The new year is almost here and you’re probably thinking about all the things you’d like to improve next year. But perhaps you’re also feeling a bit overwhelmed at the amount of things you’d like to improve and also worried that you won’t or can’t improve. I know what its like and stubbornly refused to have New Year Resolutions or goals for years. I realised this was silly so approached this year differently and decided to focus on one theme, improving my health.
Resolutions or themes
So what is the difference between a resolution and a theme? In some ways not a lot, except for the expectations we’ve built up round New Year resolutions. Resolutions are often focused on big changes such as stopping eating chocolate, are frequently vague for example get fit and don’t take into account that things may change during the year. You can increase the effectiveness of your resolutions or goals by wording them better, for example using the SMARTER goal structure.
A theme starts with a broad area you want to improve. I chose health this year because it I knew if I did not have good health it would negatively impact on all other areas of my life. Improving my health would be a poor resolution, but I made it more specific by saying I would introduce a new health habit each week. I did not have a list of 50 habits set at the start of the year, but chose them based on what was relevant at the time, something I’d read or occasionally anything I could think of!
Having a theme helped in a number of ways:
- My mind was focused on one area
- The habits often built on each other
- It is easier to introduce small habits gradually rather than making big changes
- Changing habits have flexibility so if I missed a day I tried again the next day
I have to admit that I did not find it as easy as I expected to introduce all these habits, but I have made some steps towards a healthier lifestyle (full review to come). The change has been encouraging enough that I will continue working on the outstanding health habits and I want to set a new theme for next year. The big question is what is the next most important area to work on, and that is where the Wheel of Life can help.
What is the wheel of life?
The wheel of life is a visual exercise that highlights the areas that are working and those that aren’t. By plotting how you perceive you are doing in each area of your life you easily see how balanced or unbalanced your life is. The exercise ensures you analyse each aspect of your life and provides a good visual record of where you are.
A wheel is completely personal, with the categories that are important to you, your desired balance and your method of scoring. The only comparison to be done is against your desired balance and yourself over time to see if you’re making progress.
How to use the wheel of life
I first used the wheel of life in 2007 and have previously written about my experience. The steps below are focused on identifying a theme, but if you want more detail or tips please look at my tips for doing a wheel of life.
- Decide if you’d rather do it on paper or electronically
- If on paper do a web search for a template or draw your own
- If electronically use a spreadsheet to create a radar chart
- Select your categories / areas of importance. There are lots of suggestions online, but this is about your life so choose ones that are important to you
- Give a score out of ten for each category. I’ve struggled with this in the past as I’ve overthought the scores, so my advice is to go with your initial gut feeling and at the end compare the scores for each category and decide if any should go up or down.
- Write down the scores you’d liked to have for each category at the end of the year to create your desired wheel. I suggest this order so your desired wheel is more realistic than a ten in each category which is obviously what we all want to achieve.
- You may see an area you’d like to introduce as your theme as it has the lowest score or you are not near your desired level, but if not you may want to draw a new wheel showing the difference between your desired and actual scores.
As you can see from my wheel, I want to improve in many areas. But by looking at the difference wheel it is clear my priority areas are Close Family, Relationships and Health & Fitness.
How to implement your theme
So now you know the areas you want to make the biggest improvement next year you can select your theme for the year. I will continue with my health habits from this year, so next year I’m going to combine the other two in one theme of Relationships.
Next you need to think about how you’re going to motivate yourself to focus on your theme. I like to track progress but you may like visual reminders or rewards. Last year I used a habit tracker because I was introducing daily habits, but I’m thinking repeating task list items maybe better for Relationships, or possibly a paper tracker. I will probably experiment with both and see which one I like most.
And finally you need to think of ideas related to your theme. Don’t worry if you don’t have many ideas yet, the more focused you are on the theme the more ideas you’ll get. You can read books, watch videos, talk to people or notice what is going on in your life. If you are feeling really short of ideas you could do a brainstorm on things related to your theme or do further balance wheels looking at just at your theme. For example, I could do a relationships wheel with categories of Husband, Children, Family, Friends, Colleagues to get ideas of where I’d like to make the biggest improvement.
I hope you try having a theme next year as I have found it very beneficial. My last piece of advice is to be gentle by making changes slowly and be kind if you have a blip because this is about lasting change and the path will not be perfect, but as long as you keep moving in the correct direction you’ll get there.