Inside: We need to declutter our lives frequently. This includes decluttering our relationships. The Circle of Impact exercise will help you practice.
If you’re into simple living, minimalism or decluttering, you’ve probably heard tips around how futile it is organize stuff that you don’t even want/like/need.
Professional Declutterer, Julianna Wilkes of The Simplicity Habit writes “I know it is more tempting to go buy pretty containers at The Container Store than it is to sort through the clutter that may cause you to deal with thoughts or feelings you may rather not address. Decluttering may not be as glamorous or as fun. But (we) need to declutter more, not organize more.”
Read onward for the simple but uncommon boundary tip you may never have considered before.
It’s important to note that social support and social connection are not the same thing. Social support involves an exchange of services/advice/help and quality support can absolutely improve life satisfaction. But if you have social support without social connection, you can still feel a deep sense of loneliness.Deb Dana
We need to declutter our lives more frequently. And this includes decluttering our relationships and commitments.
The simple but uncommon boundary tip you’ve likely never considered, and one of the easiest ways to cut our “work load” and create more ease and joy in life, is to declutter the relationships, commitments, or spaces we belong to that are not life-giving! There’s no point expending emotional and physical energy on relationships that no longer serve our Life Vision or who and how we want to be in the world.
All the life management, life visioning, and boundary work in the world cannot replace the importance of letting go of or re-prioritizing relationships (moving them into appropriate rungs of our circle of impact) so that we stay mind-emotion-body-spirit healthy and resourced.
Not every relationship is forever.
Not everyone deserves space in our inner circle – or our life. We can be kind to everyone but we can’t be everyone’s best friend.
To be a healthy human and make a positive impact, we must be wise about the relationships we allow into our life and the voices we listen to.
Here are some notes about how to create your own Circle of Impact.
who and what deserves space in your circle of impact?
You get to CHOOSE who and how you want to BE in the world. As you grow into your True Self, heal, and build a life that feels like home, your relationships will change.
Some people will grow with you, other relationships will no longer be a right-fit. You’ll see with clarity the people and places where you’ve been people-pleasing, fawning, or hiding parts of yourself for ‘belonging.’ For freedom, health and joy you will need to let these relationships go. Other relationships can survive and become even stronger as you practice using your voice and letting yourself be seen.
Letting a relationship go doesn’t mean you don’t love someone or a community or want them to be well. But there comes a time in life when we must finally decide to love ourselves well and listen to our inner wisdom instead of shoving it down to avoid the discomfort of messy but brave conversations. Or avoiding the possibility of someone being unhappy with us.
My simple Circle of Impact Exercise can lead to quite powerful results. It’s best to do this on paper – not in your head – we need the visual for full effect. In this instance, we’re using the Circle of Impact Exercise to support healthy boundaries but it can be used in other ways. For instance, it can also serve as a powerful visual to remind us of all the community / relationships we already have in our life.
1. every relationship is bidrectional (not necessarily reciprocal)
There is a bidirectional relationship between us and every community, organization, relationship, and environment within our circle of impact. Some of these we can control (or have a measure of control over) while others we cannot.
But what’s important to recognize is that we are impacted by the people we spend time with (and the people they spend time with), the voices we listen to (including all the forms of media we engage with), and the communities and organizations we belong to. Whether or not the impact is positive or not is what’s in question here.
Bidirectional (it goes both ways) is not the same as reciprocal. Reciprocal relationships are those in which there are benefits to both parties. Some relationships are very one-sided. One person takes while the other gives. Or one person does all the pursuing and nurturing while the other makes little to no effort. In most cases, these are not healthy relationships and either need to be cut out of our life or moved into a further rung within our circle of impact – away from center.
2. who deserves space in your inner circle(s)?
Not everyone deserves access to you. Not everyone merits the best of your energy, attention, and other resources.
If we live with leaky boundaries around who gets to come in close, we will not be healthy or able to make any kind of focused (values-aligned and intentional) impact in the world. Often what happens is that our favourite people (ex our immediate family) do not get the best of us because we’re exhausted trying to pour out in too many places. We have finite resources and like it or not, we must sift and choose where we’ll use them.
Unhealthy beliefs about what it means to be a compassionate or loving person, co-dependency, trauma, people-pleasing, loneliness, or having a ‘helper personality’ can make this challenging work. To be honest, I think this is hard work for all of us. Yet to thrive, we need to be clear on, and very intentional about, keeping relationships and commitments in their rightful place.
