A VALUABLE TOOL: THE WHEEL OF LIFE
Having a vision for your success gets you only so far. The Wheel of Life is a model used by teachers, coaches, therapists, and other helping professions, to help someone get a more holistic view of someone’s life. Too often we get laser-focused on a goal, and that focus takes energy away from behaviors that got us where we are. The Wheel of Life is a common and effective personal development tool and one I have frequently used with mentees, my clients, and in my own life.
The Wheel of Life is powerful because it gives you a vivid visual representation of the way your life is currently, compared with the way you'd ideally like it to be. It is called the "Wheel of Life" because each area of your life is mapped on a circle, like the spoke of a wheel. The concept was originally created by Paul J. Meyer, founder of Success Motivation® Institute, Inc.
Start by downloading a free worksheet which contains a blank Wheel of Life diagram as shown in the figure, below.
In this guide I will walk through what the Wheel of Life is and how to incorporate it into your personal development routine.
- What is the Wheel of Life
- Mind The Gap: Working the Wheel Components
- How to Manage the Wheel of Life
- Work on your Wheel of Life
- Adapt the Wheel to reflect more deeply
- Get Help with your Wheel of Life
WHAT IS THE WHEEL OF LIFE
The Wheel of Life helps you consider each area of your life in turn and assess what's off balance. This helps you to identify areas that need more attention.
There are three common challenges people are typically facing that make the wheel a relevant tool:
- Must v Should. Living in the world of “musts” and “shoulds” doesn’t make our life any better. We do not need those words in our vocabulary. How would it be to replace them with something more empowering and generative? Sentences like “I WANT to create a good brand” or “I DECIDED to take on this creative client” sound much better, aren’t they? Notice, that using these kinds of words allow us to regain control over things and become calmer. Being an adult is all about making conscious, responsive decisions: nobody can force you to anything in terms of your preferences, passions, career, dreams and personal growth.
- Only work, no play. There is much research to support the fact that we become less creative when we lack play and unstructured activities. We’ve all experienced the low energy levels, depression, and burnout that come with too much focus on work. Eventually we generate less ideas the quality of those ideas decline as well.
- Money, money, money. Focusing on generating profit is one of the biggest mistakes in growing and defining yourself. Yes, it is an important part of life, but a very weak motivation at the same time. If you do things only for money, you probably won’t find happiness and fulfillment. You will constantly seek for more and feel both frustrated and burned out in the same time. Being passionate about something means to do it just because it gives you a tremendous pleasure and satisfaction. Find the way to your dream and the money will come. It is one of the hardest truths to believe, but this is how it works!
Often, too much focus on one or all of these challenges start to chip away at our health, relationships, and our mental/physical/spiritual well-being. The Wheel of Life is most relevant to step three. You may have a purpose and a process but still be stagnant. That’s because you haven’t gotten granular enough to uncover the significant barriers that are holding you back.
MIND THE GAp: Working the wheel components
The space between where you are today and where you want to contains a lot of energy. When you are excited about the possibilities between Point A and Point B you take enthusiasm and motivation from this space. This is why understanding your starting point and setting thoughtful goals are useful. Increase your motivation toward these goals by assessing what skills you need to build.
When you are bored, plateaued, burned out, or stuck, the space between A and B is draining and overwhelming. When this happens, it’s time to pause and get some perspective.
The larger the gap, the more discontent you are. The smaller the gap, the more balanced you feel. Neither of these polls are permanent positions. There is no such thing as “balance” because there is no such thing as a human being in a steady state. We are not who we were yesterday and we will be different people tomorrow.
Need proof? What was your favorite band 10 years ago? Your favorite song? The best group you ever worked in? What values did you draft in that group? Are they still relevant? The things, people, and experiences that were important to us at 18, 28, 38, and beyond change. As time transforms our preferences and reshapes our values, we inevitably change who we are becoming as people. We are works in progress that mistakenly think they're finished with learning and changing when we are in the present. Harvard psychologist Dan Gilbert says our beliefs about what will make us happy are often wrong. The person you are right now is as transient, as fleeting and as temporary as all the people you've ever been. The one constant in our life is change.
In order to better understand your gaps and the levers you need to pull in order to close them, you must have a personal development tool that helps you analyze your different life themes.
There are roughly six life themes that make up the most important areas of a person’s life.
Career. The career theme is related to your professional development. Your education and what you’ve chosen as your field of work is included in the career theme. Whether it’s just a job or you’ve found you’re calling, what you choose to labor over is a major contributor to your life’s happiness.
