174 comments

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:

Goal:

  • 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.

Analysis:

  • 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.

Analysis:

  • 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.

  • att October 8, 2013, 10:51 am

    Well I hope after this post even a dummy could understand the basic concept of the low information diet.

    Reply
  • Sean October 8, 2013, 11:39 am

    I was in the boat where I understood the first article. Just wish you could write more articles, like make it a daily. But I guess I should refer to the statement in this article about once a week being good enough… I guess I just get too bored at work. :) Mind numbing tax work/research…

    Reply
  • henrigolo October 8, 2013, 12:22 pm

    Thanks for this post! I had never heard of the circle of control/concern concepts, but it makes so much sense to me. I requested Stephen Covey’s book from the library.

    Reply
  • James October 8, 2013, 12:27 pm

    I’m surprised I didn’t see professional sports teams in the red boxes. There have been so many yo-yo good-bad mood Sundays in my house growing up. At least the effects of the weather on you are in your control. I’m not sure if there’s any reason to get upset about a team.

    Reply
    • Jessica October 11, 2013, 2:55 pm

      Same in my house growing up. I still don’t get the sports thing and am thrilled that I married a man who could not care less about sports of any kind. Unless you’re ON the team or you are the coach or a trainer, you literally have zero influence over what is happening. It’s insane.

      Reply
  • 2 (free) cents October 8, 2013, 12:48 pm

    I’m a huge fan of yours who found you by reading the Washington Post. I too am an early retiree from the communications field who is focused on my community, spouse and young children. I haven’t previously read much about the 7 habits and appreciate your 101. As I ignore it by writing this note, I will keep Circle of Control in mind as I read “The Circle,” which released today. (Book club?!)

    Prior to reading your last 2 columns, i’d been boggled about why markets aren’t reacting significantly to budgets and debt payment stalemates. Markets were once a voice of the silent middle. Perhaps it’s because so many folks and institutions have their money on autopilot- index, high-frequency, momentum or sector trading. Unthinking systems are wonderfully efficient yet they don’t predict politics.

    Even with a strong saliency meter, the erosion of civility and the potential dismantling of our economic and political systems should trip the trigger, if only to inform any decision about how to be the best steward of your money. I’ll be reinvesting my cash stash about the time we see a signed federal budget, and I might be bargain shopping. “… love and I had the wit to win: we drew a circle and took him in.”

    Reply
  • Tom H. October 8, 2013, 1:19 pm

    Hey MMM,

    This post has really changed my attitude. On my morning commute I’m normally stressed about traffic and the attitudes of other drivers. This morning. having read this post last night, I was as calm as a hindu cow. I saw the other traffic as out of my control. I made a comparison of how the other cars are like water in a river. I have no control over the route and flow water takes travelling down the river so I dont care about it. Its not in my circle of concern. I have no control over traffic and this is now the same concern as the water.

    Thanks so much. My first comment and I’ve read all your posts since I heard about your blog on hacker news 18 months ago.

    Reply
  • phred October 8, 2013, 1:23 pm

    I just realized why most would rather spend time in their Circle of Concern rather than in their Circle of Control.
    When Concerned, you don’t have to actually do anything. You can jabber all day while sitting on your keister eating good snacks with your like-minded fellows. At most, you may try/force others to do what you think should be done.
    On the other hand, being in the Circle of Control would require you to actually get up and do something. Horrors! You might make a mistake, you might get laughed at, you might have to give up a week’s worth of lattes so you can buy supplies.
    Yes, remaining concerned takes a lot less energy.

    Reply
    • phred October 8, 2013, 6:34 pm

      ” At most, you may try/force others to do what you think should be done.”

      By this I meant you may try to get others of your own countrymen to spend their money and time while you observe and critique.

      Reply
  • sockigal October 8, 2013, 1:45 pm

    Wow! I have loved your last two blog articles. I like to feed myself a more Mustachian diet, instead of a diet high in gossip and sensational news stories, but I can still get sucked into watching loads of TV programs. Hard to get away from the Facebook, CNN, and other news outlets, but over the years I have noticed news becoming less and less true, unbiased information. Watching PBS news shows really opens up ones eyes to real news and puts news outlets in the US to shame. Just to compare the weather map on PBS to the any US station. The PBS map seemed so relaxed with the coloring of blue for rain storms. The US maps have become more and more dramatic with red, yellow, and oranges. Red for rain storms seem a bit over the top with the exception of a hurricane or tornado. I don’t enjoy the constant stream of non-important information and over the top reporting. I also loathe the bottom ticker at the bottom of the page which seems to get bigger and bigger becoming more of a distraction. Do I really need to know that Miley danced provocatively on the VMA’s? Is something like that even news? Why is it the topic at the top of the news? I’m not even that old, just in my early 40’s, and I remember the news, actually being real news. I miss those days 5 or 10 years ago.
    -Still a work in progress. Only a tiny bit of stubble so far, but my husband and I are starting to see some Mustachian logic flowing into our lives. Thanks!