I consider the innermost two circles or rungs around you (in the center of your circle) to be your “Inner Circles’. Only your favourite people and those you feel completely safe to be your true self with should be allowed in. (Pets might belong here too if they support our emotional and mental health and add joy to our life). These are the people you enjoy sharing life with, they have your back, and they can turn to you when they need support.
Sometimes it’s not a person per-se but a commitment or passion that gets space in our inner circle for a season. In some seasons, we may decide to lean into writing a book, doing trauma-therapy or grief-work, or going back to school. Because this will require ample energy, time, and money, you’re essentially allocating space for the project or passion within your inner circle(s). Someone or something else will, by necessity, get less of you during this season. It’s best to be upfront about this – both with yourself first and foremost and then with whoever else will be impacted by your choice.
Our circle of impact is in flux. Relationships and commitments move in and out of our lives over time and seasons of life. This is healthy and good. We can choose to move a relationship in closer or further out according to the value we assign it, or the intimacy and health of the relationship. And as kids fly the nest, loved ones die, or friendships reach a natural end, we must practice loosening our grip.
Change feels hard (horrifically hard in some cases) and also this doesn’t automatically mean it is wrong or bad. We can be grateful for the gift of the person/relationship in season and open ourselves up to what’s next vs clinging to what was.
3. Try out the circle of impact exercise
I’ve shared a 12 minute audio recording above the graphic (see above) to support your work.
You’ll need to complete three drafts of the Circle of Impact Exercise. In the first draft, draw a circle in the center of your page and then five more concentric circles around it. Brain dump every relationship, organization, volunteer position, work, family, and/or community that’s a part of your life. Add them to your circle of impact wherever your gut tells you they go. This is the messiest part.
In draft number two, you’ll start fresh, but this time take a bit more time to be thoughtful and question the placement of each relationship. Use the notes I’ve provided under the circle of impact graphic (above) to support the process. The amount of time spent with someone (especially if out of your immediate control) doesn’t necessarily dictate placement on the circle.
For instance, you spend many hours with work colleagues yet they may reside in the outermost rung of your circle. How much you love someone also doesn’t dictate placement. You may love your sister deeply yet recognize that she’s not a healthy influence, that she drains joy from you, or even that she causes harm. So you move her into a rung that’s further out from your healthiest relationships. You’ll also need to learn healthy ways to guard this boundary line. Or you may only see your adult kids every few months but you’d drop everything if they truly needed you; they remain in your inner circle.
The next step is to simply live with your circle for a few weeks or months. As you go, pay attention to the bidirectional influence of each relationship. Which ones support you in showing up as the person you want to be, which ones feel life-giving, which do you feel obligated to maintain, and which commitments do you show up to from a place of fear, “shoulds”, or performing (to win accolades or affirmation)? Ideally, you are clear on your core values. If so, use your core values as a filter as you examine each relationship. Take notes as you go.
After a few weeks or months of observation and truth-telling, it’s time for version number 3. This is your refined and most honest and healthy Circle of Impact. Move relationships around according to the realizations you’ve had over the past few weeks or months.
If someone needs to be removed or moved to a further rung, this doesn’t mean you have to take immediate action or tell them! It simply means that you are acknowledging the truth to yourself for now. The HOW and WHEN can come later. You may need some help figuring out how to put this into practice in a healthy way. The important thing is to ensure that your choices are in integrity.
After the initial work, once you feel settled about your current Circle of Impact, I recommend checking in and/or revising as needed: after any major life transition, if you’re experiencing burnout or boundary issues, or at least a couple of times each year. Our relationships play such a key role in our wellbeing that this isn’t something we should let slide.
In healthy relationships, positive changes are well received. In unhealthy relationships, change is a threat to the dysfunction that has been allowed.Nedra Tawwab
the Circle of IMpact: This requires important and brave boundary work
I walk my talk. This means I know how hard it can feel, the internal wrestling, examining of core beliefs, and the brave or messy conversations involved in doing this work.
I also know first-hand the freedom that comes when we stop holding onto unhealthy relationships and instead prioritize and nurture brave and healthy relationships that truly merit space in our life.
Healthy relationships are key to life satisfaction and wellbeing. Brave boundaries are key to healthy relationships. The Circle of Impact Exercise is a powerful way to declutter our lives and then practice naming, communicating, and honouring brave boundaries.
THRIVE IN MIDLIFE: go back to basics
Create space for what lights you up, feel less resentful and depleted, and enjoy thriving relationships. Watch the Midlife Boundaries Workshop Replay.