Covey is Wrong

I usually like to write articles on political issues. However this time I want to write about something philosophical for the blog.

Steven Covey, author of the seven habits of highly effective people, is wrong. At least in far as his lessons on his two circle theory goes. If you have not read it yet Covey says that should imagine your concerns to fit into two concentric circles, one smaller than the other. The smaller circle is your circle of influence. Here you place issues ad things in your life that you can affect directly and efficiently. Such as your family, friends, lifestyle, and whatever else you can affect easily. The bigger circle is your circle of concern. Things which you cannot or only tangentially affect. Global warming, war, national debt, and other issues of that nature. He tells you to focus on the circle of influence instead of the circle of concern and you will be a more effective person.

His ideas focus on being proactive and taking responsibility for your actions. Realizing that nothing will change unless you take a hand in it. Which is quite right. It is actually sad that one of the basic premises of his code is flawed. The circle of influence and circle of concern are one and the same! They both concern the same issues. The only difference is in the circle of influence you act to change things while in concern you whine about the state of affairs. The end effect is that the classic idea of the circle of influence and concern dis-empowers you instead of empowering you as it was designed. Even the diagram of the circle shows you that there are just some things you cannot affect and therefore outside your power.

Let me make one thing clear. There is nothing in the world that you cannot affect. Nothing. Whether it is an event on a global scale, a natural disaster, an accident, war, whatever. There is always something you can do. Whether it be preparing for the disaster beforehand or your reaction to the disaster. Understand the previous statements and what it implies. You have power. No one can tell you to give up because it is impossible or to continue on despite the issues unimportance to you. I will not lie. It may be tougher to affect certain things, but the power is there. All that remains is in how you use it.

Do you want to get back with your lover? Go court her again. Do you want to stop the coalition war against Libya? Volunteer to join an anti-war organization or speak out against it yourself. Do you want to help Japan? Give them your time or money. If you think about it hard enough a way to impact problems will always appear.

Ideas have power. If everyone thought the way Mr. Covey suggests, what would happen to us? Yes, we would have a more efficient life. We would be able to affect our work, family, and other things more. How about the rest of the world? Of the country? Of the community? If our country thought this way during the time of the dictator Marcos, would we have been able to oust him? Or would we have labeled the corruption as an issue for the circle of concern? After all as private citizens it is an issue that we have little control over. How would we change our country? How would we complain to the government if they do something wrong? How would we argue over unjust wars? How would we discipline corrupt individuals?

This is my main peeve with the idea. It basically teaches you to be efficient by picking your battles. Equating being efficient with being effective and achieving that by only taking on activities that give you the maximum rate of return. It does sound very reasonable does it not? But it requires you to give up on things that you really care about for the sole reason that it is not the most efficient use of your time. Covey’s approach makes you give up on issues you care about preemptively, because well they are basically too hard.

An effective person is more than that. It is having a goal. Choosing which issues in your life you care about. Then setting out to impact them whatever they are. You can be very efficient at everything you do, but still be unable to reach your goal because you have none. While you can be inefficient but still make progress toward your desired end. Nothing is more ineffective than giving up without trying.

Both his creed and my modification to it have being proactive and responsible as central tenets. The frustrating is that for all the good it does a hint of pessimism and surrender creeps into his. This is all you can do and you should not attempt anything beyond it for that would fall into your circle of concern. Ultimately his creed is actually harmful you. It leaves you defenseless against powerful people exploiting you as they would be something you cannot do anything about. While mine is based on optimism and power. You can impact anything around you as long as you work towards it. The initial crusaders for or against any issue always face daunting odds. Yet they don’t give up and say that it is in their circle of concern. Instead they realize that both are one and the same and begin.

I hesitate to say it but the two circle theory actually reminds me of one of Homer Simpsons statements. “You tried and you failed, the lesson is don’t try”. Except in this case you never even bother to try in the first place.



Filed under foreign, Philosophy

2 responses to “Covey is Wrong

  1. That’s right!

    If we want to…YHEP we can.
    “Whatever the mind can conceive it can achieve. W. Clement Stone
    “If you think you can. You’re right! If you think you can’t. You’re right too!”
    Henry Ford.
    These are few of the life changing principles that are ought to be taught at an early age.

    Great read on your article. Lovin’ it!



  2. Bakerofish

    heh. i think you missed out on something here. and essentially youre saying the exact same thing.

    you do not focus on what you CANT change (circle of concern) but instead attack what you CAN (circle of influence)

    the basic idea is you cant stop an impending landslide by yourself but instead hire an engineer to build that wall

    you wont be effective in say, making the church change its stance in the RH bill which is outside of your circle of influence but by focusing on the folks you can convince who MAY have a better chance at affecting the game you then are a step closer to your goal.

    the problem here is that youre forgetting that the things in your circle of concern might be in other people’s circle of influence 🙂

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