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How I found expanding my circle of influence helped my wellbeing

Bianca Nazareno
Final-year French & Spanish student

31 August 2021

Do you ever feel overwhelmed and that no matter what you do, things outside your control prevent you from reaching your goals? I’ve been in your shoes plenty of times. And the truth is, there are always things we can do to help get us back on track. In these situations, the greatest mistake we can make is to allow external forces to determine our self-worth; no heartbreak, no grade and no job rejection can make us any less valuable than how we feel about ourselves.

Circle of influence

A few years ago, I was suffering from low self-esteem issues after I’d received my sixteenth rejection from law firms. In my head, I had done everything I could but there was just too much competition. Instead of focusing on what I could do better, I blamed external forces for my feelings. And yet it felt like no matter how many applications I wrote, I continued to make the same mistakes – and get the same outcome.

Then, while staying at an isolated resort in the Philippines, without internet access, I stumbled across the book ‘The 5 Habits of Highly Effective People’ by Stephen R. Covey. It taught me a very important life lesson about expanding our circle of influence. A quote from the book reads:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. – Reinhold Niebuhr

This principle asks us to consider what we can control and what is beyond our control. Unfortunately, as humans, we tend to worry more about the latter and this is why the principles in Covey’s book are important for our mental health.

I applied them during the next law application cycle. I took time to step back and detach myself from the situation. What was I doing wrong and what was holding me back? Instead of launching into writing applications, I focused on what I could do to make myself a better candidate.


To improve my commercial awareness, I had an accountability buddy with whom I discussed the news every week. I read books on corporate law, attended more open days and practised religiously for psychometric tests. I researched in detail each firm I was applying to and prepared my applications two months in advance. I understood that the application cycle was a marathon and not a sprint. What I did every day counted. I had moments of procrastination, of course, but I always got back on track.

Because of my actions, I wrote eight excellent applications, secured two interviews, one vacation scheme and a training contract. I am grateful that I have secured this training, as I understand how competitive the process is and recognised how hard I worked to get this far. Additionally, I now don’t have to worry about another application cycle for my final year.

This lesson has forever shaped the way I approach daily challenges in life. It’s okay to experience setbacks. But if you’re running into the same problems again and again, it could be because there’s still something we need to learn. To achieve a different outcome, we must be willing to do things differently.

Here’s what I do to address challenges I face using the circle of influence technique

Three concentric circles, the circle of control, the circle of influence and the circle of concern

Step 1: Consider a problem you’re experiencing that you would like to resolve.

Step 2: Draw a circle and label it your circle of concern. Write down things that are outside of your control in this circle.

Step 3: Draw another circle inside the circle of concern. Label this your circle of influence. Write down what you can influence, such as your work and tasks, your relationships, aspects of your own behaviour or aspects of you company or academic culture.

Step 4: Draw a final circle inside the circle of influence and label this the circle of control. In this write down what you can control. For example your actions, words and thoughts, diet and sleep, decisions and responses.

Step 5: Now create your action plan! What can you do to solve this situation? As you work on your circle of control, you will see your circle of influence grow.

Step 6: And remember – don’t worry, be happy!

I hope you find this technique as useful as I did for reframing daily challenges. If you’re struggling, you can find details of wellbeing support via Student Services Online.