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Expand Your Sphere of Influence

  |  “We immediately become more effective when we decide to change ourselves, rather than asking for things to change for us. –Stephen Covey”

Do you ever focus your energy on issues that are outside your control? Do you sometimes spend time thinking about how wonderful it would be if the things around you changed for you? If you do, you’re not alone. 

While it is common to stress about things outside of our control, it isn’t helpful. Listen in to learn about how to recognize what is happening, and how you can take that control back. 


  • How to stop feeling frustrated about the things outside of your control
  • What do high-performing students focus on in their lives
  • The exercise to help identify your sphere of influence
  • How do the Ivy League Challenge students expand their sphere of influence
  • Life-changing mindset to help you become better problem-solver 

     And so much more.


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"Too many people are overwhelmed, stressed out, and frustrated about college admissions prep. I created this podcast to help you build a standout college profile and boost your confidence. Enjoy!"

– Steve Gardner, Founder

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Welcome back to season two of the Ivy League Prep Academy Podcast. Equipping you to successfully pursue the college of your dreams. We believe everyone deserves to reach their full potential, and the admissions process shouldn't hold you back.

You know, I think some of the most important messages that we can get are the ones that are kind of obvious. The stuff that we already understand, we might even call common sense. But it's valuable to remember that common sense is not common practice.

And this week, we're going to talk about one of those principles that is common sense, that as soon as you hear about it, you're going to start to rethink the way you choose to use your time, the way you choose to use your energy, because it is a game changer. It really makes all the difference in the world. Now, to begin, I want you to think about the top three things that really frustrate you, the top three things that just make you go crazy.

Take a second and just list them really quickly. Now, if you're like most people, you probably thought among your three things. You've thought of something like the school schedule, the fact that you have to go to school at all, or the fact that school starts too early in the morning, or there's an upcoming test that you're stressed out because a teacher has unreasonable expectations.

Someone doesn't like you, or you're not tall enough, or you're too tall, or the coronavirus, or the economy, or the weather, or something else. And the reason I wanted you to think about the top three things that are driving you crazy is because I want you to also answer the question, how many of those things do you have some control over? Because like Stephen Covey said, we immediately become more effective when we decide to change ourselves rather than asking things to change for us. So high performing people, and of course, high performing students, high performing teenagers focus their energy and their time, their resources around things that are inside of their control.

Things like students attitude or willingness to take risks, study decisions, other habits, exercise, sleep choices, et cetera. But average students focus on things that are outside of their circle of influence or their sphere of influence. So what I'm referring to is this really helpful graphic that Stephen Covey introduced about 30 years ago, that because we're on a podcast, I'm going to have to ask you to imagine two circles.

One bigger circle and then a circle inside of that circle. So the bigger circle, you can label the circle of concern. And inside of this circle of concern, you could list all of the things that are concerning to you.

It could be anything from world hunger to the coronavirus, to your grades, to what university you're going to get into, how tall you are, what your friends think about you, what perfect strangers think about you, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. Okay? And inside of that Circle of Concern, inside of all of those things that you're concerned about, draw another circle in your mind. And this circle needs to be labeled the Circle of Influence.

Inside of this circle, you'll notice that you're still inside of your Circle of Concern. So all the things that you can and cannot control are inside the Circle of Concern, just anything you care about. But inside of this circle, this smaller circle, you only list the things that you have some control over, some influence over.

And this exercise gets even better when you realize that there's two levels of control. One is control. Like a Circle of Control, you can completely control it.

These are things like your attitude. These are things like your effort, your beliefs, your perspective, your willingness to try. All of those things are completely within your control.

Inside of your Circle of Influence, but not inside your Circle of Concern, are things that you can indirectly control or you can influence. And those might be things like your reputation, or how much you might be able to influence other people to work with you to accomplish some sort of goal. Understanding the difference between your Sphere of Influence, the things that you can control, versus the Sphere of Concern, the Circle of Concern that you cannot control is really critical because focusing your energy on your Circle of Concern is what we call whining.

When you spend all of your time talking about things that you have no influence over, really all you're doing is being negative. You're sending negativity out all around you. And when you do that, you shrink your sphere of influence.