Wealth. Living in a capitalist society, most of us equate security with money. Since security is at the base of our hierarchy of needs (just above the basics of food, shelter, and clothing), how we perceive our financial state influences how happy we are.
Health. Health is the foundation of happiness and includes your diet, the quality of your sleep, and overall physical activity. Your commitment to self-care has a direct impact on your contentment and the contentment of those with whom you come into contact. Your physical activity directly impacts your brain functioning, decision making, and creativity. It’s critical to know where you stand with this particular category.
Wellness. Wellness includes your emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how you think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how you handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. Wellness is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood.
Spouse/Partner. Our primary relationships are some of the most important relationships we have during our lifetime. According to a 2015 relationship study in the UK, honesty, communication, and commitment are the three most important qualities in a partner-relationship. Our partner choice supports us through the good times and the bad.
Family & Friends. An 80-year Harvard study shows that quality of relationships is one of the most significant contributors to feelings of happiness. Relationships is the sum of your human connections and interactions including family and friends, loose connections and acquaintances.
Interests. Interests and hobbies help to relieve stress. They keep you engaged in something you enjoy. Hobbies give you a way to take your mind off the stresses of everyday life. Having a hobby can help your social life, create a bond with others, be a form of fun and recreation—or all those things! Your interests are important because you associate them with relaxation and pleasure. They are a welcome break from the responsibilities that often cause stress. Therefore, your level of commitment to personal interests factors into feelings of happiness.
Community Contribution. Volunteering is not about money. Volunteering is about giving, contributing, and helping other individuals and the community at large. People volunteer for an endless variety of reasons. Many people want to gain experience, acquire new skills, meet new people, or expand their network of contacts as a way to get a new job or start a career. Others just want to give back to their community, to help a friend or promote a worthwhile activity. They do it because it makes them feel good. Over the past two decades a growing body of research indicates volunteering provides individual health benefits in addition to social ones. Those who volunteer have lower mortality rates, greater functional ability, and lower rates of depression later in life than those who do not volunteer.
Spiritual Growth. This is a broad category encapsulating both religious and non-religious teachings both of which suggest that you are part of something bigger than yourself. Whether deepening your knowledge and practice through church, yoga, or meditation, how you believe you are progressing influences your level of contentment.
HOW TO MANAGE THE WHEEL OF LIFE
The main lesson about your life categories is that if any of these areas are significantly out of balance it can hinder your ability to feel happy and content with your life.
For instance, if you are constantly irritable and short because you are always in a rush and spread too thin, then you are neglecting the theme of health and likely relationships. At some point, prioritizing work above other aspects of your life, an approach that might be working now, will no longer work in the future as other categories get impacted. Eventually, it will start to impact the quality of your work, and block you from realizing your potential.
When you aren’t reaching your potential on one or more categories then you aren’t living up to your ideal self. If left unchecked this perpetuates feelings of frustration, discontent, and eventually depression.
Different categories of your life may need different amounts of attention at different times. If you’re doing well at work, getting enough sleep, and in good shape you are likely enjoying a happy flow. Going to graduate school, getting married, undergoing surgery, changing jobs are examples of life events that can throw that happy flow off kilter. A great way to stay on track is to schedule time to review your Wheel of Life. I personally review my Wheel of Life on a monthly basis. Overt time, this data produces interesting results.
When you review your Wheel of Life you will think about each of your life category and rank them (from 1-10, 10 being the highest) according to how content you are with them and how well they are aligning with your ideal life.
It's not about having a perfect 10 within each dimension of your Wheel of Life: it's about recognizing the tradeoffs you are making as you achieve your goals. It’s about noticing whether a particular category needs attention and development because it disproportionately distracts or hinders your progress.
Once you assess each life category by assigning a value, you should then prioritize the one that you will focus on improving. Prioritization is important because you can’t make major changes in your life at one time or you’ll be stretched too thin.
Also, sometimes it’s ok to neglect certain areas so you can go all in on others. There are many times in life where one category will take priority over the others, such as when you've just had a child, or if you are in graduate school, or if you are starting a business.
Don’t use the Wheel of Life to make yourself feel badly about where you are in life. We are most likely to shift when we get a dose of reality. Seeing where we are in life is helpful data. When coupled with the goals we have, this information can be a tremendous source of empowerment to help you figure out where you need to invest and develop.
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WORK ON YOUR WHEEL OF LIFE
I encourage you to carve out an hour this week to create your Wheel of Life and then schedule time monthly (or quarterly) to re-evaluate where you are.