    Reply
  • Chris October 8, 2013, 3:17 pm

    Big difference between watching Fox or MSNBC (2 sides of the same coin to me) and picking up a book by an expert to learn about economics, politics, personal finance, ecology, etc. One makes you a tool of one of our two tribal political parties. The other makes you prepared to meet their BS on your own terms and vote your morals.

    I don’t see any reason to ever watch or read “passive” news, but I read something every day. “Watching the news” is basically cheering on your team when they tell you what you already believe and want to hear for most folks. I believe this may have been the intent of the “low information diet”, along with only concerning yourself with what you can control. However, I think that we all exert control on most things, just not enough to appear to matter on an individual basis. It does matter though.

    I expect that the original post was taken as a sound bite by those that like to cheer on their tribe as that’s what they’re used to. Critical thinking would reveal that MMM didn’t mean to stick our heads in the sand…

    Reply
  • Rita October 8, 2013, 8:41 pm

    I actively avoid the news these days and my life is so much better when I do! We haven’t owned a tv for about 10 years and hand-pick the websites we spend our time on. Every time I let myself get caught up on what goes on in my country I go into a spiral of hopelessness. So, instead, I focus my energy in making sure my relationship with my parents and sisters is as healthy and positive as possible so that they know they can always count on me and my home overseas if they need to! I would be a mess if I didn’t have a low useless-info diet!

    Reply
  • The Warrior October 8, 2013, 9:26 pm

    Bravo! (Standing Ovation)

    I have never applied, heard of, or implemented the circle of control and circle of concern…until now. I’m writing my own down right now to (constantly) remind myself. I love the theory.

    I am a heavily opinionated person about concerns yet fail or disregard the positive influence that is possible within my circle of control.

    I loved this article. Thank you for the guidance.

    The Warrior
    NetWorthWarrior.com

    Reply
  • Karl October 9, 2013, 3:18 am

    Great article. Too much irrelevant information is never good. People are subjected to a constant barrage of sensationalist news daily. Personally I check my national and regional news once a day in the morning as part of my work routine, as there are often articles or news that will affect projects that I am working on. However I avoid any non-relevant articles and only spend 10-15 minutes skimming the headlines to check if there’s anything significant. After that I’ll probably spend 1-2 hours a day reading interesting and educational blogs and websites (like this one) that are relevant to my goals of living a free, happy, healthy and less materialistic lifestyle.

    Reply
  • Manuel October 9, 2013, 3:59 am

    Hi,

    I´m a first-time poster here. I liked your argumentation and I like the idea of narrowing my circle of concern down to the point where it only reches things I can really influence. No reason to worry about my countrys debt when I´m not even able to handle my own one, right?
    But there are two reasons why I read (never watch – I hate it when the speed wit hwhich I consume information is controlled by others) the news I am interested in daily.

    Firstly, it directs my attention into areas of the world I would never have known of. This means that reading the headline about an ongoing war in Syria made me take a closer look at the country – I read the wikipedia article, some other general articles etc. This widens my knowledge of the world, maybe gives me ideas about interesting countries I could travel and so on.

    Secondly, it might sharpen my mind. Thinking problems through (or trying so), even problems that don´t affect me, is interesting and keeps my mind sharp.

    I think the important thing ist to choose the news source and the kind of news I´m consuming very carefully. Knowing about upcoming laws in my country (Germany) might be important for me because I want to join a protest against them while knowing about Angelina Jolies new haircut is pretty unimportant. Getting interested in the affairs of southeast-asian countries might be interesting, watching dead bodies floating at the shore for hours during the Tsunami isn´t.

