How Big is your Circle of Control?

fixingThat recent article on the Low Information Diet (which I probably should have called the Low Irrelevant Information Diet) stirred up quite a debate.

While some readers offered their double high-fives of agreement, others came out with pitchforks and torches, scolding both Mr. Money Mustache and any who dared to agree with him for “Celebrating Ignorance”.

This response threw me off-balance, since the whole purpose of this blog, and most of my life in general these days, is supposed to be the opposite: Decreasing Ignorance, in the form of trying to educate the rich world about the consequences of our current lifestyle and its effect on the rest of the planet, and show an alternative way of living that leads to better results.

I can blame some of the misunderstanding on my own lack of skill – I try to write these things to be as clear as possible, and the success is measured by the percentage of people who write angry responses based on missing a key concept. And sure, we could dismiss a few other people as hopeless complainers who will whine about anything – there’s no changing their minds without a good set of boxing gloves.

But among the intelligent dissenters, the biggest part of the chasm of misunderstanding seems to be coming from a hole in their grasp of the ideas of the Circle of Concern, versus the Circle of Control.

These terms come from Stephen Covey’s ridiculously powerful classic called The Seven Habits of Highly Effective PeopleIt’s a book so old, so wise, and so essential that you are probably living a pointless life if you have not yet internalized its concepts.

I first read this thing about 20 years ago, and I’ve reviewed it about ten times since then*. The concepts are so religiously ingrained in my mind at this point, and have proven to be accurate through so many real-life tests, that I tend to go into a mouth-frothing rant if I see someone not following them. Whether it happens in my comments section or at the table in my back yard surrounded by beers and fellow liberal-minded hippie do-gooders earnestly repeating conspiracy theories, the offense is equally severe.

“What nonsense is this Infidel spouting before me?

This foolish assertion directly violates the First of the Seven Habits!!

So here it is in a nutshell:

You will have a much better life, if you focus your mental and physical energy ONLY on the things you can personally influence.

Everything else is a distraction that pulls you away from running your life properly.

But quite counter-intuitively, this smaller focus does not shrink your influence and your ability to do good. It causes these things to increase.

Covey calls the range of everything you spend time thinking about your Circle of Concern. Similarly, everything you can actually influence is called your Circle of Control. For most people, the two circles look like this:

Beginner's Circle of Control and Concern

Beginner’s Circle of Control and Concern

Yikes, look at that. The Circles of the typical News Watcher. Many worries are buzzing around in his mind, and yet they are things he cannot control. Whenever you read complaints on a blog or a news article, they are usually targeted at these red boxes.

Even a beginner can take control over many things, which are highlighted in green boxes in the middle. But any time and effort spent on the red boxes subtracts directly from time you can invest into the green ones.

If you live your life in this manner as most people do, you become a reactive person. Life throws stuff at you, and you must react to it. Crappy weather shows up, and you react with a bad mood. A traffic jam snarls up your commuting, and you react by honking the horn and complaining to coworkers when you finally arrive. A health condition develops and you react by typing Mr. Money Mustache angry messages about his health insurance calculations.

Although this is the default human condition, there is another way to live.

It is to shrink your circle of concern (ignoring the daily news and concentrating on deeper sources of information), while using the newly liberated brainpower to work only on items within your circle of control. This is called taking a Proactive stance.

To accomplish this, it helps to start from the beginning and work outwards. And the very beginning is your goal in life.

For me, this exercise might look like this:


  • To lead the happiest life possible.

How to Reach Goal:

  • Live a long and healthy life.
  • Have plenty of close and happy relationships with fellow humans.
  • Make a difference whenever possible by helping others.

With these directives, it becomes much easier to decide what to include in your Circle of Concern. You simply identify each concern in your life, analyze it and decide if it is something you can affect, then either ditch it or get to work on it. For example:

Concern: The weather sucks today. I wish it was sunny and warm so I could get out and ride my bike.


  • How does this relate to my goal? It is part of Directive #1: Health. Riding a bike is a key to this.
  • So I am correct to seek out a way to bike today? Yes.
  • Is the local weather in my control? No.
  • Does complaining about the weather increase my control of the situation? No.
  • So will I choose to waste anyone’s time by issuing complaints? No.
  • Is it possible to still ride a bicycle when it is 34F with a light mist falling? Yes.
  • What is required to do this? Get out a hat, gloves, and a waterproof coat.
  • So will I go to the closet and get out the hat, gloves and coat? Yes.

In other cases, the revelations can be deeper:

Concern: I try to keep up with the daily happenings around the world, and what I hear worries me quite a bit.


  • Why do I feel that watching the news helps me to be a better human? Because I want to stay informed about world events.
  • How does this help me with my goal of helping people? By allowing me to understand their suffering, like what’s going on in Syria.
  • Does understanding the details of each instance of human suffering help me alleviate it? Well, no.
  • Has war and suffering been a permanent fixture of human civilization since before we had swords? Umm.. I guess so.
  • Would you rather save 10,000 people by focusing on the details of one war, or save one billion people by reducing on the causes of war and other suffering? Shit, what kind of question is that?
  • What has been the cause of war in general? I guess it would be inequality, poverty and the struggle to survive, oppression, insatiable desire for power, religious conflicts, and a few other things.
  • Do these general causes of war change with the daily news? No.
  • How can you have the largest effect on the number of people who suffer due to war?
    Hmm.. I guess I might work on poverty since greater wealth and productivity has caused a pretty dramatic reduction in violence between the wealthy nations. After all, Germany hasn’t sent out any fleets of attacking submarines in an awfully long time!

But what will I do, if I’m not busy being concerned with things outside of my control?

Now here’s the reason this counterintuitive mind trick works: By deliberately limiting the irrelevant things you do and think about, you automatically become much, much better at the relevant things on which you spend your time.

The increases in your health, wealth, focus, network of friends, and knowledge of relevant things from reading library books and talking with other Highly Effective People will have the following effect on your circle of control:

Advanced Circle of Control

Advanced Circle of Control

Wow, look at that. The circle of control has really grown! And when reviewing this new more advanced circle, we see that all sorts of  fancy new options have been added in blue.

This person, while carefully avoiding the distractions of any of the irrelevant items in red, has gained influence over many more things. And thus things you could once only worry about, are now things you can control. Which is probably what you wanted in the first place.

Therefore, today’s assignment is as follows: over the coming fifty years, monitor both your worries and your words. If you catch yourself leaking out more than a tiny percentage of your personal power on things you cannot personally control, repair that leak.

Then find a way to channel that awesomeness to somewhere it will make a difference instead. Watch the results, and write back to me only when you have realized how well it works.

*I have an audiobook version of the book in MP3 format, and at least once a year it comes up on random play on the digital memory card labeled “Cross Country Roadtrips” that I pop into the car stereo at the start of long voyages.

  • Done by Forty October 7, 2013, 10:42 am

    Any reminder to utilize Covey’s methods is a good reminder! I agree that much of the debate around news consumption would have been avoided if the commenters understood this basic fact: there are a lot of things outside our control.

    I’ve found the twelve stepper’s prayer to be a great way to internalize Covey’s first step. 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.

    • Free Money Minute October 7, 2013, 10:59 am

      I agree. Try to stay in Covey’s Important and Not Urgent quadrant so you can stay out of the Urgent and Not Important quadrant. Wouldn’t you rather do things that are Important and Important so you are not always putting fires out on things that are not impactful to the desires of your life?

    • Heath October 7, 2013, 11:08 am

      That’s exactly what I thought of. I know it as The Serenity Prayer. And even though I’m not the slightest bit religious, it still makes tons of sense.

      As I was reading this blog entry, I was also strongly reminded of Stoicism, and the book “A Guide to the Good Life”, which I also read because of MMM :-)

      Great stuff!

      • Alfredo October 8, 2013, 8:35 pm

        Exactly!!!! I learned this thought from that book!!!! Such a book!!!!!

    • Mrs. PoP October 7, 2013, 6:06 pm

      Done by Forty – totally agree on the serenity prayer, though I’ll admit it’s Mr PoP that has to remind me about it sometimes.

