Life planning, purpose

Using the Wheel of Life

The Wheel of life is a tool to help achieve balance in your life – perhaps a helpful antidote to the week of blue Monday!  Here I give an overview of the tool, and you can follow the link below if you’d like to try out one yourself.

The Wheel of Life It takes a 30,000 foot view of your life as a whole, both personal and professional, focussing on how satisfied you are with each area of life.  This can then form the basis for prioritising areas to improve and creating actions to help improve them. 

First, choose your segments

Let’s start with the wheel itself.  It has 8 segments. I have seen one or two with 10, but I find the discipline of having to group or prioritise things into those eight makes you think very carefully about what’s important. There are lots of examples online of different topic area to choose. In general, the areas will cover professional life; relationships; personal health,fulfilment and enjoyment; practical needs (finances, environment); and spirituality, purpose and community.  A common set is: Health, Finance, Significant other/romance; Family & Friends, Recreation/Hobbies; Career; Personal development; and either Physical Environment OR Spirituality OR Contribution to community. Another common change is to split family and friends, or include them in other segments, e.g. with hobbies or community.

When choosing your topics, be guided by what is important to you, whilst covering a wide spectrum of personal and professional needs. You might decide to leave something out because you don’t think it will change in the near future, and it’s not that important to you (for example, perhaps you’re fortunate enough to have enough money, and you don’t think the choices you’ll make in the rest of the wheel will affect this).  It’s unwise, however, to leave something out because you don’t get around to it, or you haven’t yet succeeded in changing it (for example, discarding health because you never manage to go to the gym anyway).

Your choices will also change from year to year, or in busy years, month to month, so don’t be afraid to switch things in and out as your life changes. My current choices are: Short term impact (work); Building purposefully (work); Personal development; Health (physical and mental); Friends and community; Family; Significant other; Household management.

Next, score your life

The next thing to do, is to go around the wheel scoring your life in each of the areas.  There are three common ways to do this:

  1. Score how satisfied you are with that area of your life, picking a number between 0 and 10 where 10 means you are ecstatic and 0 means you hate this part of your life.
  2. Score how good your life is in this area, this time with a 0 to 10 scale where 10 is a perfect life and 0 is a terrible one (taking an objective viewpoint as far as possible). Then mark each area again from 0-10, focussing on where you would be happy for your life to be on the same scale.  The important thing here is the difference between where your life is and where you would like it to be. So for example, two people might score 5 on the ‘significant other’ scale because they’re going on a few dates but don’t have a permanent relationship – but then one person might want to be a 9 (happily married perhaps) and the other might be quite happy as a 5.
  3. Score how good you are in each area of your life, with 10 being perfect/doing great and 0 being rubbish.

Personally I find number 2 a little complex. Both number 2 and number 3 suffer from the issue that you need to somehow create an ‘objective’ measure of what goodness is on this scale.  Number 1, I find, is a simple way to capture how well you’re doing based upon your own subjective measure of what good is.  Since this is primarily meant as a tool to help you prioritise your own goals, rather than a tool for others to judge, it is your personal view that matters.

At the end of this exercise, you should end up with a wheel of life that looks a bit like the example above.

Take action

You can imagine the wheel as though it was on a vehicle. You’d like it to be as smooth as possible: that is, with all areas at a reasonable level of satisfaction. Wildly different scores for each segment could lead to a rather bumpy ride. Take note of areas which score particularly poorly, and ask yourself how you could improve them. Set yourself S.M.A.R.T. action points, and follow through, ideally one segment at a time until a new habit has been established. As always with diagnostic tools, the wheel of life helps you identify areas of weakness or dissatisfaction, but it is your determination in taking action to improve the situation which will really make the difference.  

Check in

Finally, revisit the wheel on a regular basis, perhaps as part of a monthly or 6-monthly planning process, if you have one. Ask yourself if the actions you’re taking are improving things, and if not, think of other things to try.  And, of course, take pleasure in the areas with high scores – you’re doing well!

If you’d like to try your hand at a Wheel of Life, you can use the OxLaunch Wheel of Life tool to create and download your own wheel.


book review, psychology, self-control, self-management

Book review: Willpower

Willpower: Rediscovering our greatest strength

Author: Roy F. Baumeister & John Tierney

Date published: 2012

Topic: Personal success / self-improvement

Willpower is a book about just that: the self-control – aka willpower – needed to resist temptation, make good choices, perform better at work and better regulate your emotions. In it, Baumeister and Tierney argue that far from the modern belief that self-esteem is the answer, more self-control or self-discipline enables you to achieve more and be happier. They show evidence that the two factors which most predict success are self-control and IQ, and argue that unlike intelligence, it might be possible to improve one’s stock of self-control – or at least how far it goes – through simple exercises and judicious choice of use.

The thesis is an alluring one. At last, something that affects every aspect of our lives – from interactions with our families, to the decisions we make at work, the money we spend and the food we eat – that can be easily improved by anyone. In reality, the book suggests that your overall stock of willpower may not improve with exercise, but what does happen is that it’s used more sparingly for everyday tasks, leaving you more in the tank for important choices and relationships.

Baumeister and Tierney describe willpower as a muscle, which, like our physical muscles, requires glucose to operate effectively, is depleted throughout the day as it’s used, and is recharged by rest and a good night’s sleep. They suggest that willpower is expended on all sorts of tasks throughout the day, including resisting temptations, making decisions and controlling one’s thoughts, emotions and actions. Because the same stock of willpower is used for all these things, you can immediately see that conserving willpower for the most important things is key. Sure enough, those who exhibit the strongest willpower in fact expend less on day-to-day temptations and decisions. Instead, they’ve used their willpower to set up positive habits and routines which take away the need to make small decisions (‘Shall I have a shower today? When shall I brush my teeth?) or resist temptations (like the chocolate in the fridge).

From a self-improvement point of view, the book offers two main pieces of advice. One is about making the most of the willpower you’ve got, the other is about increasing your self-control stamina (i.e. decreasing your depletion of willpower for a given task) by exercising the willpower muscle.

To make the most of the willpower you’ve got, in order to make good choices, the authors bring together some classic advice that’s probably quite familiar to you:

  1. Sleep and eat well to avoid unnecessary depletion;
  2. Have long-term goals and aspirations, but then make short-term, specific actions for your to-do list;
  3. Precommit to a particular course of action (to avoid having to make the decision every single time you come across that scenario), and use implementation intention (if x happens I will do y) to think through stressful situations in advance with a cool head;
  4. Monitor your progress. For extra effect, delegate the monitoring to someone else: a friend, family members or a higher power;
  5. Invest your limited stock of willpower in creating good habits and making small changes that will make your life better overall.

To increase your self-control stamina – i.e. avoid depletion of willpower – exercise it regularly. Suggested exercises include improving your posture (straightening up every time you think about it), using the other hand for activities you’d normally do with your dominant hand, or trying to improve your speech vocabulary. In essence, anything that gets you to regularly override a habit and reform it into something else acts to exercise your willpower. Ideally, of course, this should be something you’re looking to improve on anyway, so you can develop good new habits and exercise your willpower at the same time

Overall, this book is an interesting read with a credible theses backed up by numerous examples, and if you can follow the advice you may well become more effective at home and at work. It does ramble a little – the chapters are not as structured as I would have liked, and there is some repetition – and the main benefits can probably be gained by following the 5 bullet points above without reading the entire book. However it was an enjoyable read and if you like to impress your friends with anecdotes to back up your claims – or you need more convincing of the hypothesis – it’s definitely worth a look. For me, it was preaching to the converted, as many aspects of the advice resonate as an approach that I’ve unconsciously followed for most of my life.