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Managing Overwhelm - Take Back Control Tool

Do you ever suffer from overwhelm? Do you have so much on your plate and going around your head that you don’t know where to start? Do you struggle to see a way forward and feel unable to make decisions?

I have found myself increasingly in this position during the past few months and it is a common issue encountered by my coaching clients. I thought it would be useful to share a coaching tool that helps you to focus your energies in the right direction and provides a focus for moving forward.

In the past 4 months, I have moved to a new city and left my home, career, relationship, and all that was familiar to me. This is against a backdrop of losing my 17-year-old son to suicide and then both my parents suddenly, all within 7 months, during the pandemic.

I have been juggling buying and renovating a house, building a new life for myself in Newcastle and the legal processes of my son’s inquest and safeguarding review. I am a strong and resilient person, but the enormity of these challenges has left me struggling to see a way ahead. I have felt paralysed in my decision-making and struggled to utilise my regular coping skills.

The coaching tool that has really benefitted my thinking was developed by Stephen Covey in his book ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People’. The concept is that people should focus their time and energy on things that they have control over, instead of wasting time and energy on things they cannot control. This wasted time often leads to frustration and increased anxiety.

The activity focuses on putting your worries and concerns into the circular grid, categorising where each should sit and assessing where you should put your energies. It really can help and is quick and easy.

So, here’s the approach.

Step by step plan:

1. On a plain sheet of paper list all your concerns or worries

2. Draw the model as per the diagram below

3. Categorise your list, as below, A, B, or C, and place the corresponding letter next to the word:

A - Circle of Concern - issues you are worried about but cannot control, e.g. the economy, weather, war, past events

B - Circle of Influence – issues that you don’t have direct control over but can influence e.g. voting for a political party, volunteering for a charity, fundraising, campaigning, using social media to raise awareness, educating yourself

C – Circle of Control – issues that you can have direct control over e.g. your thoughts, actions and behaviours

4. Review your list and assess where you spend your energies. What percentage is spent on A,B and C?

5. Time spent in A can frustrate and demoralise us. Accepting that some areas are not under our direct control or influence can be helpful and allow us to redirect our energies.

I have realised that I do not have control over legal processes, timelines, or the actions of other parties at my son’s inquest. Time spent investing my emotional energy here is wasteful, invokes stress and causes overwhelm.

Aim to focus minimal energies here

6. Time spent in B can have a positive impact if we can increase our influence and make an impact.

I have focused my energies on using social media to raise awareness of suicide loss and grief. I have been working in partnership with my legal team and the authors of the safeguarding review to represent Samuel’s voice. I am also looking to support local mental health charities, using my lived experience.

Increasing our circle of influence brings more control into our lives.

Aim to have 10 – 20% of energies focused here

7. Time spent in C can be very fruitful as we have direct control over our issues and much of our energies should be focused here. When I work through my list of concerns many are within my control. I have organised quotes on the house renovation, started decorating where I can, pulled in the family to help where needed. I have joined bereavement support groups in my local area and online inquest connection cafes to access emotional and practical advice

Aim to have maximum energies focused here

Once you have undertaken the steps above consider the following questions:

· If a problem is outside of your control, can you acknowledge and accept that? Can you ask for acceptance to help you find peace with it?

· What can you do today to expand your Circle of Influence to build more positive energy in your life?

· What strategies or tools could you use to help you focus on the things you can control and revitalise your life?

If you feel you would benefit from one-to-one coaching following loss contact Suzanne Howes for a conversation.

Stephen Covey’s Circle of Control Model


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