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What a Masked Vigilante Can Teach You About Goal Achievement – The Zorro Circle

The zorro circleSeveral years ago, the film “The Mask of Zorro”—starring Antonio Banderas, Anthony Hopkins and Catherine Zeta Jones—was playing in movie theaters. The tale of Zorro is well-known: Zorro was a masked swordsman who was a champion of the people and who fought against official corruption in early 19th century California.

At the very beginning of the film we meet Alejandro Murrieta. Alejandro is a young man who wants to get revenge for the death of his brother and who wants justice for his village. This involves fighting against an entire army. However, since he’s undisciplined and untrained, Alejandro fails to make much progress toward achieving his goal.  In despair over his inability to defeat the army, he turns to drinking.

That’s when Alejandro comes across Don Diego de la Vega, or Zorro. Don Diego decides to train Alejandro to become his successor. Although Alejandro shows some promise with the sword, he’s impulsive and reckless. Therefore, Don Diego introduces Alejandro to the “Training Circle”. Here’s a description of the training circle:

  • It’s a circle filled with obstacles and ropes in which Alejandro will be trained to fight.
  • Don Diego explains that Alejandro’s whole world will be that circle.
  • As Alejandro’s skill with the sword improves, he will move on to a new circle.

This is the concept of the “focus circle”, which is something that positive psychologist Shawn Achor writes about in his book, “The Happiness Advantage”. In “The Happiness Advantage”, Shawn refers to the training circle as “The Zorro Circle”.

The basic idea of “The Zorro Circle” is to set a large goal and then select a small area of that goal to conquer. Once you’ve conquered that small area, you expand the circle. As you conquer each successive “Zorro Circle”, you get closer and closer to achieving your goal. Here are the five basic ideas behind “The Zorro Circle”:

  • Research shows that when we feel that we’re in control of a situation, we’re happier and able to perform at a higher level.
  • When a task is very large, we lose the feeling of control and influence, we feel overwhelmed, our brains are hijacked by fear and stress, and our abilities plummet.
  • You take control of the situation by starting with small, manageable steps.
  • Once you’ve mastered one small area, you expand that mastery outward.
  • Keep expanding outward until you’ve achieved your goal.

Below you’ll find three examples of how you can implement “The Zorro Circle” in order to help you achieve your goals.

Use “The Zorro Circle” to Organize and Declutter

If your home is cluttered and disorganized, instead of setting the task of decluttering your entire house, draw a Zorro Circle around an area of your home that you use on a regular basis. As an example, you could choose the kitchen sink. Clean and clear the kitchen sink. Then, actively guard that area from any and all clutter. Even if the rest of the house is a mess, you have to make sure that the kitchen sink is always spotless.

Concentrate on “The Zorro Circle” around your kitchen sink for however long it takes you to master it. Once it’s become habitual for you to keep that area of your home clean and decluttered, draw a “Zorro Circle” around a different area of your house. Follow this process, gradually, until your entire home is not only clean and decluttered, but it’s become a habit for you to keep it that way.

Of course, you can do the same thing with your work area. Draw a Zorro Circle around a small portion of your work area, organize it, and then fight to keep it clean. Once your brain sees that you can keep that one area under control, it’ll be ready for you to draw a Zorro Circle around another area of your office. Keep expanding your Zorro Circle until your entire office is clean and well-organized.

Use “The Zorro Circle” to Conquer Stress

Stress is the plague of the 21st century. Most of us have too much to do and too little time in which to do it, which makes our stress-levels skyrocket. “Reduce stress” is on most people’s lists of goals.

Instead of telling yourself that the only way to reduce the stress in your life would be to chuck it all and move to a monastery high up in the Himalayas, start drawing Zorro Circles around your stress. You can start by identifying one stressful area of your life and drawing a Zorro Circle around it.

For example, let’s say that one situation that creates a lot of stress for you is getting to work on time each morning. Draw a Zorro Circle around your mornings and ask yourself what you can do within your Zorro Circle in order to improve the situation. Here are some options:

  • Start getting up a few minutes earlier each day.
  • Streamline your morning routine.
  • Pack up your breakfast and eat it at your desk instead of having it at home.

Keep working on your morning Zorro Circle until you have it under control. Then, move on to the next stressful area of your life and draw a Zorro Circle around it.  Tackle one Zorro Circle at a time and keep going until you’ve achieved your goal of reducing the amount of stress in your life.

Use “The Zorro Circle” to Take Control of Your Finances

Lots of people feel that their lives are completely out of control when it comes to their finances. Their debts have piled up, and they have to struggle just to make ends meet. If you’re one of these people, you can gain control over the situation by drawing Zorro Circles around your finances.

Here’s an example:

  • Make a list of all your debts and then draw a Zorro Circle around the debt with the smallest balance.
  • Throw everything that you can at that debt.
  • Concentrate on that debt until you’ve completely paid it off.

By following this process you’ll have made a tiny dent in the pile of debt that you owe. That small victory will show your brain that you do have the ability to take control of your finances. This will encourage you to keep going and to keep drawing more Zorro Circles, until you’ve taken complete control over your finances.


Instead of setting the goal of fighting an entire army at once, fight within your Zorro Circle. As you successfully defend your Zorro Circle, —that is, as you conquer each task toward the achievement of your goal–, you’ll be ready to expand your circle. Live your best life by following this process until you’ve achieve your large and ambitious goals.

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Helene Moore September 10, 2013, 11:12 am

    This is a great idea. While it’s been around for a long time, breaking things into small chunks, this time around, it had more meaning.
    Thank you for sharing.

  • Marelisa September 10, 2013, 11:31 am

    Hi Helene: I’m glad you liked it. It is an old concept, but I think the imagery of defending your circle until you’ve mastered it, and then gradually making the circle wider is helpful. 🙂