      The one thing I always like to add, though, is that it’s not just “wisdom” to know the difference, but a little research instead. Sometimes something you think you can’t control (a change to your property taxes), turns into something you can control (by researching and successfully contesting an inaccurate valuation). It’s not easy, but the payoff can be significant.

  • Rory October 7, 2013, 10:52 am

    I unknowingly followed rule #1 when, a few years back, I decided to leave financial sales. My wife told me that I was becoming a ‘complainy-pants;’ actually she said something similar as this phrase had yet to be invented by MMM. I then decided that since I could not change what I saw as an unethical banking system I had no choice but to remove myself from it.

    That path led me to take a big pay cut but ultimately I ended up much happier for it.

    That was my experience starting around 4 years ago. I’ll keep tabs on the next 46 years of concentrating on my circle of control and report back to you.

    • Emily Capito October 8, 2013, 1:53 pm

      Great comment, Rory. I never thought about my own drastic career change in this light. Constantly complaining about my colleague’s lack of character, work ethic, or office politics drained all of my energy to focus on those things in my control.

      I think this is my favorite post thus far, MMM. Perhaps it is just excellent timing for plugging a few particular leaks.

      • Michael Bernardo July 6, 2023, 9:39 am

        Hi, Emily, there you are. I enjoyed your TEDx SaltLakeCity talk.

  • Miss Growing Green October 7, 2013, 10:55 am

    Excellent post! I have been meaning the read the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People for some time, and it’s just pushed it’s way to the top of my list.

    One other comment- when you do find yourself reacting to things outside of your circle of control, analyze your reactions. Try to react with curiosity, which will more often result in you *gaining information* than reacting with anger will.

    For example, the post you’re referring too caught me a little off-guard at first too. Instead of reacting like a psychotic mob, I decided to ask if you thought there was value in informing yourself using reliable sources of media.

    You thoughtfully responded and agreed.
    Now I’ve had a positive conversation where I actually learned something about your opinion, instead drawing my own reactive conclusions and writing an angry rant about them. Win-win situation.

  • LaurieS October 7, 2013, 10:56 am

    I love how you distilled Steven Covey’s first law down to explain your reasoning behind your previous post. I have avoided reading the news for about 6 years and, like you, I never feel like I miss out on major stories, because if the story is big enough, someone will tell me about it. I’m definitely going to work on filtering my thoughts based upon this framework in the future. If I can’t control it, it’s a waste of time and mental capacity to think (obsess) about it. Thanks for a great blog.

  • Ron October 7, 2013, 10:58 am

    I’ve always been “self help” averse, and subconsciously probably slighted Covey’s work because he was among the most successful of the Self Helpers. But I appreciated your clear summary of his conceptual framework. Reminds me of William Irvine’s in A Guide to the Good Life. Irvine, a philosophy prof, is reviving Stoicism for the modern era. Maybe I like his book more than the typical self help ones because it draws on ancient history, Seneca and Ancient Rome in particular. Irvine describes a “trichotomy of control”, meaning that everything in our lives can be subdivided into three columns—those things over which we have 1) no control, 2) some control, 3) complete control. And like Covey, the obvious conclusion is spend as much time and energy as possible on the “3’s”.

  • Kristen October 7, 2013, 10:59 am

    Yes! I’ve never read Covey’s book, but this is exactly why I don’t spend a bunch of time watching/reading the news. There’s usually nothing I can practically do about it (aside from praying, but one doesn’t need to be saturated in the news to do that), and so I figure it’s a pretty big waste of energy/time.

    I’d rather spend that energy on things I can control.

    • Heidi October 7, 2013, 7:33 pm

      ITA, Kristin, and btw, I’m one of your readers, too!

  • Aarchman10001 October 7, 2013, 11:09 am

    I believe in the value of participatory democracy. I cannot be an informed voter without informing myself about situations and events–many of which are well beyond my personal sphere of control. (If I am willing to be honest, many world events are even outside my sphere of interest.)

    Once made aware of a specific event or situation, I may–assuming I have the capacity for empathy for human suffering–expend energy in the perfectly fruitless exercise of sadness or sympathy for those who are suffering.

    To the extent that this expenditure of time and energy helps motivate me to effect a change in how my elected leaders interface with the larger world, I cannot accept that it is fruitless–no matter how little tangible impact it may have.

    • Gerard October 7, 2013, 11:23 am

      But if your impact is non-existent, aren’t you really just doing those things to make yourself feel virtuous?

      • David G. October 8, 2013, 11:41 am

        In the great scope of geologic history, I have no impact on anything. Therefore, anything I do is just intended to make myself feel virtuous. Thinking and feeling is something and is valid in and of itself. Is it good to do something to fix a problem? Yes. Is it not worth considering an issue if you are not going to do anything concrete to fix it. No.

    • Amicable Skeptic October 7, 2013, 1:16 pm

      Aarchman, you are very close to getting it. You just need to shift some (much?) of your focus from feeling sadness and sympathy to doing things about the sad situations you have found. Sympathy without meaningful action is the very definition of hollow. It is like meeting a starving boy, shedding a tear for him but then walking on in search of the next starving boy without actually helping the first. I’d be remiss if I didn’t note that you do mention doing one thing, trying to change your elected leaders. That is definitely an important goal but the question then is whether your time is better spent improving your ability to change elected leaders (because if you’re like most people right now that ability is very limited), or researching more things to be sad about? You’ve got to set that balance for yourself, but I bet that you’re skewing a bit heavy on the sad side and a bit light on the change side at the moment. Finally, if it turns out there is no way to do more to influence elected leaders, maybe you could shift your efforts to just making the changes you want yourself?

    • Mary Ellen October 7, 2013, 5:48 pm

      I agree. It is our responsibility as citizens to stay informed about what our elected representatives are doing. And you can influence what happens in this arena, even if not as much as you would like. Obviously we all vote. Beyond that, I wrote a letter to both of my senators for the first time last week. It turns out they each have a handy link on their websites for just this purpose. I know that the senators themselves don’t read all of the letters, but someone in their office does, and I have no doubt that they keep tabs on what sorts of things their constituents are writing.

      I could also choose to get more involved via volunteering, protesting, etc., and may do so once the kids are a little older :). But before I can do any of that effectively, I have to keep abreast of political developments, which means at least some news every few days. (Although I skip any news outlet that spends much time on random murders, sensational trials, etc. These definitely have nothing to do with me, and are just a waste of time.)

      • Kenoryn October 8, 2013, 12:32 pm

        +1; in terms of a participatory democracy, we have more control than many people think, and if more people chose to exert their influence that would collectively give us more control still. Protesting, writing letters to government, and building awareness of issues among others are good examples. I work for the government and can confirm that public opinion is a huge influence on policy. (Not as big an influence as corporate opinion – but that’s just one more thing we need to work on changing.) We define the issues of the day by the number of letters we have received about them.

        I also try to be informed and keep others informed about what our government is up to. I was appalled during the last election to discover that most of the people I know were totally unaware of the actions of the federal government over the past term, and voted them back in based on their election platform (accountability), even though a look at their record would have shown that their true priorities were not what they were trying to sell the public (censorship, systematic attacks on dissenters, reducing science and information). I feel that if people had paid more attention they wouldn’t have voted the same government back in.

        However, I agree that watching the evening news is likely not the best source for information about key issues. The media doesn’t generally seem to cover things that are actually important, unless, of course, the concerned public is making a big deal out of it with protests and such. ;) It’s generally better to actively seek out information on the specific topics you’re interested in, and thus avoid the latest murder downtown and focus on the latest fracking policy proposal or whatever you’re concerned about.

        I also like to know the local news, because it helps me to feel connected to my community and find out about things I might want to be a part of. Generally the local news tends to be pretty positive, though.

        My alarm clock is set to the local radio station and wakes me up to the 1-minute news update each morning, and I find that’s enough to keep me feeling informed. Things that warrant more investigation I can go find for myself.

