Circles of Life – A Coping Mechanism

February 26, 2021 | Filed Under Things I Think About | No Comments

A part of my perfectionism, I have control issues. Not that I have trouble controlling myself (well, most of the time—but when it comes to Girl Scout Cookies, all bets are off), but I do have issues about trying to control things so that they will be perfect.

I have worked with a number of volunteer groups in my life, and the one thing that is too frequently an issue is people not keeping their commitments to do the things they have agreed to do.

I was feeling especially frustrated with someone recently, because of reasons I don’t want to think about right now because I’ll give myself a headache, and I’d rather not do that.

One of the biggest sources of my self-inflicted stress is this attempt to control things that are beyond my control. For the sake of my mental health and my blood pressure, I need ways to cope with this so I do not spontaneously combust several times each day.

Years ago, I made a diagram to help me work through this kind of situation. When I feel frustrated, I print it out, and write the elements of the situation that are stressing me in each area. Here’s the completed one for this situation:

Three concentric black circles with handwritten notes in each one, on a white sheet of paper.

[Image description: Three concentric black circles with handwritten notes in each one, on a white sheet of paper.]

(No, the person’s name isn’t really Theophrastus; the name has been changed for confidentiality reasons. Also, I don’t need to embarrass this person publicly. Not that this person reads my blog, but it’s the right thing to do.)

And, well, just look at that. So much is out of my control or influence. Sigh. Okay.

I review the items I’ve listed in the first circle, “What I Can Control”. I review those items honestly and objectively. Have I done those things? Do I need to redo any of them? Do them better or sooner next time? If there’s any action I can take, I add it to my to-do list.

Then I look at the middle circle, “What I Can Influence”, and ask myself the same questions. If I can do something to influence the outcome that I haven’t done yet, or I can continue to do, it goes on the to-do list.

Then I look at the outer circle. I read each item aloud, and state, “This is not mine to manage”. Sometimes, I have to do this a few times before I feel like I have really let go. Sometimes, I have to do this more than once for the same issue, so this paper stays on my desk and becomes part of my personal time (along with journaling, meditation, etc.) each day until I feel I have worked through it. If it’s a work-related issue, it may sit in my desk drawer, so I can pull it out and work on it during a break.

For some situations, I have cut out the largest circle and consigned it to flames or the shredder, depending on my location and the season. (Burning even a small piece of paper in the peak of summer is more heat than I want to deal with.)

Then, I keep the inner two circles and work with them each day to help me focus on what I can do (if anything) that day to deal with the situation.

Other times, I will wait until I have finished working through the situation (whether that’s a day, a week, or longer) and then shred or burn the entire paper.

Feel free to adapt the technique with methods that make it useful and meaningful for you. Let me know what you find that works—I’m always happy to discover new ways to work with this tool!

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