    Reply
    • Kruidig Meisje October 9, 2013, 7:22 am

      Expanding my knowledge of the world, and how humans influence it, and how humans influence one another, is something that appeals to me. I do not watch the news (TV’s broken), but keep up via internet daily. But I also try to get insights to the news from magazines, preferably very different ones (financial times versus international developement magazine, huffingdon post versus local left wing letter). By getting views arguments from both sides of a(ny) discussion, I get a better and better bs-detector and learn where I want to stand in this world, and where I want to go. Not that it is always easy to get the views/websites/magazines from both sides, even in this democratic, liberty-endowed high tech age.

      Reply
  • MoneyAhoy October 9, 2013, 5:13 am

    This is one of my favorite articles yet. I really like the diagrams as they really illustrate the point concisely. It also helps explain why you took the stance you did about “news media” and why others (including myself) feel exactly the same way. 99% of it is a big distraction that takes away from the more important things in life you could be doing.

    Reply
  • Nancy October 9, 2013, 10:53 am

    I’ve been practicing the media fast since I read about it in Tim Ferris’s 4 Hour Work Week. Frankly, I don’t know how I ever found time before to watch the news. I don’t miss it at all.

    I do have an 86-year-old mother who has lots of time to watch, listen and read the news. I am never more than a phone call away from the latest news summary although not always completely accurate. :)

    I love the explanation using Covey’s work. Focusing on your circle of control is the most effective and efficient way to live. As a side note, I also enjoy living Covey’s principle of emotional bank accounts. Are you making deposits or withdrawals with the people you care about.

    Great stuff, MMM!

    Reply
  • Mars October 10, 2013, 2:50 am

    “It’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”

    Woah, high praise from Mr MM. Sounds like I need to read this book asap. I’ve seen it about 100 times, but it always seemed like one of those old fashioned books that couldn’t possibly be relevant to me. *Shamed face palm*

    Reply
  • ella October 10, 2013, 4:37 am

    Thanks for your update.
    I have a schedule of news that I consider maintenance viewing/listening. Traffic,weather,school closings etc help me plan —and whatever else I consider enough so that I can tune in more closely as the need arises.

    I have been tuning into Washington news more than is healthy this week. I do find myself reacting more than acting. I do fear losing what I have if the current situation continues Treasury bonds are part of my portfolio both explicitly and as whatever mix in my company’s 401k.. I have made small shifts in my investments, taken out extra cash for the home stash, shifted money around to accounts that are more readily accessible. Nothing that will make a big difference if something bad happens, but is in my locus of control.

    Reply
  • dude October 10, 2013, 1:08 pm

    I figured the MMM crowd would get a good howl out of this one. I know I did!

    http://www.theonion.com/articles/chipmunks-plan-for-future-better-crafted-than-that,34172/

    Reply
    • Mr. Frugal Toque October 11, 2013, 6:45 am

      We’ll have a duelling mascots problem.
      We have to find something with the preparation skills of the chipmunk and the general badassity of the honey badger.
      Not that MMM couldn’t have several mascots.
      I’m picturing something more like the Justice League.

      Reply
  • Sophie October 10, 2013, 1:14 pm

    Apologize for the off-topic, but I just read something funny:

    “I bought a big-screen TV, a surround-sound system, and a stack of DVDs with my first big commission check. By 19 I was making over $50,000 a year, twice as much as I’d ever seen Mom bring home, but I was spending even more, racking up the credit-card debt. I obviously needed the three M’s in my life: Make. More. Money.”

    I’m glad he realized these were the wrong MMMs LoL.

    Quote is from the blog theminimalists com and this entry is called “What It Feels Like to No Longer Worry About Money”

    Reply
  • Daniel October 11, 2013, 12:20 am

    “After all, Germany hasn’t sent out any fleets of attacking submarines in an awfully long time!”

    That really made me laugh! I think your stye of writing is incredibly funny 8-D Enjoyed the article and love the message!

    All the best from Germany to the whole MMM-community^^

    Daniel

    Reply
  • Pierre October 11, 2013, 5:21 am

    Aren’t we also citizens ? Okay we are selfish little cells most of the time, but we also have the responsibility of running the country, or at least chose the relevant representatives.

    If we never ever consider who does what and what are the consequences of their actions, we can’t vote responsibly.

    I heard that in the US people don’t really vote anyway, but in my country we really like understanding the whole complex relationships in politics and voting according to what direction we want the boat to go. So many died for us to finally be able to be selfish that we don’t want to be as selfish as we could be out of respect!