        • Joe Average August 18, 2015, 12:57 pm

          the local news from the nearest big city seems to focus on last night’s murders in the low income parts of town rather than what the gov’t is doing. We know better than to go to those parts of that city after hours. I would rather know more about the gov’t activities and those of businesses in our area. The media could do a better job at that. One of the local networks does pretty good investigative journalism on the state and local gov’t.

          I feel like living my life in a positive, thoughtful manner and leading by example is worthwhile. Occasionally someone around us will appear to make a choice similar to one we’ve made that seems out of character and we quietly wonder if we’ve influenced someone in a positive way.

    • Anonymous October 7, 2013, 9:08 pm

      You are correct in that your reading about global events or other events mostly outside your control may affect your vote in some way. And to that extent, you do have a non-zero amount of control over those events.

      At that point, you have to realize that control is not a binary thing, where you either control something or you do not. You have a set of things you have near-total control over, a set of things you have near-zero control over, and a spectrum inbetween.

      As such, you need to spend your time *proportionally* on things that give you the most control and help you make the most difference in the world (or most strongly achieve your goals, whatever those might be). Given the relative weight of your vote, it makes no sense to spend hours staying informed about foreign policy, conditions halfway across the world, or even the goings on three counties over, when you could have *far* more impact spending those hours in almost any other way.

      To look at it another way: to a first approximation, your benefit to investing time in something is proportional to time spent (up to a limit), impact of varying degrees of “success”, and the fraction of control you have to influence that “success”. Assuming that your involvement in a participatory democracy is limited to voting, “staying informed” takes a substantial amount of your time, has a potentially high impact, but you have a vanishingly small fraction of control over actual policy. By contrast, gaining influence within your community, your company, or for that matter your government, has a proportionally much higher product of impact and control, making it a much better time investment.

      And that’s ignoring the very likely possibility that “staying informed” is a net negative for you, due to the way it changes your outlook on life in general, inducing fear and seriously impairing rational decision-making by bringing a large quantity of vivid but irrelevant data to the forefront of your mind.

      So, if you want to make the most rational choice you can, consider carefully the net result of investing N of your hours into goal X or goal Y, and how much that will advance your goals. By almost any measure you could choose, “staying informed” about things you have no control over (beyond a vote) is a terrible investment of your time compared to almost anything else, and on top of that it’s potentially a net negative for you.

      • Heath October 8, 2013, 10:15 am

        I must say, that was an extremely well written counter-point to a widely held pillar of ‘why to watch the news’. It was a bit confusing in the start of the ‘first approximation’ paragraph, but the general idea is to invest most your time where it will make the most impact, and the inverse. I love it!

        Though MMM’s posts are exceptional, and have aligned my life in extremely positive ways, it’s this community that keeps me coming back for more.

      • TommyVee October 21, 2013, 12:51 pm

        “By almost any measure you could choose, “staying informed” about things you have no control over (beyond a vote) is a terrible investment of your time compared to almost anything else, and on top of that it’s potentially a net negative for you.”

        This comment reduces participatory democracy to the simple act of voting, which is blatantly wrong.
        Other means of effecting change in a democracy include donating to candidates and issues you support (why do the Koch brothers bother to spend millions? because it works), volunteering for candidates and issues, advocating with your friends and family, and running for office yourself. The attitude that you have “no control over (beyond a vote)” is self-defeating and indeed is exactly the attitude of the “governed” rather than the “self-governed”.
        I have volunteered for many years with environmental orgs and for candidates and issues, and it has been very rewarding to me, both to put my actions where my beliefs are and because of the great people I have gotten to know in the process. Canvassing for Obama in the Hispanic neighborhoods of North Denver was like international travel in my home state, a very interesting view into another life style and culture (even if it did contain a couple of unleashed trailer-park pitbulls…).
        The attitude that learning for its’ own sake is “a terrible investment of your time” is a sad and reductionist approach to life. One reason we follow a Moustachian life is to have the time freedom to learn about anything that interests us, including obscure rebel movements in rural India.
        Writing comments on a blog while excoriating time spend staying informed seems ironic to me.

        • Neil October 22, 2013, 8:40 am

          I totally agree. Well put!

        • Anonymous January 31, 2014, 3:16 am

          If you intend to spend a significant fraction of your time actively working on those kinds of issues, then it absolutely makes sense to pay attention to broader news that affects the issues you actively work on. I would never suggest otherwise. However, far more people watch the news than those who devote any significant fraction of their lives to participating in politics. *That’s* the point that my post was making: not that your ability to participate is limited to a vote, but that *if* you don’t plan to participate other than by voting then there’s no point to watching hours and hours of news.

  • Jamesqf October 7, 2013, 11:13 am

    I have to enter a qualified disagreement, for two reasons. First, you can’t really hope to effectively affect things within your “circle of control” unless you understand them, and you can’t hope to properly understand them unless you know a lot about things outside that circle. Not only “news”, but history, science, economics, &c.

    Second, a lot of things outside my circle of control are just plain interesting. As pointed out (unintentionally?) by the picture used on the post title. It’s pretty hard to imagine* something further from my personal circle of control than the giant black holes that exist at the center of (most if not all) galaxies, but isn’t it an interesting thing to know?

    *Well, ok, not really all THAT hard: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hubble_Extreme_Deep_Field

    • Andrew Norris October 7, 2013, 11:20 am

      You might be interested in what Covey has to say on “production vs production capacity”. Getting the balance between those two is important. We can easily spend too much time learning and not enough time doing. Everyone has to ask – are they putting their knowledge to use – or just endlessly learning – like a student. It takes a long hard look / being really honest about it. Not everyone is ready for this.

    • Andrew Norris October 7, 2013, 11:24 am

      If you enjoy learning about black holes, that is good. But that would be leisure time – if as you say it is not being put to use. We all need so much time to relax and do things enjoy. But we will not be effective and will worthless if we spend too much time doing this. And becoming “pleasure centered”. So yes, there is a time for such learning, according to Covey. We will feel worthless deep down if we get the balance wrong, even if we deny this consciously. Pleasure centered leads to the opposite of what it wishes for. Too much time focusing on pleasure, leads to lack of life satisfaction and addictions, and we get used to things that would normally give us pleasure in controlled amounts, and the pleasure goes.

  • Mr. EE October 7, 2013, 11:17 am

    Very good reminder. Just added the book to my amazon wish list and will probably get it after i finishing reading some of my other excellent and very informative books that are enhancing my knowledge vs fear of things outside of my control!!!

    • Mr. Money Mustache October 7, 2013, 11:20 am

      It’s in the library too ;-)

      • Mr. EE October 7, 2013, 11:35 am

        Good point :-) If i get a used book for $4-5 which allows me to write in it, underline, dog ear pages, have as a reference when i want it, etc, I tend to go that route as it generally greatly increases my reading comprehension. Guess i am a physical learner in many ways. But the point is well taken as there are a number of books on my shelf that i probably didn’t need to buy and haven’t referenced since. maybe i need to come up with a way to take notes outside the book to re-enforce my learning/comprehension. Any Ideas?

        • Amicable Skeptic October 7, 2013, 1:19 pm

          Don’t have tips about learning, but if you keep buying you should at least sell/donate/give away your unused books.

        • Mari October 7, 2013, 2:21 pm

          Mr. EE use post-it notes for the margins, on the margins like tabs. I did this with one book. It made it easy to find an idea I wanted to show someone else. Yes, the book has about 100 post its, but I can write on both sides and sometimes margins just aren’t wide enough.

        • Tallgirl1204 October 7, 2013, 11:59 pm

          There are also the super low-end used book stores, I.e. good will and salvation army, etc., where paperbacks are often 50 cents or less. I frequently see a copy of 7 habits at our local one. (and yes, I am sometimes guilty of aimlessly shopping at such places, when the jones for recreational retailing descends on me and I fall from MMM grace… Usually I walk out with little to nothing, marveling at how much stuff people get rid of.)

        • Rory October 8, 2013, 6:07 am

          For a few years I’ve kept standard notebooks which I use exclusively to take notes on books I read. They are always red, and I keep them once filled under my bed.

