left. It was third down and if they didn’t advance the ball enough they would give the other team the ball and a chance to tie or win the game.
Nick Chubb ran through a hole in the defense and ran towards the end zone. He would surely score and the browns would be up by nine. Ten if the extra point was made.
But it was a windy day - who knows if the extra point would be made or not. And then the other team gets the ball with no time outs but teams have scored in less time. And then maybe they go for two points and tie the game.
None of that is likely and we’ll never know if it could happen or not.
At the one yard line Chubb turned left and ran out of bounds.
Instead of adding to his personal record and most likely securing a Browns win, he ran out of bounds and ensured that his team won. The Browns could run out the clock and win by three.
And that’s what they did.
I love Covey’s metaphor.
We’ll be happy if we decrease the region between our circle of influence and our circle of concern.
We often take that to mean we should reduce our circle of concern to just those things we can influence but sometimes we can increase our circle of influence.
We can run through all of the what-ifs and realize that a less-obvious solution exists. We have to pause and not be concerned with what it does to our own stats.
We need to understand that sometimes the answer is out of bounds.
Essay from Dim Sum Thinking Newsletter 34. Read the rest of the Newsletter or subscribe