January Experiment: The Wheel of Life
Getting aligned with your ideal life.
With this year’s series of essays I’m going to offer 12 experiments; one per month. For readers intent on making 2023 a pivot year toward more purposeful ambitions, or perhaps just asking that post-Covid question – okay, what now and how? – these experiments will help draw maps, uncover truths, enhance motivation, strengthen resilience, and be fun. All are part of the Life Leap Workshops we run in Provence (more about those here). Please give them a try and let me know what you learn and how they can be improved. Comments and critiques are encouraged.
Each new year starts with our best intentions. Less of this, more of that. Back to basics, forward to the unexplored. Revived projects and new ambitions. Reinvention.
You may be sketching out plans now. They may get realized, maybe not, perhaps not even launched. One thing is assured: nothing deserved of your very limited time and energy – which are infinitely more precious than money – will magically self-organize. If you want to do something purposeful and grand this year, if that’s a resolution, then you need to organize a plan, even if futile.
Start with your foundation.
The Wheel of Life
It’s been over a decade since I left the cable cars and golden gates of San Francisco for the lavender fields of Provence. For 30 plus years I had been living the dream in the Bay Area’s tech and investment industries, as a laser jock and analyst and banker and venture capitalist, and I absolutely loved it until I didn’t. When that unsettling mid-life question – is this it? – began to itch in places I couldn’t scratch it was time dig deeper, beyond the surface stuff like money and security and title and possessions, and seek out genuine authenticity.
San Francisco State University had an executive ed program on life coaching back then and the night courses opened up a whole new universe of questions for me. Are you happy? Does happiness matter? Who is in control of your life? What are your core nonnegotiable values? What is your personality type and why is that valuable to understand? Most importantly, what tools are handy to disassemble and reflect on considerations such as these, and to help ferret out some answers?
On the first night of the first class we were introduced to the Wheel of Life. It provides a graphical segmentation of how your finite stores of time and energy and attention are being parsed. You can fill one out for your current situation and another to represent the ideal life. Comparing the 2 is particularly insightful in understanding how truly offtrack your life has become (perhaps not at all, but then again…), and where adjustments should be concentrated; that is, assuming you want a life most closely aligned with your core priorities and interests. (You do.) By the end of this first class I was feeling feverish and plotting Life of Bill v2.0 on the MUNI streetcar ride home. Within 12 months I was living in Provence.
The Wheel of Life is a circle segmented into 10 slices that collectively represent how your time and energy is being consumed; at least with the 10 most pressing elements. The following chart is an example, but your elements might be different. Some slices are common to most people: Health and Friends/Family, for example. Other slices may be critical to you, not so much to others. Step 1 to using the wheel involves identifying your 10 most critical life components. Take time to get them right, then run the experiment.
The Wheel of Life Experiment:
Step 1: Sketch your ideal life.
1. On a sheet of paper sketch a Wheel of Life similar to the diagram above: a circle segmented with 10 equal slices.
2. Create a list of the 10 most defining components of your ideal life; those activities when combined would consume most all of your time, energy, attention, and other resources. It’s critical to get the right components, so take time here to think this through. (Your favorite café or wine bar might be an inspiring workspace for this exercise.) In your ideal life you are in control, but that doesn’t mean you won’t have obligations. Include major commitment that you may not particularly enjoy but that are inescapable (caring for an aging in-law could be an example). It’s also the moment to consider what is and is not truly inescapable. (This can lead you into dangerous territory. Go with it for this experiment.)
3. For each of the 10 elements, assign a weight as to the attention it would consume in your ideal life on a scale of 1 (very low attention) to 10 (very high attention).
4. Assign each element to a slice. Write the 1-10 weighting under each element label, and fill in the slice with a crayon or marker reflecting that weighting starting at the center. An allocation of 10 will fill the slice entirely. An allocation of 1 will barely fill it at all.
5. Look at your chart. Are these the 10 critical components to include? Are they weighted honestly? Come back to the chart later in the day and then again tomorrow, and each time check for honesty and correctness. Don’t consider the ideal wheel finished until you’ve had a chance to review it over a couple of days, at different times of the day, in different moods.
Step 2: Sketch your life now.
1. On a second sheet of paper sketch a Wheel of Life that reflects your life now.
2. You must use the same 10 elements as included in your ideal life wheel.
3. For each of the elements assign a weight to the attention it consumes in your life today, from 1 to 10.
4. Fill in the wheel to reflect this weighting, as in number 4 above.
5. Review the chart a few times over a couple of days to be comfortable with its completion.
Step 3: Compare the 2 life wheels.
1. Place your 2 wheels next to each other and contrast the profiles.
2. For twin slices within 1 point of difference, bravo, your current and ideal situations are well aligned. Keep it up.
3. For twin slices between 2-3 points of each other consider what can be done to move your current situation closer to the ideal. Small tweaks may work wonders in lowering the weighting tension. Experiments that we’ll be running in future essays this year should be helpful.
4. For twin slices that are 4 points or more apart, danger ahead. The tension between your ideal life and current situation may cause serious complications in the future (emotional, physical, relational); they may already be giving you an itch that can’t be scratched. Some things in life are out of our control (I argue that this list is smaller than most believe), but seeing your misalignments visually is valuable should they provoke an effort to ease the friction. (At a minimum, toast yourself for soldiering through the inescapable.)
The following chart could have been my Wheel of Life experiment 15 years ago (with the slices colored in). Some misalignments created alarm, then determination, then action. What will yours incite?
There are numerous readings online about the Wheel of Life. This one from MindTools is particularly good, should you be interested in further study.