          A few times every year I can go back to my notebooks and see what notes I took from any book. I was reviewing ‘Guns, Germs, & Steel’ last night.

          The method helps you read more activley becauase you are searching for what is ‘note-worthy.’ You would also me amazed at how many important points you forget – even ones you took the time to write down – some years later. Or maybe that just says something about my memory.

          If its important enough to dog-ear, it’s important enough to buy. The Bible would be one example. So are ACT study guides for my daughter (not that I want to compare the two). Otherwise, I try to use the library.

          • Mr. EE October 10, 2013, 7:20 am

            Thanks for all the suggestions. I actually asked around about this as well to try to come up with some good ideas. I think the taking notes outside of the book is going to be the best for me. Post it notes would work, but only if i ended up keeping the book (which doesn’t work for library rentals), and i would rather just take inline notes. Another suggestion one of my friends had was to basically write up a one or two page summary of the book when I was done with it with the key take away points. I thought that might be a good exercise in reading comprehension.

            I think there are still going to be some books i want to have on hands for reference, so buying a used copy for under $5 is probably going to be worth it for me. And I can resell or donate the ones that i don’t end up needing to keep. a $5 a month used book habit only needs $1500 savings to support indefinitely (which means 1 extra week of work for me – so i think that is worth it for me)

        • Joshua Spodek October 8, 2013, 7:22 am

          You could view not having books as having more freedom, which you may find more than offsets not marking up the books you borrow from the library — http://joshuaspodek.com/less_please.

          • Kevin H October 9, 2013, 11:14 am

            Interesting article, thanks for sharing your experience. :) The idea of your article really does apply to many areas in life. Like many, I’m slowly letting go of “important” things.

      • Brandon Curtis October 7, 2013, 3:30 pm

        Stephen Covey himself has a free audio version of 7 Habits here: http://archive.org/details/7HabitsOfHighlyEffectivePeople

        • meardaba October 8, 2013, 8:56 am

          Thank you Brandon!! I am going to start this audiobook tonight!

        • Christine October 8, 2013, 11:51 am

          Another thank you!!

    • Venturing October 8, 2013, 6:44 pm

      My library offers free borrowing of ebooks and audiobooks, you don’t even need to leave the house to access your local library.

  • Mr. Frugal Toque October 7, 2013, 11:17 am

    I believe I felt a sliver of this when I was laid off last year.
    Once they’ve picked you out, it no longer matters whether that was a fair decision, a good decision, or any of those other things. It’s outside your Circle of Control.
    So you take your stuff and you move on; start taking care of the things you can control.
    I’m afraid I couldn’t follow all of the previous thread, but I can’t imagine this being too controversial. If someone took this to mean, “Remain ignorant of the world around you”, that’s clearly a misunderstanding.
    A lot of what we talk about here involves responsible stewardship of the environment in which we all have to live. You can’t do that without knowing a good deal about the sources of your consumables. The havoc wreaked by producing *stuff* is one of the prime motivations for being a non-consumer.
    So we have to be informed.
    But you don’t have to watch the Miley Cyrus video.
    I still haven’t.
    See the line there? It’s not particularly fuzzy.

    • Jamesqf October 7, 2013, 2:40 pm

      Err… What’s a Miley Cyrus? (My line is thicker than your line :-))

    • Pretired Nick October 8, 2013, 10:17 am

      I’m holding off on clicking on any Miley links. At least until the sex tape comes out…

    • Kenoryn October 8, 2013, 12:46 pm

      Unless you are considering it research for gaining a better understanding of feminist concepts which might influence your behaviour and make you a better person. The Miley Cyrus thing has actually been a catalyst for some great dialogue on the principles of feminism, the sources of our social taboos, and our culture’s attitude toward women’s sexuality.

      But I get your point. ;)

    • Kevin H October 9, 2013, 11:12 am

      Miley eh? I remember hearing something from friends and seeing in the forever ignored “popular videos” section of Youtube about a Miley. That’s the extent of my knowledge of a Miley. ;)

  • Emily A October 7, 2013, 11:25 am

    I think you have finally convinced me to read that book. I am loving what you’ve laid out here today, so the time is finally nigh! Thanks MMM!

  • MonicaOnMoney October 7, 2013, 11:37 am

    I love the book, 7 Habit of Highly Effective People, and it’s constantly being quoted for its simple yet so effecive concepts!

    I agree that we should really only focus on the lmited number of things that we can control. Otherwise, life certainly has the potential to be very stressful and even unhappy!

  • EL October 7, 2013, 11:44 am

    I Think some people are naturally born with some of the highly effective traits, but obviously it can also be a learning process as well. We can improve one way or another and wasting time complaining about the mudane does not help. I once started the book but didn’t finish it, but I did write down the steps and placed them on my desk at work. I do like the idea of getting it on audio book to reinforce the habits.

  • Ree Klein October 7, 2013, 11:44 am

    It’s funny, my mother used to be a fanatic about watching the news. I’d call her on any given day and she would either be elated or furious about something going on in the news.

    The events of 9/11 took a huge emotional toll on her. It was only then that she realized how getting so tied in to things beyond her control could literally ruin her life. So, she stopped watching the news. Now when we talk, she speaks of time with friends, a favorite “feel good” show or a book she’s reading.

    The transformation was dramatic. While I watch the news on occasion, I remember not to let it get to me and will readily turn it off if it is depressing or angers me.

    Thanks for the great post and important reminder!

  • Nick Urban October 7, 2013, 11:46 am

    Wow, this is a great illustration of a concept I’ve picked up through experience and osmosis but I’d never seen it articulated so clearly before.

    I’ve heard of the Seven Habits many times but I’ve never read it. Time to put it on my library list!

  • Crystal October 7, 2013, 11:46 am

    This is an amazing representation for me! Over the weekend, I was trying to explain my specific brand of control freak to my friends. I try to control down to the very specific details anything in that inner circle, but I don’t care at all about anything in that outer circle. I’ll never get into a hot debate about crap I don’t think I have much control over at all like current political policies or drama, but I have gotten worked up about getting people to actually vote.

  • Mr. 1500 October 7, 2013, 11:49 am

    One suggestion to really focus and get to the right place is to ditch your smartphone. Having access to the information of the world in your pocket is a lot of temptation. I’ll soon get rid of mine or dump my data plan.

    Added benefits include saving a bit on your phone bill and paying more attention to your kids at the park or library.

    • Frugal in DC October 7, 2013, 11:58 am

      Life is good without a smartphone. I’ve never been tempted to get one despite being teased repeatedly about my dumb phone.

      We’re also very old school at home and don’t have WiFi, multiple computers/iGadgets, or a TV. Just one desktop that we all share. We love our peaceful home with minimal electronic distractions.

      I burst out laughing at the first circle with “What the Politicians Did Today” and “Celebrity Mating Habits” in the same category. So true. Two great graphics well worth memorizing.

      • Mr. 1500 October 7, 2013, 1:43 pm

        Very wise moves Frugal in DC and I’ll add one other suggestion to the mix.

        After seeing people give their teenage children (and younger) smart phones, I think it’s an incredibly bad idea. Some of these kids have zero attention span because their nose is buried in the phone constantly. I have no idea how these kids are going to be able to develop study skills needed for later in life. I know this isn’t something you would do and it’s something I wouldn’t either.

        • Frugal in DC October 8, 2013, 6:05 am

          We tend to follow guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics. Their statement on media use is here: http://www.aap.org/en-us/advocacy-and-policy/aap-health-initiatives/Pages/Media-and-Children.aspx. They are also concerned about the possible effects of RF energy on children – see related article at http://www.ewg.org/release/american-academy-pediatrics-endorses-cell-phone-safety-bil . So considering all this, smartphones is not something we would pay for. It would be considered a “want” and not a “need,” therefore the kids would need to figure out how to pay for them (if they wanted them) and agree to limits on screen time.

