Are You Acting on Life or Is Life Acting on You?

Approximately a 5 minute read

In Part 1 and Part 2 of this Series we talked about how we live according to an often-unexamined story, how the only thing you can control is your own responses to life, and how we can only live and act in this moment.

Here in Part 3 we’re going to explore how your focus on your own responses makes you more powerful, how to make this moment count by focusing your energy where you can be most effective, and how doing so can give you the power to begin to change your story, if you want to.


Three circles 

Picture three circles nested one inside another. 

Circle of Response 

The core, central circle, I’ve called your Circle of Response. It contains the only thing you have any control over: you, including your story about yourself and your world, and your responses to the world around you.

Circle of Influence 

The next circle, surrounding the smallest one, is what Steven Covey called your Circle of Influence in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People1.

Your Circle of Influence contains the things you have some influence over, although you can’t fully control them.

Examples of things in your Circle of Influence include your health and your relationships – you can’t control them, but you can influence them quite a bit if you take good care of them.  

Circle of Concern

The third, largest circle, surrounding the other two, Steven Covey called your Circle of Concern. Out there are all the things that concern you but that you have no control over at all.

Ineffective governments, greedy corporations, unaware consumers, and the idiots on the committee where your kids go to school, are all out there in your Circle of Concern. They concern you—deeply—but you have no direct influence over them.

In Part 4, we’ll talk about how some of the things out in your Circle of Concern can be brought within your influence, but first, a little more detail on the Circle of Response. 

More about your Circle of Response

The Circle of Response is in the center for a reason: what happens here sets the tone for everything else in your life.

The kinds of things contained in your Circle of Response include:

  • your choice of what to focus on in a given moment,
  • your interpretation about it,
  • and your response to it.

Let’s explore these a little more…

Your choices about what to focus on in a given moment

Making good, useful choices about what to focus on takes some practice – but it’s worth it.

For example, choosing to focus on your personal response to a problem, on what you personally can do (Circle of Response) about the situation rather than on what you can’t (Circle of Concern), empowers you to either find a solution or to adapt, to reduce the impact that problem has on you.

Conversely, choosing to focus on what someone out there (Circle of Concern) is doing to cause the problem, or on the difficult circumstances that surround you, keeps you stuck and powerless to change anything.

(What you choose to focus on also has to do with your capacity to identify what is important to you and to remain focused on it in spite of distractions; we’ll go deeper into that in Part 5.)

Your interpretations about whatever is happening around you

Your interpretations arise from your worldview, or what we called in Part 1, your “story of the world.”

How you interpret what’s happening around you—and the behaviors and attached consequences that arise from your interpretations—will always align with your story of how the world works.

“The world out there is completely separate from me. This situation I’m in has just happened to me, and there is nothing I can do to influence it.”

If you’re in the habit of interpreting your circumstances like this, you’ll live your life feeling dis-empowered and unable to make a difference to anything.

“I’m not separate from the world out there. I understand that the quality of my awareness and attention influence the world I experience2. This situation I’m in has something to show me about myself. I can learn from it, adjust my response, and either create a better situation or fit better into this situation.”

With this type of interpretation, you’ll be more open to growth and more able to respond adaptively to life, so your efforts to live a meaningful, satisfying life will be more successful.

Your response to the present moment 

Your choices about what to focus on, and your interpretations about it, are part of your response to the present moment.

Your responses to the world around you will always align with your personal story, your story of who you are, or your identity.

Just as it’s impossible to interpret the world in a way that conflicts with your story of how the world works, it’s also impossible to identify as one kind of person and to behave like another kind of person.

If your personal story (or your identity) says, “I’m an active person,” then you’ll ride a push bike whenever you can, rather than take the car.

“I’m not an energetic person.” You’ll take the car. It’s easier, and besides, you don’t have time to run this errand on the bike.

