'Taking a Picture' of Your Life: The Wheel of Life

Taking a picture
Image by stokpic from Pixabay

We all know how our busy lives leave us little time to reflect on ourselves and our well-being, both physical and mental. Even the most basic reflection, that is, simply assessing how we feel right now, is an exercise that most of us do very rarely. Yet, knowing how you are at a given moment can be a powerful tool to help us consider how balanced our life is and whether some changes are necessary (or even urgent).


In coaching, this starting assessment is often done using the Wheel of Life, originally created by Paul J. Meyer, founder of Success Motivation® Institute, Inc. [1]. This is one – if not the – most well-know coaching tool, and you can easily find plenty of information about it online.  


Normally, you will be given a wheel-shaped figure divided into 8 sections, each assigned to a different area of your life, and asked to rate how satisfied you are with each of those areas right now. I like to use it in a slightly different way. Here is how I do it my way, and you can do your own wheel at the same time. Get some pen and paper. Ready? 


First, I like to ask my coachees what are the areas in their life they consider relevant to have a full life. I think that presuming up front that the 8 areas usually identified in the Wheel of Life are the meaningful ones, and all the meaningful ones, is a dangerous assumption. Coaches learn not to judge too quickly; for me, using a given list is a dangerous presumption of what life should be. Not everyone considers all dimensions equally important; it may depend on which phase you are in your life, or maybe on whether you are hoping to get married or not someday or you are already a widower, for example, for whom the concept of a ‘significant other’ sounds strange or externally imposed.


So I prefer to ask first "what areas do you consider relevant for you to have a full life right now?" Make your own list right now too! I like to allow some time for reflection on this topic and see what coachees come up with, how they name and divide each area. For example, for some Family and Friends are one and the same area; for others they are separate ones. This should be their option; not something imposed by the coach or an online template.


After this initial step, however, I do read them back a list of typical areas within the Wheel of Life. Check the images on the right for some examples: most wheels include 8 sections, though you can find versions with as many as 15 sections. At this point, I ask them to consider whether they wish to adjust the list they had just prepared. Do you want to revise your list? If yes, do it now; if not, that’s OK too.


Sometimes, coachees do some adjustments, for example, they decide to add 1 or 2 areas, or to separate/group them differently. This step allows them to reflect on the fact that they had 'missed' that area before or not given it sufficient importance to be an area of its own.


In my experience, 'Fun and recreation' in the most frequently missed one. We have the impression that our life should be filled with busy and important aspects and that recreation is either a bad thing or a luxury. Hence, no surprise it rarely comes up when I first ask coachees to make their list, though then they almost always realise they do wish to include it. Indeed, planning enough R&R in your life is not a luxury; it is essential to ensure you are managing your energy levels properly, allowing yourself to recharge before (and after) any big challenge, or even just for the day-to-day activities. It also allows you to recognise that gratification and joy are acceptable (required?) elements in a balanced life. As far as I can remember, I only had one client who did not include this as a separate area in his/her wheel. Make your own choice! There are no MUSTs!


Once they are happy with the areas of life they have listed, however many these may be, I ask them to divide the wheel in equal parts, like slicing a cake or a pizza. How many slices has your wheel? Cut it now! You can use this template.

Image by Designarounds
Image by Designarounds
Detailed Wheel of Life
Image by creatavision.com (Pinterest)


Occasionally, a coachee asks if the slices all need to be of equal size; the regular exercise would say 'yes' but I tell coachees they can decide about that.


Unbalanced Wheel of Life
Image by Codescale

The next phase is about rating your current life satisfaction, taking that instant picture of it. The key question here is "From 0-10, how satisfied do you feel with each dimension of your life right now/today?" So, go through each area and rate it accordingly. After that, we draw that answer into the wheel, meaning we cut the length of the slice in proportion to the rating (see example below). A 5 will mean half-length; an 8 almost full length; and 2 a very short slice, very close to the centre. Your Wheel of Life is now done. The picture is taken! [2]


Like any picture, its full value is only realised when we appreciate it again, when we 'look back' at it and reflect. Almost without a miss?, every coachee realises that s/he has a few areas that are not doing well at all, even if others feel rather good. This is what we call an unbalanced wheel. If this were actually a wheel, your ride would have been very uncomfortable and bumpy. So, ask yourself the following questions: How balanced does your wheel look like? Which areas seem to be flourishing and which ones seem to be in need of more attention? Sometimes, we can see that the entire wheel is very short (no area of life got a very high rating). 


The final step is an invitation to consider how you could make improvements in each area (and maybe if you wish to dedicate some extra time and attention to those not scoring so well). It's not about getting all the way up to 10. Rather it is about considering small actions that could have a positive impact in a specific area. For example, "if you rated your career/work area at 6, what could you do to get it closer to a 7?" List all those ideas without judgement (do a brainstorming). Once you have collected a couple of options, ask yourself if you are actually ready to commit yourself to take any of those actions. Which one? Remember: make it SMART, that is as concrete as possible, with a deadline…, and schedule them in your agenda!


You will also realise that areas can be 'contagious' both in the positive and negative way, that is, often improvements in one area will positively affect other areas. Work and finances are good examples of this. Any area scoring a 5 or lower probably needs some more careful reflection about it, maybe some planned work with the support of a coach, therapist or counselor.  


As a reflection and visualisation exercise, the Wheel of Life is a very powerful tool. I use it with almost every client, at the very start of their coaching programme with me and often at the end, to assess progress made especially in the areas we decided to focus on in our coaching sessions. But you can easily do it at home too. Check the template I have attached for you here.


And redo this exercise a few times per year. Not too often, but enough to make you conscious of how your life is going and what areas might be in need of a little bit more attention in the near future (plan this revision in your calendar!). Before going back to your previous Wheel of Life, ask yourself again: what are the important areas in your life and how do you rate them today. Compare it with the previous one(s) and reflect on the main differences. Would you like to plan any action regarding any area?


In short, use the Wheel of Life to intentionally design your life and create greater balance, instead of simply ‘riding it’ no matter how bumpy the ride goes!

Designing your Life, Draw your path
Image by Igor Link from Pixabay


PS: For those interested, there are also variations of this tool that follow generally the same rules but are applied to different areas, such as the Wheel of Business or the Wheel of Well-being.


[1] According to https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newHTE_93.htm

[2] You can actually create your own Wheel of Life online, as you rate each of the areas considered in that model, for example here: https://codescale.github.io/Wheel-Of-Life/


[First published on 10 September 2020.]

March 2021 Update:  There is now also a paid online course available to help you draw your Wheel of Life, interpret it and create an action plan. A subscription in Udemy will allow you to access the course any time, however many times you wish.

Follow the button below to read more about it and allow Natália a greater share of the profit (instead of Udemy's platform).

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Natália Leal  |  Coach & Trainer

Empowering You to Successfully Navigate Your Life & Career Transitions


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Certified Professional Life Coach