          It will be interesting to see how this all plays out with more schools implementing Bring Your Own Device policies. A well-meaning relative gave us an iPad for the kids’ use last year. We tried it out and downloaded a few apps, but overall our reaction has been “meh.” The kids haven’t been inclined to take it to school. It’s sitting in a drawer along with our barely-used WiFi router. I guess we all prefer being present in Real Life and feel kind of disjointed if we spend too much time online.

          Looking at the Advanced Circle of Control above, I just don’t see how a smartphone would enhance our lives. From time to time we do volunteer advocacy work at the state and local levels. That often entails educating elected officials on issues that may not be on their radar screens. For that, a desktop computer is a great time saver since it’s so much easier to read on a big screen and do research, cut and paste material, and send e-mails.

          • Mr. EE October 10, 2013, 7:30 am

            I work in the RF industry, know more about RF communications and Cellular systems than most people should, and I agree that smart phones are a terrible thing for most people. I haven’t had a cell phone for 7 years and my life is so much better because of it (Mrs. EE does has a pre-paid phone that we use for travel / emergencies). Tremendous cost both $ and lost opportunity wasted by spending your hours staring at one of the things.

            I wouldn’t mind seeing SAR (specific absorption rate) data posted on every phone, but there is a lot of overblown fear about it as well. RF energy from Cell phones is below the ionizing power limit (meaning it can’t strip electrons off atoms), which is the real cancer concern. It can be absorbed by water molecules though, effectively increasing the temperature of the surrounding tissue slightly (which has been shown to have some affects on metabolism). The real danger with smartphones though by far is the distraction they pose to the user (when walking, but especially when driving). It is worse then driving drunk!!! They also impact real relationships and i would bet some cognitive development as well.

    • Michelle Russell October 7, 2013, 4:11 pm

      Yes!!! I have the most basic smartphone available ONLY because I got it free when my housemate and I went in together on our cell phone contract to save a bit of money, and I only use it for the very, very few useful things (other than, ya know, **making phone calls**, which many people seem to have forgotten was the original function of the device) that it does for me. Like updating my YNAB budget on the fly rather than having to remember to enter the expense when I get home.

      The aforementioned housemate still can’t figure out why I tend to go berserk when I unwittingly wonder about something out loud in her presence and she reaches for her phone to Google it. She doesn’t understand that when absolutely *everything* is available, curating your personal universe becomes hugely important. Or maybe mental clutter simply doesn’t bother her to the extent it does me…

    • sleepyguy October 8, 2013, 11:13 am

      Agreed, I just shake my head as I go to the park with son about 4x a week and always see parents there on their iPhones not even paying attention or playing with their kids.

      I suggest getting a blackberry (should be cheap because they are dying). Has super basic email, phone, photo… it’s apps store is garbage so you are pretty much using a basic phone with a very good keyboard. Don’t get the Z10 or Q10… get the older bold 9900 or 9700 (9800 torch is garbage).

      I have a 9900 and it serves my purposes well.

  • Christine October 7, 2013, 12:04 pm

    I’m going to have to read 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Its been on my list for some time too. I kinda just came to the conclusion that following the news gave me no real control of the news around me. Talking about what other people do.. even if its the news or politics is just some high form of gossip if you’re not going to do anything about it. However if you’re using that information to take some form of action that’s different.

    But I love the simple way you broke this out. I do try to create my own things and I do focus on only things I can control. Slowly, slowly I can move in this better direction.

    • joe average August 18, 2015, 1:26 pm

      Anyone weaning themselves off of the news could switch to ‘short form” news. I get my evening news via Newsy (newsy.com) or Euronews. Their clips are a minute or so. I can usually scroll through the news in 10-15 minutes and I’m good until the next day. I really like Newsy.

  • Dollar Flipper October 7, 2013, 12:15 pm

    This is a great reminder for someone like me. I work at a large company that just announced it’s laying of 20% of its workforce worldwide! Sitting here worrying about it non-stop doesn’t help anything. I can take a pro-active stance by at least figuring out how long our savings will last and start contacting people I know at other companies about possible job options if the axe falls on me.

  • Hawkity October 7, 2013, 12:29 pm

    The circle of control thing is coming up a lot at work right now…there are a lot of roles the company is moving to India to get the old cost:income ratio down.

    Loads of people are worried about it; I keep saying to them to focus on what you can control…that being your own performance.

    Doesnt matter if your role gets moved to India…if you are shit hot they will find you another role. Even if that cant happen you can always use your skills elsewhere……

  • Scott October 7, 2013, 12:39 pm

    Perfect timing for on this one…

  • retirebyforty October 7, 2013, 12:49 pm

    I don’t know man. I still think we should watch/read world news. Even if I can’t control it, I want to know what’s going on in the world.
    Local news on the other hand can probably be ignored. 99% of it is useless crap.

    • Maggie Mae October 7, 2013, 4:02 pm

      With all due respect, that seems backwards. A local flood, or a landmark that needs support, or a local community effort of any kind seems like the only thing you CAN do anything about. But another terrorist thing half a world away? What are you going to do about that? As was said in a comment on the original post, you can learn everything you need to learn to properly cast your vote in about an hour right before you go to the ballot box. Obsessing over the world news just isn’t something I have time for — leafing through my weekly Economist for five minutes is just about right. I am informed, without wasting hours of my life every week foaming at the mouth about something very clearly not in my Circle of Control.

      • Kenoryn October 8, 2013, 1:09 pm

        Agree about the reversal of local vs. world – the more local the more important.

        However, I don’t think you can get the information you need to cast your vote from reading party platforms. Party platforms tend to just be big piles of scummy propaganda. You need to know about what the parties actually do and what they have stood up for, not just what they say they believe in. The Conservatives here will tell you they believe in protecting the environment while they quietly axe environmental legislation and science programs and hand out money to oil companies.

        Maybe it’s different in the US where you’re pretty much just picking right-wing or left-wing.

  • Insourcelife October 7, 2013, 1:03 pm

    A lot of dissent came from your sweeping prescription to never watch the news. Yes, most of “the news” is within the Circle of Concern and there is not much you can do about it. However, stuff in the Circle of Concern can still have a very direct impact on your life, such as the government shutdown, as discussed in my post on the subject. To follow your advice I should just ignore the news. Instead, I did what I could within my Circle of Control and postponed big monthly transfers to my mortgage principal payments and delayed my mutual fund investments until the budget is approved. That cash is sitting in the bank now and if some of my contract work is cut due to the Federal Government fiasco, we will be just fine. If I ignored the news (Circle of Concern) I would have a lot less cash in the bank (Circle of Control) since I would’ve prepaid/invested it as usual. It should be obvious that most of your effort should be spent on what’s within your Circle of Control, but that does not mean it’s a good idea to ignore stuff that’s happening outside of your bubble.

    • CincyCat October 7, 2013, 3:04 pm

      I think that you’re drawing the same conclusion as MMM. He doesn’t say to ignore information, but rather to focus the majority of your mental energy on information that is relevant to you, and that you need in order to take some sort of constructive action. In your case, paying attention to the budget talks was directly relevant to you, in that you make your living from federal budget dollars. Many of my friends are in the same boat. I really feel for them, and for you, but at this moment in time, there isn’t one thing I can do about it, and no changes that I need to make in order to respond to the shut down. My voice in a letter to a congressperson isn’t going to be nearly as effective as yours.

      On the other hand, I pay very close attention to education policy, especially at the state level, since I participate in the governing leadership at my kids’ school. This sort of information is highly relevant to me, but may not be for you, or for my elderly neighbors whose grandkids live in another state. It would be a waste of your mental energy to fret about education policy if there isn’t anything meaningful that you would need to take action on based on policy changes.

    • Justin Tyson October 8, 2013, 8:20 am

      Did you really need to watch the news to be aware of the government shutdown? I don’t work for the government, but if something important is going on with my employer, I find out about it through my employer and my co-workers. No news necessary. I haven’t watched the news in 6 years and I haven’t missed it.

      • Insourcelife October 8, 2013, 11:26 am

        I don’t “watch the news” as much as I “read the news” and yes, I found out about the pending shutdown from Flipboard on my phone first, way before my employer sent out a vague email on the subject. Those few days gave me enough lead time to cancel a few cash debits that would have happened if I waited to find out from my employer as you recommend.

