Overhauling My Concentric Circle of Responsibility
One early morning in September I woke up sobbing, realizing my pillow was wet with my tears. It had been a dream – one of those dreams that makes you stop and take notice. A dream from the Divine?
The dream had gone like this: I was back in college, having a rough time and begging my mom to spend some time with me. I didn’t need anything, I just wanted her to be there for me. But my mom wasn’t available and time after time she told me all of the things that she needed to do: My dad needed her to go out-of-town with him on a business trip; she had to run some college kids to Walmart; etc. This went on for quite a few days. Finally, in my dream, I yelled, “STOP! LOVE ME!” But when I turned to look at her, it wasn’t she that was standing there. It was my young son. Confused, I looked again, and instead of my son, my husband was there. Even more confused, I looked again, and instead of my mother, or my son, or my husband, I was looking back at myself.
That’s when I broke into tears and woke up.
You see, I spent most of the past two years rushing around trying to do a lot of good things for other people. Like my director and the Vice President at work, the students at the University, my colleagues, everyone that is in the outer rings of my Concentric Circle of Responsibility.
Never heard of the Concentric Circle of Responsibility? My counselor introduced it to me. At the center of this circle is my Person – my physical, mental, and spiritual health included. The next ring is my Partner – my husband and our needs as a couple. Next is my role as Parent – the needs of my son and our relationship. Everyone else is supposed to fall into the expanding outer rings but I had it mixed up. My Concentric Circle was everyone else in the center ring with my son being next. Then my Partner and my Person fought over the other rings. It was really really sad but something moms do all of the time.
At that moment in that dream, that scream of “STOP! LOVE ME! was my cry for help. It was me begging myself to pay attention to myself, to be kind to myself. In turn, I would have the strength, the energy, and the sanity to handle everything else. It was quite literally a wake-up call.
A More Focused Concentric Circle of Responsibility
My parenting goal is to fix my Concentric Circle of Responsibility: Person, Partner, Parent, and then everyone and everything else.
Fixing the Circle involves listening and paying attention – to me and what I need, and to my family and what they need. These things will seem little but I know they will add up in the long run.
For example, drinking water when I am thirsty. It’s insane that I don’t do that. In fact, I am thirsty now as I am writing this. Let me get up and drink a glass of water…
Listening and paying attention also means that I stop eating food or don’t even start eating when I’m not hungry. My son is teaching me this one. If he’s not hungry; he doesn’t eat. Period. It could be his favorite thing in the world; if he is not hungry, he is finished. He’s very lean. I am not.
I am not going to set a bunch of goals or New Year’s Resolutions this year. For me, resolutions are very restrictive, inflexible, and unkind. Plus, most New Year’s Resolutions sputter and die by the end of January anyway. These intentions are kinder, gentler, and more loving:
- Drink water when I am thirsty.
- Don’t eat when I am not hungry.
- Prep more healthy and nutritious meals at home for my Hubby and son. (Sorry Viet Cuisine! They are amazing, by the way! Check out the RCM Review)
- Take a bubble bath and finish it off with an in-home mani/pedi
- Continue reading when my son asks for more
How I’m Going to Follow Through
Now, this is the tricky part – seeing these goals through. I wouldn’t be the book reviewer and host of the RCM bookclub if I didn’t recommend at least one book in this post. And today, you get two: Better Than Before and The Four Tendencies, both by Gretchen Rubin. In them, she discusses habit formation and why some people do better keeping commitments than others. I recommend you read the books for more details and tricks to help you follow-thru on your intentions. You can take this short quiz to get started.
According to Rubin, I am an Obliger: I don’t have any problem keeping external commitments (to my directors and co-workers) but I struggle to keep internal commitments to myself (and those that are very close to me. Gretchen recommends that I trick myself and make my internal commitments external commitments.
That’s what I am doing here. I am telling you what I am going to do and I’d like to update you on my progress here and on my personal blog. Knowing that you guys are expecting me to do what I said I was going to do, looking to see how well I do it, and maybe wanting to see if you can do it too, will help me follow-thru on my intention.
“After a lifetime of believing that the voices that mattered were Out There, approving or disapproving of me, I’m learning [to listen] to trust the voice within, the voice of God’s Spirit, the whisper of my own soul.”
– Shauna Niequist, Present Over Perfect
This year is about listening and loving my community (you guys!), my friends, my family, and ultimately, myself. And then following up on what I hear with appropriate action. Want to join me? Tell me about your Concentric Circle of Responsibility in the comments.
This post was originally published January 2018 and has been updated.
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Shannan Moore Malone squeezes in the time to write while taking care of the Buddy Man. As you already know, she loves books but she also loves great movies, running, and is, beyond a shadow of a doubt, a foodie. Though generally more on the quiet side, you can get her talking by mentioning living authentically, the importance of clarity and organization, and enjoying life, which she occasionally writes about on her blog her blog and posts about on Instagram.
This is so relevant. Thank you so much! I needed these words Shannon!
Thank you for your response, Christa! Best of luck on your journey.
This resonates with me, especially as I am getting ready to take on a new role at work. Thank you!
I am so glad it resonated with you, Esther! Good luck in your new role at work.
Great article Shannan! I ignore my body’s cues at work all the time so I can keep doing work – something to think about.
Thank you for commenting, Joy. Here’s to listening to our bodies and spirits.
Wow! Great article! Thank you for sharing! I’m also an obliger. I get so frustrated with myself and often stress my kids and husband by overcommitting myself to “good” things. I love the intention behind your goals. I’m looking forward to reading this book and re-prioritizing my circles! Keep us updated on how you are doing!
Thank you so very much for the kind words. I had a great first two weeks but during this past week, things may have gone a little sideways. But one day at a time, right?
Let me know what you think of the book. Hopefully, it will help you like it has helped me.
Well written & VERY relevant article, Shannan. I am going to take the quiz now. You really have me thinking….and I very much appreciate that!