The Circle Power Process

“You have noticed that everything an Indian does is in a circle, and that is because the Power of the World always works in circles, and everything tries to be round... The Sky is round, and I have heard that the earth is round like a ball, and so are all the stars. The wind, in its greatest power, whirls. Birds make their nest in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours... Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing and always come back again to where they were. The life of a man is a circle from childhood to childhood, and so it is in everything where power moves.”

— Black Elk Oglala Sioux Holy Man, 1863-1950, as interviewed by John G. Neihardt, author of Black Elk Speaks.

My Circle Process

My Circle process began to take shape in my head when I was in the Human Resources Division at a shipbuilding company in Maine. I was working with the Management Development Interns: a tough, demanding, and very smart group of people selected to be groomed for management positions within the company.

They were having a retreat day. It was to be a day of personal development: have them look at their goals, their values, and styles…how they want to spend their year of training at the company, and what they want to get out of it, was how the HR Director put it to me. So, along with my friend and co-facilitator, Berni, we got to work designing an agenda for these 25 young people, the cream of the crop from top colleges and universities, who were spending a year at the company.

The two of us loved this kind of work and filled the agenda with different processes we had used and favored. I had been working with a project team assigned to solve some of the most difficult problems in the shipyard. We had hired Kepner-Tregoe, known for their Problem Solving and Decision Making tools.

Problem Solving

One technique that intrigued me was their way of looking at a problem and noting what it was but also what it wasn’t. When these got listed next to each other, the IS and the IS NOT, the problem became clearer and we could focus better on what it was and possible solutions.

It seems I have a knack for taking things from one discipline and using it in another. I have adapted several processes from my corporate experience into my coaching and personal development work. It occurred to me that the interns could look at their years in the company using a similar approach to the problem-solving method of the IS/IS NOT. We could ask them, what do you want your year to be like…what do you not want it to be like?  

We made a noticeable change though. Instead of noting the IS/IS NOT on a chart, we used a circle. (Knowing what I know now about the significance of the circle archetype, this was an important change.) We were targeting something in this exercise, refining their focus, so it made sense to use a circle. The assignment on this intern development day was for them to first write on the outside of the circle what they didn’t want the year to be…the IS NOT. Then, on the inside, write the IS, what they wanted it to be.

The Circle

This was done on a large piece of white easel paper, hanging on the wall. I can still see them ringing the room, each one working on their circle, on their intention for the year…claiming it, and then stating it as we asked each to share what they had done with the rest of the group.

And they didn’t just use words. We encouraged them to find photos in magazines to highlight what they placed in the center. You’ll probably see this as similar to creating a vision board. In many ways it was - except for the inclusion of the IS NOT on the outside of the circle.

They told us what a powerful exercise it was for them, how it served to clarify and focus on what they wanted as results from the year, and how it seemed that stating it upfront helped it to happen.  

It didn’t take much work for me to refine this same tool so I could use it in my women’s empowerment workshops. I called it the Circle Exercise and used it as a clarifier for what people wanted to bring into their lives - always doing the IS NOT, first, then the IS. I’d tell people, “Doing the IS NOT first always helps you remember what you don’t want, then what you put inside the circle is often the opposite of that.” It’s an important step.

Time For Focusing

The Circle is a tool for clarification and for gaining focus - but also for claiming and stating an intention. Later, I developed this concept into my little book, Circle Power. I wrote Circle Power as a way to share the usefulness of the circle as regards the spiritual aspects of a woman’s journey.

I encourage you to try this simple exercise. Whenever you find yourself needing clarity or focus, set some time aside to “do a circle.” Or maybe you’re looking for something, like a home to buy or a job or like the interns, how you want your year to go. Find a blank white piece of paper. It can be any size. Draw a circle on it, almost filling the page. Write IS NOT on the outside of the circle and IS on the inside. Remember to put the date on there somewhere! You’ll want to refer to it someday. Also, put the topic - what you’re doing the circle about - somewhere on the page, like a title.

Then, as you’re thinking about your topic, starting on the outside of the circle, write what you don’t want to happen, and what you’re not looking for. Remember the times in your past that were examples of what you don’t want and write those down. Use your experiences to tell you what you didn’t like and what you don’t want in your life. Then, start on the inside. Often what you write on the inside of the circle is the opposite of what you put on the outside, but not always.

You don’t have to find images to match your words like the interns did, but they do bring an added dimension to your intentions.

How Does It End?

Over and over again, I’ve observed that when my clients clearly set their intentions and focus on what they want to bring into their lives, something else comes into play. I’ve heard it described this way: “A door opened unexpectedly”; “Things just came together”; “Fortuitously I met the very person who could help me”; “It all just fell into place.” They are caught up in a flow initiated by their intention.

I have noticed that the times when the Circle is most useful is when I find my clients or friends or myself (!) complaining about the state of whatever is eluding them. I catch them talking about what they don’t want (the complaining) and I find a piece of paper and draw a circle,

“Here, all those complaints put them on the outside of the circle.”

Once they do,

“Now, write what you want to have happen, what you do want in your life on the inside.”

Once they do,

“Now, stop focusing on the outside, on what you don’t want, and focus on the inside, on what you do want.”