You make yourself less capable of influencing others. However, when you focus your energy, you focus your attention on the things that are within your sphere of influence, especially the things that are within your sphere of control. When you focus your energy in those areas, your sphere of influence grows.

And this idea is at the heart of the Ivy League Challenge. Those of you who are listening, who have participated in the Ivy League Challenge, you recognize this. Not just in pillar three, where we begin and we scale your Impact projects, but even in pillar one, at the very foundation of the Ivy League Challenge, we introduced your Sphere of Influence versus your Circle of Concern.

And that is because when you focus your energy on the things that you can control, your Sphere of influence grows. You build trust with people around you. They see that you are a problem solver.

They see that you are someone who is taking action to solve problems and make your sphere of influence a little bit better. When you do that, people begin to trust you more. And because they trust you more, they look to you more for your influence, for your guidance.

You begin to expand your sphere of influence. Now go back to those three things that you thought about at the beginning of this podcast. The three things that just drive you crazy.

And now that we've identified this model, the circle of control, the things that you have complete control over, that's inside the circle of influence. The things that you have some influence over, some control over, that's inside the circle of concern, which includes the things that you're concerned about, but you have no ability to improve. You have no ability to change in any way.

How many of those three things that you listed do you have some control over? What can you do about it? Part of being a high performing student is asking the best questions like, what can I do about it? What is within my control? And then developing those skills. So what can you do now to improve on those three things? So if your teacher is driving you crazy because he has unrealistic expectations about your homework hours and overall workload, well, you have a couple of choices. Do you focus your energy on the things that you cannot control, like what your teacher decides to assign and how your teacher runs the class? You certainly have a lot less control over that.

Would you be more effective changing things that are inside your control or asking that things change for you? Well, in this instance, if your teacher is driving you crazy because of his unrealistic expectations, instead of complaining about that to your friends or parents, think about what you can actually do. What can you do to improve your situation? Now remember, some of the best answers are not simple and they're not quick. They might take weeks or longer to truly solve.

For example, improving your focus might take time to develop. Developing more productive study skills, or learning to manage your day and manage your time so that you stay on top of things. These are all solutions, but they're not quick fix solutions.

They're not something that you just decide to do in a moment and then it's solved. And many of the best answers are not simple or quick. They do take time to truly solve.

On the other hand, adjusting your own expectations might just take seconds. I don't want you to disregard solutions that are quick and simple. Something like a mindset shift deciding, for example, that, yeah, it's a lot of work, but it's really important work, and it's work that's going to help you for the rest of your life.

If you were to take on that kind of a mindset, for example, or something like it, it would only take a few seconds to adjust your attitude and completely solve that annoyance, right? You'd still have the heavy workload, but because your mindset shifted, it wouldn't be one of the things driving you the most crazy in life. So I don't want you to disregard solutions that are simple, but you probably shouldn't expect them for every difficult problem. However, one thing is for sure, complaining about your teacher with friends will not make you a problem solver.

Sharing that negativity will grow the impact of the negativity. This is a critical difference between high performers and average performers. Think about it this way.

Even if you had the worst luck imaginable, up until now, your life was so unbelievably, unlucky and unfair. Even if that was true for you, you still have a choice to make today. You have a choice to make in this moment, right now.

As you listen to my voice, you have to decide where to focus your attention and your energy moving forward. If you focus on the things you can control your thoughts, your attitude, your behavior, you will begin to see success and grow your sphere of influence. It is inevitable.

It will happen just like two plus two equals four. However, if you focus your attention on things outside of your control, you will be seen as a whiner. You will be seen as emotionally needy.

You will generate negative energy that will reduce your influence and shrink your sphere of influence. Over time, you will generate this well deserved reputation as an energy vacuum. And people will know to come to you when they want to complain, but to stay away when they want to perform.

That's going to draw to you exactly the kinds of people the complainers and the whiners, and the average performers, or even below average performers that are going to take you away from your goals and your dreams. So remember, you immediately become more effective when you decide to change yourself, rather than asking that things change for you. This advice might be common sense.

It might be super obvious. Now I encourage you to go and make common sense, common practice.