You may have been here before, or perhaps it’s the first time you’re feeling lonely. It may be time to go back to the drawing board and pencil in a “circle of influence.”
If you’re feeling lonely, you’re definitely not alone.
According to the 2020 Cigna Loneliness Index, more than 3 in 5 U.S. adults say they’re lonely.
If you were on an escalator in a mall, this means that in a single minute about 20 people on it would be lonely — even while being surrounded by people. And this data came from before the COVID-19 pandemic forced us to isolate.
Just 6 months later, a
So what can you do about your loneliness? Public speaker, businessman, and educator Stephen Covey introduced a tool that you might find helpful in times of loneliness.
In the follow-up to his bestselling book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” aptly named “Habit 1: Be Proactive: The Habit of Choice,” Stephen Covey expands on an idea and tool to help people in several situations, whether they’re feeling anxious, afraid, or — you guessed it — lonely.
Every situation, he wrote, could be divided into three circles, each one smaller than the next:
- the circle of concern
- the circle of influence
- the circle of control
Circle of concern
The circle of concern contains all the things we worry about but don’t have control over, such as climate change, the economy, the pandemic, the way other people drive, etc.
If you’re lonely, your circle of concern might include:
- how other people think
- what other people do every day
- who likes you and doesn’t
- what other people post on social media
- how the COVID-19 pandemic (and now vaccine hesitancy) might make it harder for you to ever meet or connect with people closely again
If you can’t change the things in your circle of concern, there’s likely not much point in devoting a ton of energy to these worries. You’re not going to be able to change those things, but you might make yourself feel worse or more lonely by giving them too much of your attention.
Instead, you may find more relief from your loneliness if you focus on the smaller circles because those are the ones you can take steps to manage.
Circle of influence
The circle of influence is smaller, but it contains all the things you care about and can actually do something about, even if indirectly.
So if you’re lonely, these could include:
- who you surround yourself with for connection
- your social media footprint
- who you reach out to, to be supportive as much as you’re supported
- actions you take to cultivate your mental health
Your circle of influence deserves attention because these are the things you can influence over time in order to inch toward change for yourself and others.
Circle of Control
Then, there’s the circle of control, which is the smallest circle. It includes the things you say, do, think, and feel.
So if you’re lonely, this circle can include:
- when you call your family
- what you say to friends
- your attitude
- your behaviors
- how you spend your days
- how you talk about your physical or mental health conditions with your loved ones
This is where you’ll probably want to spend most of your time and energy if you’re looking for proactive ways to cope with your loneliness — because you’re far more likely to self-improve than you’ll be able to convince someone else to change for you.
If you’re feeling lonely, it’s easy to focus on the things in your circle of concern. After all, the pandemic takes up a big part of that circle, affecting every part of our daily lives — from work to our relationships to how we behave in public.
But if you focus too much on that big circle, you’re probably going to get frustrated and angry, and your loneliness isn’t going to go away.
Focusing on the pandemic and the things you can’t control is about as effective as yelling at the TV when you’re home alone. No one can hear you.
However, if you draw a circle of concern — and then within that, a circle of influence and a circle of control — you might find it easier to differentiate what you can and can’t do about your situation and your feelings.
In other words, you might find this tool helpful in figuring out your next steps to combat loneliness.
For example, maybe your mental health is a part of your circle of influence. You can’t directly change it overnight, but you can look for a therapist if you want someone to talk to. Or you could reach out to the SAMHSA National Helpline at 800-662-4357 if you need help finding someone to talk with.
Your day-to-day actions are also within your circle of control, which means that if you feel alone at home, you can choose to go outside to a public place, like a park, in order to be surrounded by other people. It’s not a magic pill — but it might help you feel just a little better.
And if you keep taking small steps that make you feel a little bit better, you might create real changes in your circumstances so you feel less lonely.