    Please don’t advocate “not caring about petty politics”, since most of the world rely on YOU US citizens to stay in the right track and not become a crazy gun-selling, no-tax-paying, war-mongering country !

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache October 11, 2013, 3:03 pm

      Yeah, but we have a two-party federal government in this country, and a smart person does not have to watch the news to know which party to vote for, if their goals are those stated in your comment ;-)

      Reply
      • EKP14 October 18, 2013, 2:11 am

        Voting in primaries is where voters can usually get the most bang for their buck. In this case since all the candidates are the same party, you have to chose between candidates not parties, but in districts where one party is heavily favored (hello gerrymandering!), it’s an important vote. And as anyone who’s worked on Capitol Hill can tell you, congressmen do listen to their constituents. Don’t be afraid to contact them. Your viewpoint is as valid as anyone else’s.

        Reply
  • Matthew Pence October 11, 2013, 6:53 am

    I wonder what might actually happen if everyone limited their activity outreach to the circle of control, and let go of the circle of concern… I have been automatically cutting out the bullshit from daily life for a while. I never was a big television person, and am too busy to spend time sorting through pointless drivel on the internet. I tried to absorb it all once upon a time… it drove me insane.

    Nowadays, I do find some use for local news sources. I’ll fire up the local news website on a daily basis, quickly scan the headlines in relevant sections (local news, health, technology, and pets). If there’s something that may directly impact or benefit my life, I will open the link in a new tab. I then quickly scan the article and decide if the headline is misleading.

    I have come to do the same thing with Facebook. I cannot cut that out of my life, as that’s the primary way of marketing and promoting my local cover band (a hobby that generates income!). However, I do use the filters on Facebook to cut out the hoax scares, mind-numbing memes, and various other pointless posts.

    By the way, first time commenting on any of these articles, in spite of having read the vast majority. I’m slowly adapting my life to maximize the benefits of everything I already have (including my own body). Great to see that this way of life is a valid and viable way of living!

    Reply
  • Timo (from peaceful Germany!) October 11, 2013, 6:56 am

    I think i`m a fast learner so i skipped all the comments!

    Jokes aside, missing focus is a real big issue in today`s (online)-world and probably one of the main causes for Information Overloads and Burnouts. I just came across a great Book on this very topic: Handbook to Higher Consciousness from Ken Keyes Jr.
    After about 100 pages i must say this little book has so much insight on what is going on in our minds while hunting for sensations, security or power until it becomes highly addictive. Everybody with problems handling they`re own Sh+*…i mean stuff and searching for fixes in the outside world…go get it, could save a life or two. It certainly changed my mind. Sorry for my broken french.

    Reply
  • Melissa October 11, 2013, 9:53 pm

    This circle of control article reminds me of a great class that I took through Dale Carnegie for human relations. I wonder if Mr. Money Mustache has any experience with this considering the relation?

    Reply
  • Alcuin York October 12, 2013, 12:45 pm

    Great! Not just about this article, but the whole site. While I have not found all your articles useful, there’s plenty here that is helpful. It’s like a grand buffet table. I partake of a few of the dishes, others consume other foods. There’s always something useful on this site for the wise. The issue you raise in this article is something I’ve argued about with a cousin of mine – one who prefers angry rants to “Hey, where should I be putting my limited time and energy?” Though I had intuitively arrived at the same conclusion, your explanation was more succinct than I was ever able to articulate.

    This is my first post on this site, but let me say “Thank You” for all the others that I have found so useful.

    Reply
  • Valerie Richard October 13, 2013, 2:39 am

    I think perhaps there is an idea that you can’t be informed without angsting about things that are outside your area of control. I think if you are able to watch the news and accept that most of it is out of your control, but you are obtaining the information for whatever reason that’s great.

    I don’t generally pay a lot of attention to the general news, but I do keep an ear open so I can use it as a tool for information that will let me plan things inside of my control. I live in a war zone, so sometimes the news is relevant for planning purposes. Can I change policy? No, not really. Can I look for a new job if policy is indicating I’ll be out of one? Absolutely!

    It’s like the weather analogy. You don’t look up the weather in order to get angry that it will rain, you look it up to know that during your bike ride you’ll need a gloves, a jacket and a hat. If you stick your head in the sand and refuse to look at it because you can’t control the weather and it will just make you unhappy….well then it’s your fault when you are freezing your ass off on the bike ride you were ill prepared for.

    I suppose I’m saying, is learn what news is relevant to you and how to take in information that can have an affect on the things you can control, while doing your best not to sweat the stuff that you can’t.