Wheel of Life workbook. It includes:
- guidance on how to determine your most important life categories
- recommendations on how to map your categories to your life's calling
- directions on how to use the ranking system to evaluate each category
- tips on what to do when a particular category is off-kilter or out-of-sync
- creative alternative uses for the wheel to help you go deeper in your personal reflection
- a blank printable Wheel of Life you can fill in with your own categories and rankings
At various times in my career, this tool has helped me pivot to different positions. It also illustrated to me that my current path was not necessarily my long term path — and it helped me put a plan in place to head into a second life chapter. I have used it with clients for the same purpose. I’ve also used it as a mentor with mentees, helping them define their career goals.
The Wheel of Life has its roots in Buddhism. It is surprising to me that such a simple tool can yield such profound results, for so long. No app has changed that yet. Some of the best teachings are still the oldest. They show us that our persistence to live our lives as well as we are capable of doing is universal.
The Wheel of Life is a way to accomplish your goals taking your whole self into account. It ensures you stay focused and it helps you manage the tensions of different priorities within the wheel by carefully considering how all of your different life categories work together.
It's important to understand the idea of managing tension versus seek balance. There is no such thing as balance. We have moments of what feel like balance, but really that is a glimpse at a new plateau we need to learn to maintain. Learn more about the Process of Change and where you might be in contemplating a shift.
ADAPT THE WHEEL TO REFLECT MORE DEEPLY
The wheel can be used in a variety of ways:
The Wheel of Life à Growth. When used on a regular basis The Wheel of Life is excellent to help you see how far you’ve come. Use it monthly or quarterly as both a check-in to see how you’re doing AND as a way for you to see how you’ve improved and grown. Improved scores demonstrate concrete value from reflection and provide a point to help you see your learnings and progression. It's a bit like looking back over an old journal and seeing how far you've come!
The Wheel of Stress & Frustration. Start with the Free Blank Wheel and list the top 8 areas that stress you out or frustrate you most. Then score each area out of 10 as to how much it adds to the stress in your life.
Consider: which area frustrates or stresses you out the most? Are there any surprises? How could you lower those scores? What actions could you take
The Wheel of Joy! Do you need help to create more happiness, fun or excitement in your life? Think of 8 areas or things that are fun or make you excited or happy. There are different ways to score this - you could score how satisfied you are with each area, or how MUCH each area excites you, or how much you WANT to 'do' or feel drawn to each area. It depends on the labels you've used. Consider an action or commitment for each segment.
Consider: What do you notice? How could you bring more of each segment into your life? Find the wins – no matter how small - where one action raises your score across a number of areas.
The Wheel of Compassion. We could all use more self-compassion. Think of 8 areas where you could be more kind or compassionate with yourself. Score HOW compassionate you are currently - and identify an action for the top 3 areas that need kindness or compassion most.
The "Skills and Knowledge Gap" Wheel. What are the Top 8 skills and knowledge gaps you have that gets in the way of your job, promotion or new career? Identify gaps and then to score out of 10 where you are on the road to filling this gap. Finally identify action next steps for each 'gap'.
Consider: It helps to clarify whether each 'gap' is a skill or knowledge gap. AND it's also important to do a 'sanity' check that the gap is fillable and that it's a skill you are able or WANT to fill.
General Action Planning. The visual wheel format is also great to make action planning more fun. So, using a blank wheel, write the goal or required outcome at the top of the page. Then write out the next 8 actions or chunks of work that make up your goal.
Consider: Put a date against each action. Then use the 'pieces of pie' to record the % complete for each area. Using a wheel is also a great way to BREAK DOWN bigger actions into smaller more manageable chunks.
So, obviously you can use as many segments as you like on your wheels, you're not limited to 8 wheel segments - but it is easy to divide the wheel up this way!
Final Tip: And whatever you’ve used the wheel for, ask this question when complete: "So, if this wheel represented your life/relationship/career/marketing strategy, is the ride bumpy or smooth Why do you think that is?"
GET HELP WITH YOUR WHEEL OF LIFE
Though the Wheel of Life is a straightforward personal development tool, understanding how to prioritize your categories may not be as intuitive. This is where a coach can help.
I work with my clients to understand we need to focus in order to interweave relationships with results that impact the bottom line. But we don’t start with the business, we start with them as individuals. The Wheel of Life helps to ensure that no particular life category doesn’t sabotage their ability to realize their higher goals.
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