“O 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.”
How many of us find ourselves frustrated and ready to bang our heads against the wall? Pro-activity is all about taking responsibility and the initiative to focus on things in our lives about which we can do something. Perhaps, they can be better understood through a well-acclaimed research about the ‘circle of influence’ and the ‘circle of concern.’
The circle of concern is the larger circle that encompasses everything that affects your life. The circle of influence is the smaller circle within the circle of concern that includes the things about which you can actually do something.
While reacting, we tend to focus on our circle of concern, which overshadows our circle of influence. The nature of the energy in the circle of concern is negative. When this is combined with neglect of the influence circle, the space of our influence becomes smaller. Thus, you give up the power to change many things that you could have otherwise.
Pro-active people tend to focus more on their circle of influence, so their reactive space is bigger.
A lady in her seventies once shared that she was brought up like a princess. She was pampered and cared for to every extent possible. She was a beautiful young maiden, who read romantic novels and had a bright and sunny disposition. Then, she was married into a family, whose habits were just opposite of what she had been brought up with. From morning till noon, she was expected to cook, clean and housekeep for a large family. Her husband was away at work for most of the time. Even when he was home, he hardly stood up for her. She seldom visited her parents. Her mother-in-law was extremely rigid and bossed her around. Her whole life seemed to be out of her control and dominated by others. She felt caged because she couldn’t make even a single decision for herself.
Then, she realised that it was a dead end, and she could do nothing to reduce her circle of concern. Turning bitter would not make her life better in any way.
Time went by and the woman endured all pain with great forbearance. When it was her time to become a mother-in-law, she had two choices: either to drag her children through the same difficult path she had walked or take an entirely different road to create new possibilities. The woman chose to do the latter. Instead of depriving her daughters-in-law from the opportunities and happiness she had missed out in her own life, she worked in her influence to help them create more loving homes based on respect and freedom of choice. One person’s decision to pro-actively change the status quo touched the lives of generations to come. Even though it took decades to achieve, it changed the lives of many after her.
How can you tell in which circle you are?
The best way to tell whether you are in your circle of concern or in your circle of influence is to listen to your own language. Hear yourself out:
· Circle of Concern
Your language will be accusing and over-reactive:
- “I can’t believe the way these kids are behaving! They are driving me crazy!”
- “My spouse is so inconsiderate!”
- “Why can’t my mother-in-law just leave us alone and settle on the moon?”
· Circle of Influence
Your language will be pro-active and confident about the things you can improve or change:
- “I can help create rules in my family that will enable the children to learn about the consequences of their behaviour. I can look for opportunities to teach and reinforce positive behaviour.”
- “I can begin to be considerate. I can model the kind of loving interaction I would like to see in my marriage.”
- “I can learn more about my mother-in-law and the causes of her behaviour. I can seek to understand her and to forgive her. I can decide to ensure that this behaviour does not become part of my interactions with my married children in future.”
Your own level of pro-activity/reactivity
In order to get a deeper insight into your own level of pro-activity or reactivity, you might like to try the following experiment. You may ask your spouse or a friend to become your partner and help you give feedback:
- Identify a particular problem in your family.
- Describe it to your partner in reactive terms. Work hard and focus on your circle of concern. Try to convince your partner that the problem under discussion is absolutely not your fault.
- Now describe the same problem to your partner in a pro-active way. Focus on your response in the circle of influence. Convince your partner that you can make a real difference in this situation.
- Now consider the difference in the two descriptions. Which one resembles your normal pattern of behaviour when marital issues or family problems arise?
If you discover more reactive tendencies through the language you use, you can be more responsible about it. Notice the word ‘response-able.’ It means the ability to choose your own response. That is the essence of pro-activity. Learning and using pro-active words and phrases works wonders. When you consistently hear yourself using responsible language, you take yourself more seriously, too. You begin to believe in your own hidden potential. When others witness you modelling pro-activity, they also try to work in their circle of influence.
At the end of the day, it is all about knowing oneself in order to deal best with others. Remember, the change begins with us not with the others. It also begins by working in the circle of influence and learning to leave the circle of concern alone, and saying ‘Qadr’Allah’ (Whatever Allah swt wills). Great marriages are not a case of accidents. They are achievements one has to strive for, sometimes even for years.