  • Momster October 7, 2013, 1:21 pm

    May I respectfully suggest the main idea of this blog post is also explained nicely in Covey’s book First things first. It is my favorite of Covey’s books. I must have internalized at least some of his ideas eg: I still think of clean and green when I tend to my lawn!
    My purpose of posting actually has to do with a motherly chat I had with my children regarding being cruel to each other. as I read this post it hit me like a ton of bricks, what I should have told them yesterday is “you’re not synergizing properly” the elementary school the older one attended and the younger one still attends is a seven habits school so they would probably have understood that Better than whatever I said.

  • Mira October 7, 2013, 1:30 pm

    Awesome reminder to focus on what you can actually control. Why is that so easy to forget? Difficult situations/people at work especially- sometimes there’s not a lot you can do to control that. I love the internal monologue….well “shit, what kind of question is that?”

    I get the sense that MMM has this rational dialogue with himself every time he has a decision to make and I want to get there too.

    In investing, there is a term for separating out all the crazy crap news that comes out every day from real indicators…..Noise vs Signal…and you try your best to actually figure out which category of information you’re looking at.

  • Justin October 7, 2013, 1:50 pm

    I like to read the headlines, and get the details after the event is over. Sometimes news is best read in history books.

    • lurker October 7, 2013, 2:54 pm

      just remember that history is written (spun) by the winners…but the news is spun by the corporate sponsors in many cases so it is the same in real time…with information as with anything caveat emptor.

  • Neil West October 7, 2013, 2:09 pm

    Oh man I’ve been reading this blog for about 6 months now and I’ve been pretty much on board with most of what you say but I get the feeling you’re becoming a little strident in your views.

    Steven Covey may have been well meaning at first but unless you read his book on the 8th Habit chances are you’re actually doing everything he talked about in his first book the wrong way! Oh no! Well who knows if this is actually true or if he just realized that one book per habit was a better way to make MONEY?

    As you wrote, your goal is to be happy. Some people would suggest that happiness comes from living one’s life in the service of others and not being concerned with one’s own wants all the time. It seems to me that what you may be advocating on this blog is a rather selfish path to happiness, even if it is a fairly ascetic version.

    Constantly worrying about things that are outside of your control and be curious about what is happening in the world around you are different things. Obviously its not healthy to constantly worry about things outside your control but people shouldn’t be made to feel bad because they care about what is happening in the world around them. I have seen this argument in other blogs recently as well and it seems to confirm my suspicions that the internet can be nothing more than a vast echo chamber.

    • Kenoryn October 8, 2013, 1:15 pm

      “Some people would suggest that happiness comes from living one’s life in the service of others and not being concerned with one’s own wants all the time. It seems to me that what you may be advocating on this blog is a rather selfish path to happiness, even if it is a fairly ascetic version.”

      This whole blog is a work in service to others. And if everyone followed the advice on this blog, it would solve most of the world’s problems.

      • neil October 16, 2013, 9:09 pm

        Stephen Covey gave the keynote speech at a fundraiser for a political action committee in support of a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage in 1998, including giving an in-kind donation of $60,000. If you never pay attention to the news you would never know that you are taking life advice from a bigot who doesn’t believe that LGBT individuals deserve the same rights as everyone else.

        Source: http://archive.is/LZkx

        • Mr. Money Mustache October 17, 2013, 9:20 am

          I fully agree with the cause, Neil, and thanks for pointing that out. I have now amended my opinion of Stephen Covey as (the bigoted-by-a-truly-nutjob-aspect-of-his-religion) guy who still happened to have popularized a very good system for personal effectiveness. It’s a big problem in this country, as you get otherwise good people who happen to have some absolute bullshit ideas planted in their heads – it is a fascinating bit of brainwashing that doesn’t happen nearly as much in other developed countries.

          But you also helped prove my point a bit: his views on that issue had no effect on the usefulness of his old book. So it would have been a distraction for me to know it.

          And another point: sufficiently important bits of current events will be shared around automatically, if you maintain an intelligent network of friends. Thanks to you, I now have learned this thing about Covey. Thanks for sharing it.

          • Tina April 23, 2015, 8:32 am

            Disappointed. This is an old post, and so I almost didn’t respond- but having spent the last 6 months in daily conversation over the wisdom in many of your posts and ideas, I was surprised and just a little saddened coming across this response. The resulting pondering has resulted in me writing this reply, though you may never read it.

            First, although I was not surprised at Neil’s bringing up Mr. Covey’s personal beliefs, I was floored by your response. Yes, Mr. Covey’s book is wise, useful, and stands alone from his stance on traditional marriage. However, your use of the terms “bigoted-by-a-truly-nutjob-aspect-of-his-religion,” ” absolute bullshit ideas,” and “fascinating bit of brainwashing that dosn’t happen nearly as much in other developed countries,” were totally without warrant and were frankly out-of-line.

            My friends and family who are gay are fighting for an equality of voice and respect that has been denied them based off past use of such words as you just used in your response. Our country is founded on the freedoms of people holding different beliefs and having the right to live them. Should Mr. Covey be denied success because he holds a different view on marriage than you? Obviously you have stated no. Should he be held up in a public forum to be ridiculed? Called names? Insulted? All because he has a different view on marriage than you? And why did this revelation about Mr. Covey change your opinion of him at all? Can you not hold respect for him despite the fact he may not believe the same way you do?

            Here’s hoping for less judgmental rants, and more sticking to the personal finance advice that brings us to your website. Thank you for the good financial advice.

            • Mr. Money Mustache April 24, 2015, 12:13 pm

              Tina, I think there’s a line you can draw between accepting different views, but NOT when they involve human rights violations and discrimination.

              For example, I could rephrase your question, “Should Jim Crow be held up for ridicule because he held different views on slavery than you do?”

              The answer in my opinion is yes – we should be outraged when people try to build discrimination based on gender preference into our legal system. The fact that the discrimination carries over from an old religious text gives it no more validity than any other form of persecution.

              Doesn’t mean we have to deny these people “success” – they may still be good, effective people at heart. But if they try to enforce those ideas, we should work to discredit those ideas.

            • Christine April 24, 2015, 12:40 pm

              Couldn’t agree more. And good people are those that aren’t silent bystanders of discrimination.

            • Lil April 26, 2015, 7:12 am

              I believe Stephen Covey apologized later about this speech.

              “Saints are sinners who just keep trying” – Nelson Mandela

              – A Mormon, Engineer and Mother

            • Lil July 25, 2018, 8:47 pm

              Sorry I stood up for him. I am no longer mormon and cant believe I wasted so many years believing this bs. My eyes have been opened. figured I’d come back and update it here… well on to living a good and loving life! This cult is much better ;)

        • Andrew Norris October 17, 2013, 2:17 pm

          Yes, but being a man of principle, he listened, and he changed his mind. I feel certain from reAding his book if he changed his mind he did so from his heart and did not pretend to have changed it just to remain popular.

          source: http://www.deseretnews.com/article/631013/Franklin-Covey-rewrites-policy-on-gay-rights.html

  • Chris October 7, 2013, 2:17 pm


    Respectfully, I think you haven’t fully integrated one aspect of the two circles from the 7 Habits lesson. The goal is not to decrease your circle of concern, but rather to operate within your circle of influence by spending your time and energy on those things where you can have an impact – which in turn will lead to expansion of your circle of influence. Remember, even the things that are in you circle of influence are still in your circle of concern. This is evident in your diagrams, but I think it worth stressing that by working within your circle of influence you may actually bring things that were outside of your control into it.

    By expanding your circle of influence, some of those things which you may have previously had little or no ability to impact you may now have a greater ability to exert influence over. You’re now working on something that you are concerned about and have influence over. As you continue to do so your influence increases and your ability to enact change does too.

