The other day I got a fan letter about AdaptAbility from Daniel Hawthorne, a guy who described himself as having “high functioning autism” which makes dealing with any change, especially unexpected, difficult. In addition to telling me that he found my book very helpful, he shared a technique of how to cope that he read in Stephen Covey’s first book.

When a change hits, draw two circles, one inside the other. In the smaller one, write down what you have control over in the situation. In the larger one, write down the things you can influence. Outside the two is all that you have no control or influence over. Write those factors as well.

This can help on both the emotional and practical level. As Daniel explains it, “Just seeing those things on the outside of the two circles gives me relief from much of my anxiety; they're tangible and real to me now. I realize there is no point in worrying over those things, so I don't.

“Then I brainstorm and make up my survival plan, with achievable goals. I especially look for goals that can be accomplished that very day. Small though they are, they still give me hope that the rest of the plan is also achievable.”

What a great idea! First, you make visible to yourself what you can and can’t change and then you create a plan from what you discover. Rather than having vague worries swirl around in your head, you get them onto paper where you can then do something about them. It reminds me of a line that spiritual teacher Byron Katie often says: “all problems belong on paper.” And it’s not merely a list of worries. It’s making clear to yourself where you can take action and where you shouldn’t waste your time or energy.

I once read a book that talked about the benefits of worry. It distinguished between worries that are really attempts to plan and prepare, which is “good” worry and those which serve only to torture us because they are things we can’t do anything about. Daniel’s method makes that clear.

What can you control? Only things that are dependent solely on you—your attitudes and actions. What anyone else is doing or saying is only open to influence at best.

Most of us know the Serenity Prayer:

“Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.”

Drawing the circles makes that wisdom concrete.

Author's Bio: 

A member of Professional Thinking Partners who is recognized as a leading expert in change, M.J. Ryan specializes in coaching high performance executives, entrepreneurs, individuals, and leadership teams around the world to maximize performance and fulfillment. Her clients include Microsoft, Royal Dutch Shell, Chevron, Hewitt Associates, and Frito Lay. Her work is based on a combination of positive psychology, strengths-based coaching, the wisdom traditions, and cutting edge brain research. Her new book, titled “AdaptAbility: How to Survive Change You Didn't Ask For” was recently released published by Random House’s Broadway Books. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and daughter.