In another example, if your story says something like “I have plenty of time/friends/resources, and I have value to give to the world,” then you’ll feel secure, able to share, and you’ll see possibilities all around you.

But if your story says, “Some people are lucky, but I’m not one of them. Life sucks, and then you die,” then your experience of life will indeed suck – it will suck all the power and gumption out of you and leave you empty.

The power to change your story

There’s a feedback loop happening here: your story influences your experience of life and your experiences of life then further reinforce your story.

Your story lies at the very heart of your Circle of Response, and the feedback loop we just identified gives you a key to changing it, if you want to.

If you consistently ask...

“What would an energetic/healthy person do?”“What would a person do who lived in a world that was pro-life rather than pro-economic growth?” “What would a person do who had nothing to fear?”

... and then do it, you can’t help but become more like the kind of person you are emulating3.

Even if you don’t do the actions that come up in the answers, by asking yourself these kinds of questions and at least remaining open to the answers, you’re giving yourself a choice, an option, that you didn’t have before.

You’ve begun to explore the possibility of a new story4.

Coming up next 

Knowing that you have a “Circle of Response” and that what goes on inside it is entirely up to you brings increased responsibility, and with it, the potential for increased personal power.

In Part 4, we’ll explore the power that grows out of your conscious choice to respond thoughtfully to the world, rather than reacting judgmentally to it.

Please leave a comment 

Are there areas of your life where you find it relatively easy to take care of your own circle of response, and others where you find yourself gravitating out to the circle of concern? 

Please scroll down (or use keyboard short cut "Ctrl+Fn+End" to jump down) and leave a comment below the references and endnotes sections; I'd love to hear your thoughts.


Charles Eisenstein has written a 3-part series called "The Miracle of Self-Creation/Pain: A Call For Attention," which illustrates in non-scientific terms how we “create” ourselves and our world via our attention: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3. I recommend all of his other work as well.

Here is a short, simple article by Deepak Chopra about how the quality of your awareness impacts your efforts to make changes in your life.

I also recommend How To Know God, by Deepak Chopra, described by one reviewer as “a synthesis of neuroscience, quantum physics, personal reminiscence, Eastern, Western, and spiritual thinking.” It was pivotal in helping me begin to see the possibility of a different story than the one I had been living in.

Finally, a short read for the scientifically-minded: this article lists 10 scientific studies that illustrates the entwinement between consciousness and what we call “reality.”


  1. As far as I know, Steven Covey in his book The 7 Habbits of Highly Effective People was the originator of the Circles of Influence and Concern. And I first came across the idea of a 3rd, central circle in an article by Vlad Dolezal.
  2. "Quantum Physics Overview": “In the realm of quantum physics, observing something actually influences the physical processes taking place."
  3. In case you’re thinking, “You don’t understand. I can’t do what the kind of person I want to be would do,” then check this out: “7 Life Lessons from a Guy Who Can’t Move Anything but His Face.”
  4. If the answer doesn’t become apparent, if you can’t figure out what a ____ kind of person would do, it may be because you’ve moved, temporarily, into what Charles Eisenstein calls a space between stories. This is a fertile space. If you’re willing to stay in “not knowing” for a while rather than quickly jumping back into your old story, who knows what possibilities might emerge?
  • Thanks Kate! I loved the tree circles scheme! I indeed shared it to some of my friends! Greetings from Buenos Aires, Argentina.

    • Thanks for your comment, Facundo, and thanks for sharing 🙂

  • I think the Hobbit got to your thinking with the The 7 Habbits of Highly Effective People. Great article – it brought back many memories of my prior readings.

    • Thanks Terry. I read and re-read the 7 Habits many, many times; my copy of it is possibly the most tattered and scribbled-in book on my shelves. I’m glad you’re enjoying this Series as another serial 7 Habits reader 🙂

  • Are there areas of your life where you find it relatively easy to take care of your own circle of response, and others where you find yourself gravitating out to the circle of concern?

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