    For example:

    Concern: I’m concerned about the wasteful consumption habits of the average North American Consumer

    – Can I change these by being outraged at them and blaming society (acting outside circle of influence)? No
    – What can I do then? I can live my life according to principles I hold important
    – Is that enough? No, I can start a blog trying to communicate my thoughts and ideas
    – Holy shit, people read this stuff, what now? I guess I can have a positive influence over complete strangers by expending effort on what I believe are worthwhile pursuits and try and change my readers lives for the better.
    – Look at the response! National news coverage?!? What happened? I guess I’m not just some guy in Colorado anymore … (expanding circle of influence) … you know, if enough people really think about these ideas and engage with each other, we might be able to make some real progress …

    Enough positive feedback and continual effort in the circle of influence and slowly small dents are being made in the circle of concern. I really hope that there are people that recognize injustices, become concerned about them and act in even what small ways they can within their circle of influence whether it is writing their elected official, researching and donating to a worthy cause, or volunteering their time. I think also as people become more educated and globally aware their circle of concern may expand – and this shouldn’t be viewed as a problem as long as this is not where they spend their energy.

    Likewise as people expand their influence, they should also expand their circle of concern. Bill & Melinda Gates are a prime example of someone whose circle of influence increased with Microsoft’s good fortune and then who turned their new found influence to new areas in their circle of concern.

    As an aside, I much prefer the circle of influence to the circle of control (I have a 2004 edition). Can I control MMM’s opinion? No. Can I influence it? Possibly. How? By working within my own circle of influence and providing what I hope is a well-reasoned and respectful counter-point to his post.



    • att October 8, 2013, 10:59 am

      The problem with watching nightly “news” and trying to keep up with global “events” is that you don’t have time to operate in your circle of influence, instead your mind is preoccupied with the circle of concern. We only have so many hours in the day, we might as well spend those hours making the world a better place by changing what we can instead of fretting over sensational stories we see on a flashing rectangular box in our living room.

  • Steve October 7, 2013, 2:18 pm

    That was a fantastic summary, said much more eloquently than I ever could!

  • rjack October 7, 2013, 2:51 pm

    I’ve read every MMM article and to be honest I often don’t learn anything new anymore. Not so with this article – you can still teach this old dog new tricks!

    The idea that you can expand your circle of control by shrinking your circle of concern is brilliant. This article is destined to be an MMM classic.

    I’ve been trying an experiment of not listening or reading financial and other news for the last week and here is my experience:

    1) It feels really great! I didn’t realize how helpless the news made me feel until I stopped monitoring it.

    2) I have a lot more time for stuff I can control. In my case, I’ve identified an safe investment opportunity that will make me a few hundred extra dollars next year and I’ve been contributing to an open source Ruby project.

    MMM, keep up the great work!

    • mike October 7, 2013, 4:25 pm

      “The idea that you can expand your circle of control by shrinking your circle of concern is brilliant”

      That is definitely something to chew on. I’ve got to let that one take hold. Makes a hell of a lot of sense.

    • John October 8, 2013, 2:10 pm

      Thanks rjack. I love Ruby and the open source community. Thanks for sharing :)

  • Aaron Robertson October 7, 2013, 3:52 pm

    Amen. A long time ago I saw a tee shirt with an old TV with the label HOMEWRECKER. I still love that. It’s amazing when you cut TV from your life. You can get more in 5 minutes reading headlines of the news on any reputable website than you will get from the TV news for hours, which basically replays the latest tragedy over and over again. blah…. Other benefits, you get more time each day to do something meaningful and you have less negative outlook. I can stop there and just those two things are worth it. But if you want to keep going look at how much you pay for cable/sat to get this negative feed pumping into your life… I personally think we can experience a peaceful revolution in our country by just cutting TV out. Not being instructed by the media on how to think or what to buy. I personally do not feel uninformed, I feel liberated.

  • Chris Istace October 7, 2013, 3:54 pm

    I love this Post!!! You have just gone from posting “Hey stop being a Dumbass” to some serious philosophical deep stuff here, it is simple but it goes so much deeper. Thank-you for this and I have already called the Library to bring me in a copy of this book. This is exactly the reason I ran for City Council and why I am still there. I choose not worry about what is out of my control and that which I felt strongest about I chose to do something about it and have an impact.

    Thank-you for this :) Have a great day!

  • Micro October 7, 2013, 4:22 pm

    I haven’t read that book but will have to put it on my list to read. Hopefully Amazon will have it in their kindle library and I can skip a trip to the library. I’m sure my heart will thank me too because I can get frustrated seeing certain things going on. I don’t want to avoid it though because I like knowing what is happening, even if there is really nothing I can do about it. I just need to train myself better to not get emotionally involved in what I am reading.

    • Andrew Norris October 7, 2013, 4:27 pm

      It really is a great book. I think you will get lots from choosing to read it ! He talks about emotional control too.

  • Melissa October 7, 2013, 5:45 pm

    This is so me. I moved into the Circle of Control a few years ago, only because I was getting depressed at all the bad things happening in the world. My opinion was “Humans are a Horrible Race”. I realized that the media sensationalized every single awful thing that ever happened so I needed to step away. I do feel if you want to make a difference, start in your own town. So I try to vote on local stuff, volunteer, and read our local paper–which is mostly Chili Supper! or where a parade is…. And I also love researching the best ____ fill in the blank, that is worthwhile for saving money or time before buying. These things fall into my Circle of Control and there is plenty there to fill my time, along with fun neighbors and friends. I’ve never read 7 Habits only because EVERYONE thought I should read it. So I was being rebellious and didn’t. I might listen to it now. :-)

  • Scott October 7, 2013, 7:46 pm

    Great post! I am so tired of being fed all the hate and fear when I hear the news. I don’t need that in my life. Thanks for the nudge!

  • CJ October 7, 2013, 8:11 pm

    Fantastic post! I’ve read every single post on your blog MMM and this would have to be my favourite. While I am guilty of not yet having read Covey’s book, I am going to amend my “circle of control” and rectify this oversight.

  • Ivan October 7, 2013, 8:18 pm

    MMM, it’s truly amazing how peaceful the world really is when we stop worrying about absolutely everything. And like you’ve said, subtracting worries from my life has given me more time and energy to focus on things that actually matter. That’s a win-win situation indeed!

  • Derek R October 7, 2013, 8:56 pm

    This is the Sherlock Holmes approach to knowledge. Read the beginning of A study in Scarlet, chapter 2 for details of just how dedicated Holmes was in matching his Circle of Concern to his Circle of Control.

  • Johnny Moneyseed October 7, 2013, 8:58 pm

    Covey’ s message is so good but that fuckin book is so dry it took me months to read it. I wish I had had it on audiobook, that would have made it a lot more enjoyable (probably).

    What’s worse than people watching the news is people who spout off talking points that the politicians are trying to jam down their throats. Every time you hear words like ‘debacle’ or even ‘Obamacare’ for that matter coming out of a non-politician’s mouth, you know that not only have they been brainwashed by the news they’ve also been programmed to recite a specific party’s agenda.

    This shouldn’t be anywhere in the realm of anyone’s circle of concern.

  • Kristin October 7, 2013, 9:53 pm

    Great post. Quit reading the news people and spend your time reading the Seven Habit’s instead (or listen to the MP3 for free instead).

  • Freddy October 8, 2013, 2:54 am

    I think there is one other key thing to be aware of. There is something very attractive about having a large circle of concern for some people as it means they can look like an “expert” without ever being held accountable for their opinion.
    Blog comments are infested with these kind of people who want to show how smart they are in a totally risk-free environment.
    The internet would be sooooo much better without these people lol.

  • Mark October 8, 2013, 4:20 am

    Must get out Stephen Covey’s book again. I only got halfway through it last time, presumably meaning that I’m only half effective. ;-)

  • JJ October 8, 2013, 5:44 am

    Uh… where is read lots of personal finance news and books, have a blog, and change the way people spend their money in the expanded circle of concern?

    If that item is there, why not… follow political news and books, have a blog, and change the way people vote?

    • Gerard October 8, 2013, 6:47 am

      The effort:reward ratio is very different in the two situations, though.

    • att October 8, 2013, 10:54 am

      Are you doing this?

      • JJ October 9, 2013, 7:17 am

        Yes. That’s just it… everyone is.