    Reply
  • KBR12 October 14, 2013, 12:44 pm

    There is something you can do about troubling things in the news. Contact your representatives!! (I’m using representative in a broad sense- president, mayor, senator, congressman, and even media outlets, etc) This is a fundamental aspect of democracy, and some argue a responsibility, especially when lives are at stake. Elected representatives decide when to wage war, and these representatives work for us- the citizens. The question of when it is appropriate for a state to use force is currently unsettled and of such importance that I don’t see why one would want to not speak up. We care about Syria not just because it is sad, but because we need to decide if the US will strike Syria militarily and we need to decide if the abuses against Syrians are so abhorrent to US values that we will step in militarily. Public opinion matters and affects policy all the time. I fully support reducing consumption of less important media- celebrity stories, 4th of July barbecue recipe ideas, etc. but currently for one to be a responsible citizen there has to be some media consumption. One simply can’t current enough to make informed decisions by relying on books, they are too far behind the curve. I would argue that TV is the least efficient option. A 2 minute scan of the major newspapers could serve as a bare minimum to let us know if there is something that deserves more attention, and NPR news is pretty good and can be on in the background while doing something else.

    Reply
  • David Ausman October 15, 2013, 2:08 pm

    Today when I picked up my paper at the front door I threw out the front page and only kept the section with comics, movie reviews and band reviews. Result: I had a much happier day! Then I read part of a book. MMM is right! I really have no control over the debt debate or Syria. Nothing I say will make any difference about those things.

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache October 15, 2013, 4:08 pm

      Thanks David/Flashkube – and I like your music (checked it out on Soundcloud at your link!)

      Reply
  • Brooklyn Money October 16, 2013, 6:26 pm

    I think that the amazing work done by that Kansas City Star reporter and the effect that the resulting attention from people all around the world who have cried out against what seems to be major injustice is a perfect case study for why it is our duty as citizens and humans to not ignore other people’s stories by insulating ourselves from them.

    Reply
  • David G October 17, 2013, 2:02 pm

    Thanks for the reminder. For me personally, checking on the news and then making comments on my Google+ page is a way to feel a sense of control. But it’s just an illusion. The news is superficial, two-dimensional, and often emotionally charged. It’s been a little hard to stay away these past two weeks, since we’re about to purchase our first house, and a default could have destroyed our dream. But as you say, the best information is in books, so to truly understand, it is best to wait a year or two and read a book about what happened in depth. This would be secondary, however, to spending my time in doing things that would have the greatest impact on my own future, such as building my business. I got the jist of what you said in your first article. Don’t let the naysayers get you down. They are outside your circle of concern.

    Reply
  • anon October 19, 2013, 5:40 pm

    This are the “top” news stories on my news feed right now:
    1.JPMorgan in tentative $13 billion deal with US Justice Department: source
    2.Escaped Florida inmates arrested in Panama City motel
    3.Greek police appeal over mystery blonde girl
    4.Hillary Clinton returns to campaign trail, stumping for someone else — for now
    5.Two BART workers killed by train near Walnut Creek station
    6.Five reasons America is still in trouble
    7.Which politician do you hate?
    8.Actress’ magazine cover criticized
    None of these did I click on as none of them are important – to ME. The only one that concerns people is about the BART employees killed and I don’t live there, know any of them, nor could I affect the outcome in any way. 1, 3, 6, 7 & 8 aren’t even stories that should have been written much less read. In the best of these, they are “wait and see because there may someday be a story here”. I’ve got better, happy things to do.

    Reply
  • John October 20, 2013, 9:48 am

    A great read on this subject is Voltaire’s ‘Candide’. It’s a short read at ~100 pages , but if you want to get at the meat of it skip to the last 8 or so paragraphs. I think most will see that the MMM lifestyle is not a modern concept.

    Reply
  • Sebastian November 5, 2013, 8:26 pm

    Dude, I feel the same way. I read that book 4 times in the past 6 years and I’ve really internalized the main important ideas.

    I find it so foolish when I see people complain all day long about things they can’t control. It seems to illogical but then again these people have not done this same reading.

