When clients come to me in distress about their relationships (which is nearly universal, whether I’m doing individual or couples therapy), one of my first “go-to” conversations is about his/her “sphere of influence.”

By that, I mean this: Who influences you? Who do you influence? Whose opinions matter? Who is closest to you socially? Who can you really count on?

In my work as a therapist in Honolulu, I usually draw it by using concentric circles–you in the middle, and three circles (like orbits) around. Your “innermost” circle would be your closest friends and/or family members–and then we work outward from there until the third circle is filled with close acquaintances.

What often appears is an entire “solar system” of people (some close, some not-so-close) who have some degree of influence on you. In my office, at least, this is your “sphere of influence.”

Then, almost as if on cue, my client can visually see what’s working and what’s not. Are those in your inner circle quality individuals who inspire you to make good choices? Or do they spread negativity?

If you could, would you switch some people to different “orbits”? Do you wish you had fewer/more people in your “solar system”? Are there people you wish were even IN your “solar system”?

Pay particular attention to the six people who are closest to you–I would call those people your sphere of influence. What they think, how they interact with you, and their choices will dictate many of the choices you make and attitudes you hold dear.

Bottom line? Choose your inner circle carefully. Very carefully.