        That’s why people watch the news… to draw conclusions from the news and try to influence other opinions. It’s the exact same thing MMM is doing. The only difference between him and the average Shmoe is that he has a blog and the other shmoes try to influence those they come across in their daily lives. He reads financial news and rants on his blog. Others read news and rant in the barber shop. Only difference is size of audience.

        Is information posted on a blog somehow holy. Does it count more than information posted in a comment on a blog? Does it count more than a letter to the editor of a newspaper? Is the value in the expressed thought or in the vehicle?

        Should Jon Stewart ridicule MMM in his next cable show because MMM only has a blog and obviously you can influence more people on cable? To be fair, MMM would probably accept this criticism and set out to establish his own cable channel. I’d watch.

        Bottom line: Suggesting that others who watch the news and try to influence are fools while you yourself are watching the news and trying to influence is a bit silly. The only difference is the scale.

  • phred October 8, 2013, 6:46 am

    This post reminds me of an old episode of “Kung Fu” where Caine said, “to fight injustice here is to fight injustice everywhere.” or words to that effect. Anyone can become more effective in life by taking a deep & focused approach to local events rather than a scattered, weaker approach to a larger realm. For example, rather than moan about global water pollution, learn how to restore and improve your own watershed.

  • dude October 8, 2013, 7:07 am

    Funny, I’ve had a copy of “7 Habits” given to me by my employer some 15 years ago, sitting unread in my credenza just above my work desk! I’d always assumed it was another of those crappy self-help books designed to make me a better (i.e., more manipulatable) cog in the machine, and so not worth my time (for a great send-up of these kinds of books, see Walker Percy’s “Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book”). But if the anti-consumerist MMM recommends it, then damn, I’m gonna have to give it a read. Just pulled it off the shelf . . .

  • Carla October 8, 2013, 7:12 am

    Thanks for clarifying… The original post did sound a bit like “put blinders on,” which seemed pretty out of character for you. I haven’t read the book, but I think I’m going to have to now. This just makes so much sense (like most of what you say, after I take the time to listen…).

  • David G. October 8, 2013, 7:54 am


    Thank you for clarifying what you intended to say with your previous article. I still think that there is a flaw in your reasoning, however.

    Even if the ultimate purpose is to “do something”, don’t I first need to understand what the issues are in order to determine how best to go about doing that? If I want to do something more specifically to address the issue in Syria, for example, do I not need to understand the root causes of that conflict? Sure. I could wait for a book to be published on the subject, but I would argue that a) that may take too long and b) the information in that book is no more likely to be valid and meaningful than what I may read on a daily basis in a reputable news publication.

    My second issue is as follows: I think that simply talking and discussing issues of importance is a valid ends in and of itself. Can I do something immediate to end suffering in some distant place? Probably not. Does that make discussing and debating these issues, meaningless? I would argue that the answer is definitely “no”. From a meaningful discussion of current events, I am able to derive lessons that apply more directly to my life. These discussions are also useful in developing a strong sense of empathy that influence the ways in which I behave on a daily basis.

    Further, I would argue that with a large enough audience or with a small, but influential audience, these discussions can have an impact on the course of events. If you, for example, asked all of your readers to write to their congressman/woman to ask for an end to the shutdown, that may, in fact, change things.

    • att October 8, 2013, 10:53 am

      You are probably one of those people who post things on facebook such as “if 100 people like this picture it will help save a starving child”

      • David G. October 8, 2013, 11:30 am

        Pardon me, att. I am not one of those people. Your comment adds absolutely no value to this conversation.

    • phred October 8, 2013, 1:16 pm

      I would argue that the answer is definitely “yes”. You’ve chattered all day, and have solved nothing. But, since you probably tired yourself out, you may believe you’ve accomplished something.
      Now, I do agree we as individuals probably can’t end suffering in distant places (unless we move there). So what about ending suffering in our own community? That would be just as valid, and a lot more achievable. That’s a better place to start.
      The root causes of the Syrian conflict? The latest chapter in the struggle for supremacy between the Shia and the Sunni. Each side has friends; the friends get in the news

      • David G. October 8, 2013, 2:13 pm

        I really do think there is value to “chatter”. Is there value to writing a letter to the editor of a small town newspaper about something that nobody who reads the letter will have any ability to control? Was it worthwhile for Pablo Picasso to paint Guernica, even though it was unlikely to “solve” the Spanish Civil War? Was it worthwhile for Tim O’brien to write “The Things They Carried”, even though it was not going to “solve” the War in Vietnam, or, for that matter, “solve” future wars? Is it worth picketing in front of the White House even though the message on one’s placard is unlikely to “solve” poverty or the war in Syria?

        I would say that the answer is “yes”. “Chatter”, as you call it, is any of these things, but on a smaller, more intimate scale. We can and should discuss things that are bigger than our own little worlds.

        • Kenoryn October 8, 2013, 6:05 pm

          Agreed. There is value in understanding world issues, in order to understand the role we want to play in the world, and, of course, because those who do not understand history are doomed to repeat it. We can learn something from the events in the world, and in a very small way, we can influence them: even if we’re not activists or advocating for causes, our everyday habits have a lot of collective power in the world – e.g., consumerism.

          I think the line here, however, is whether you devote an hour every night to watching the news, or fret and worry about world events. Discussing interesting theories and concepts and trying to solve difficult world problems with friends over a beverage is one thing. Fretting and raging at the state of the world is another. (And adjusting your habits to do as little harm as possible is something everyone should try to do.)

        • Igor October 8, 2013, 8:21 pm

          David G, you make a good point. How can one take action on something if one is not informed and educated on the topic/situation? I believe that absorbing information through reading and through ”chatter” are just as important as each other. If two people are chatting about the war in Syria, could that not result in them deciding to take action? Could it be the beginning of a potential partnership and establishment of the two merging together & actually doing something about the war and helping fellow human beings there? The answer is certainly yes. I personally choose not to watch the news due to the majority of the stories being complete garbage, but if I am seeking to inform myself on a particular topic, I can go online, click and get straight to the point without watching Bob tell the journalist about his runaway cat on TV.

          We shouldn’t ignore what is happening locally or globally, but educate ourselves so that we can begin with our own little world and expand our influence and ideas from there. Of course there will always be areas in the ‘Concern’ realm and that just can’t be helped. All we need to focus on is growing the Circle of Control to minimize the Circle of Concern. Start small, think big and who knows where it might take us

  • Gyoshoshinshi October 8, 2013, 8:24 am

    Or to be really efficient, you can just read the Wikipedia article on The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People:


    Readers of the book, is there anything anyone would need to know from the book that is not covered in the Wikipedia article?

    • Ron October 8, 2013, 5:57 pm

      No. And yes I’ve read the book, multiple times and attended the company seminar twice (mandatory training )…Too bad wiki didn’t exist back then :-)

  • Bryan October 8, 2013, 8:28 am

    That is a great book MMM. It’s been several years since I’ve read it, so your post might be a sign it’s time for a re-read. I noticed a couple people mentioned the Serenity Prayer, which my family taught me when I was young. There is a power in letting things go that are outside of our control.

    I was surprised by the hostile response to your previous post, but I think you guys were talking past each other. It is important to be informed on topics and issues you are directly involved in…..which I think was the villager’s point. There is however a point of (rapidly) diminishing return when you either get SO incredibly wrapped up in something that it drains your mental energy, or if you can’t impact the topic or issue anyway…. which I think was your point. I write my congressmen a couple times a year, but then I drop it…..at least until I get the chance to vote the bums out :o)

    How’s that house coming?

  • PawPrint October 8, 2013, 10:27 am

    Although you can’t control natural disasters, of course, you should be prepared for them if you live in areas prone to particular disasters. I live in Seattle, which is earthquake prone, so having an emergency plan and preparation for an earthquake makes good sense, although I know I can’t control when/if it happens. So I would add a light blue circle in the second graphic that includes preparation for a natural disaster. And everyone should have a plan in case of fire in your home, although it’s certainly not something to dwell on.


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