    It is from this book that I also got on my favorite quotes, “happiness is the fruit of the ability to sacrifice what you want now, for what you want eventually”

    Reply
  • Doug B January 25, 2014, 1:14 pm

    Just wanted to say i have been reading your blog from the start religiously from the last 3 weeks and this article really puts things in to perspective. I always have been a worry wart as they say, and the visual circles you provided can work as a goal for me. If i can accomplish to some point replacing the outside circle with comparisons to your examples i will be living a more calming life. will be

    Reply
  • Benjamin March 21, 2014, 11:45 pm

    Probably six months too late here, and you’ve possibly seen this, but the article (click URL link) here is what made me completely give up the news. Never felt less stressed or bothered, particularly by cunning politicians. http://www.theguardian.com/media/2013/apr/12/news-is-bad-rolf-dobelli perhaps selective ignorance is bliss :)

    Reply
  • Harry October 10, 2014, 7:01 am

    We were taught Covey’s book in college, but that is over 20 years ago now. Still I agree that many things are now art of culture.

    I do want to remark that it is a bit limiting if you stick to the things you think are in your circle of control. How would we have scientific breakthroughs, alleviate poverty or get a larger circle of control, if we stick to the status quo?

    Case in point, together with a friend that lives on another continent, we noticed that a large part of poverty in developing countries was caused by high expenses for kerosene (for lighting) as well as the time needed to get it, costs of accidents etc. We designed a small solar-powered light that has helped hundreds of thousands of people lead a better and safer life. When we started we did not know how to build it, how to alleviate poverty, how to do things. If we were to stick with our perceived circle of control, we would not have made a difference, now I think we did.

    As a mountaineer there always is the static goal of reaching a summit, preferably higher than before. But how could you try if you stick to what you have done? Maybe MMM can write sometimes about the overlap and differences between comfort zone vs perceived circle of control vs actual circle of control. I think these are different sizes, creating much more opportunities than we might realize.

    Thank you.

    Reply
  • Roberto Sans April 17, 2015, 6:14 am

    Hello mustachers

    This is my first post here. I cannot help but wonder if most of you have heard of Epictetus, because he was quite serious mustachian in the 2nd century AD
    1. Some things are in our control and others not. Things in our control are opinion, pursuit, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever are our own actions. Things not in our control are body, property, reputation, command, and, in one word, whatever are not our own actions.

    The things in our control are by nature free, unrestrained, unhindered; but those not in our control are weak, slavish, restrained, belonging to others. Remember, then, that if you suppose that things which are slavish by nature are also free, and that what belongs to others is your own, then you will be hindered. You will lament, you will be disturbed, and you will find fault both with gods and men. But if you suppose that only to be your own which is your own, and what belongs to others such as it really is, then no one will ever compel you or restrain you. Further, you will find fault with no one or accuse no one. You will do nothing against your will. No one will hurt you, you will have no enemies, and you not be harmed.

    Aiming therefore at such great things, remember that you must not allow yourself to be carried, even with a slight tendency, towards the attainment of lesser things. Instead, you must entirely quit some things and for the present postpone the rest. But if you would both have these great things, along with power and riches, then you will not gain even the latter, because you aim at the former too: but you will absolutely fail of the former, by which alone happiness and freedom are achieved.

    Work, therefore to be able to say to every harsh appearance, “You are but an appearance, and not absolutely the thing you appear to be.” And then examine it by those rules which you have, and first, and chiefly, by this: whether it concerns the things which are in our own control, or those which are not; and, if it concerns anything not in our control, be prepared to say that it is nothing to you.
    First chapter of Enchiridion or Handbook by Epictetus, complied by Arrian towards the year 130

    Reply
  • Felipe June 29, 2015, 6:54 pm

    In my youth I wasted my energy criticizing all the systems I couldn’t change and still interact with.

    The relief of making some progress by taking the action still unknown to me. Just finished setting up my 3rd compost and line drying my clothes- frugal, sustainable actions I couldn’t have seen myself enjoying until after my values changed towards Mustachianism.

    I can save a good amount and constrict my spending at will. All the freed energy from not consuming junk information makes producing more natural.

    Thanks for another great post!

    Reply
  • Mr. Badasretty September 21, 2015, 9:34 pm

    Inspiring MMM, going to get the MP3 version of 7 Habits to keep me in line. I read it 20 years ago. Its still the gospel on get in your shit together!

    Reply
  • Glen February 29, 2016, 3:13 pm

    I’m a longtime reader and just wanted to take the opportunity to thank you for this (and many other) posts. I’ve been working towards the philosophy described here for a while and didn’t realize it aligned so closely with the 7 Habits book, which I’ll have to read ASAP.
    There are so many people that allow their job, the traffic, the weather, their circumstances, etc. to mercilessly beat them down without attempting any real change and it can be frustrating to watch, especially when a friend or loved one engages in those habits.
    I love the Circle of Control concept and it illustrates the ideas of accountability and even available bandwidth, as I’m always trying to allocate my energy in a way that’ll allow me to lead a better, more productive life. Keep on moustaching (I have to spell it that way, I’m a fellow Canuck) – you’re an inspiration.

    Reply
  • Thalia July 15, 2016, 10:06 am

    Hello Mr. Money Mustache!
    I want to offer up a different side. (I’ve been following your blog for a few months and shared your blog with my SO – he agrees we want to implement your tips when we marry someday! I digress.)

    For years I have been avoiding the news, facebook, and other pointless things that only add to my anxiety. But working in policy this fall, I will NEED to pay attention to the news for my job, as my employer requires it. With policy, I can get away with some books and a few articles, but the recent side of things will require me to keep up to date with the news, especially if I will be interacting with constituents. What are your thoughts if work requires me to keep check of the news in my free time? I have spent at least a decade actively NOT following the news, so even getting myself to keep up is difficult!

    Reply
  • Marushka November 9, 2016, 8:03 pm

    I found your site towards the end of 2013 – after my husband and I sold our inner-city house in Sydney and moved to a small town in another state 1,400km away to be mortgage free – and at that time I read most of your blogs. They resonated because due to circumstance (my husband’s redundancy and my health) we had made a lot of decisions that lined up with your philosophy. (Some family members thought we were crazy).

    At times, I have come and read the new ones, but this is the first time I’ve ever commented. I don’t know if you (MMM) read these old comments, and I’m not expecting replies from you, but I plan on re-reading them all from the beginning and commenting where I want to. (I have this fear of commenting, like I’m going to say the wrong thing… or get in trouble. But I’m just going to do it).

    Due to my health, I have times when I need to lie down and rest a lot, and as I have some more major surgery coming up, I will need to take it easy and rest a lot for several weeks. While I often watch, or read lots of online tutorials during these times (Lynda.com and Tutsplus.com), I sometimes need to do something less brain-taxing, and I read. As I don’t want to read a whole book (I find it hard to stop, and then other things don’t get done), I often read newspapers because I can read just an article or two, or three… And it’s BAD for my health, as I get extremely stressed.

    I know.. I know.. it’s because it’s outside my Circle of Control.

    I read your article about your Circle of Control a few years ago, and even bought Steven Covey’s audiobook at the time, and listened to it, and at the time stopped reading newspapers. BUT while bedridden during a particularly bad-health period (ironic, really), I got back into this terrible habit of regularly reading articles in the Washington Post, New York Times, The Guardian, The Atlantic, Salon, The New Yorker… It stressed me but I couldn’t seem to break the cycle.

    Yesterday was election day and you elected President Donald Trump. If I was stressed before, I feel terrified now.

    So… No more newspapers. When I want to read for ten or twenty minutes, I will work through the articles on your blog, and comment.

    So, they’ll probably be lots of comments from me from now on, on your older posts.

    Reply
  • Lisa November 10, 2016, 4:06 pm

    I remembered reading this article a few months back, and decided to revisit it today. Circle of Control is really resonating with me right now, and I’ve been sharing this idea with others who may feel a little lost after recent events. Thanks for the rally cry to take control! I needed it today.

    Reply
  • chamekke January 8, 2017, 10:40 am

    “If you can solve your problem, then what is the need of worrying? If you cannot solve it, then what is the use of worrying?” – Shantideva (8th-century Indian Buddhist scholar).

    Reply
  • Jon December 16, 2017, 8:19 am

    This post has inspired me to finally start reading the 7 Habits. Its been a week and I’m loving it…even though I’m barely into Habit 2 (Begin with the End in Mind).

    One thing I’m still not entirely clear on is the best way to deal with reactive people – the news watchers in particular. I’ve got a few family members on the far opposite side of the political spectrum that just LOVE to tell us about the sensationalized headlines they’ve come across in their daily (non-stop) consumption of “news”.

    How does everyone deal with these people? They aren’t doing it in a “sharing” way, they are doing it knowing that my political opinions differ and want to debate…something I, as a proactive person, don’t want to bother wasting any mental or physical energy on.

    Reply

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