Mapping out Your Life Diagram

How to identify and execute the different components of your life diagram so as to live a life of purpose and meaning.

Let's face it: we all yearn for a life where freedom, achievement and self-fulfillment are at the maximum.

But just as we say so, we also often find ourselves not working much to get there, or worse, working systematically in the opposite direction of what we yearned for.

Fortunately, there's a powerful tool you can use in practice to combat this kind of chaos. We call this tool the Life Diagram because, as the name suggests, it is supposed to be the diagram of your ideal life.

In fact, when used on a daily basis, it can turn you from being a "wanderer" into an intentional being, so that you can begin to focus on the stuffs that matter. But before that, we need to first talk about freedom — and the exact ingredients of an ideal life.

Needs, Wants and Aspirations

As a species, we have a natural tendency to strive for freedom, which for most of us appear to be the lack of constraints. However, freedom is actually more than that — it is a state of being able to get all our needs met.

For example, in order for you to maximize your well-being, many things need to be met. The exact nature of these things can differ greatly from individuals to individuals, but they can also be roughly organized into three categories of increasing hierarchy:

  • Survival-level needs
  • Non-survival level wants
  • Higher-level aspirations

To put it simply, needs are for self-preservation, wants are for maintaining emotional health, and aspirations are for maximal fulfillment. Thus the key to mapping out your Life Diagram lies in identifying all your needs, wants and aspirations.

Identifying Your Needs

As alluded to earlier, a need is something that you must have — whether you want it or not — in order to not suffer from drastic life consequences. For most of us, these needs generally fall into one of the following two categories: health and finance.

And while some of your needs may be apparent to you, others may not. One way to kick start this need identification journey is to start by asking questions such as:

What are the things I need to work on to keep my life together?

For example, in terms of health, some of your needs could include:

  • Regularly drinking water
  • Limiting coffee consumption
  • Losing weight
  • Maintaining muscles
  • Improving eyesight
  • Reversing diabetes

While in terms of finance, some of your needs might include:

  • Asking for a raise
  • Increasing your monthly savings
  • Eliminating superfluous expenses
  • Paying off credit card debts

Of course, not all of your needs are created equal, and some of them can actually be quite trivial (e.g., disposing of garbage, procuring food). Because of that, you should only focus on the needs that you genuinely need to work on.

On the other hand, it's also possible for some of your needs to be neither related to finance nor health (such as restoring your relationship with your spouse). In case there are several of these, it might be helpful to put the similar ones under new categories.

But whichever they are, do take some time to think about them seriously, and whenever they come to you, jot them down in your note immediately.

And whenever you're done, put all of these needs in the format of a hierarchical chart. This will form the bottommost section of your Life Diagram, which might look something like this:

Needs

Health

  • Daily exercise
  • Reducing tabacco consumption
  • Meditation to reduce stress
  • Sleeping before midnight

Finance

  • Finding a more paying job
  • Buying a house
  • Selling off old car
  • Reducing monthly expenses

Relationship

  • Talking with children
  • Getting rid of toxic acquaintances
  • Preventing a divorce
  • Resolving conflicts between coworkers

Identifying Your Wants

Roughly speaking, wants are the things that you desire and which help you maintain a basic level of psychological health — even though they are generally unnecessary for survival. Because of that, a distinction is often made between a want and a need.

As a rule of thumb, wants can be often organized into three categories of increasing hierarchy: physical, cognitive and emotional. For most people, their wants will either cater to their desire to enjoy, or their desire to achieve.

To identify your wants, you can often start by asking some hypothetical questions such as:

Assuming that all my basic needs are taken care of, what are the things I would add to my life so that at the end of day, I wouldn't feel like something is missing?

Indeed, to figure out your wants, you often have to put yourself in a position of being perfectly financially free and healthy. After all, wants are what you'd pursue when your life is not in immediate danger, and you can often discover them by:

  • Looking at the activities you used to do when you were young
  • Looking at the elective courses you've taken in school
  • Looking at your past and current hobbies
  • Looking at the books you read or used to read

Here, remember that your wants are intrinsically valuable to you — unlike other needs which only become important as a result of being tied to valuable things. Additionally, there's also a distinction between your wants and your talents, as well.

For example, on the physical level, your wants might include:

  • Mountain running
  • Roller skating
  • Salsa dancing
  • Cooking

On the cognitive level, your wants might include:

  • Journal writing
  • Reading self-help books
  • Listening to podcasts
  • Taking language lessons

And on the emotional level, your wants might include:

  • Playing piano
  • Group eating
  • Physical bonding
  • Introspection

In general, finding your wants can be a bit subtler than finding your needs, and might even take days or weeks before the entire mapping is finished. Because of that, this is where you want to make use of a bit of thinking and note-taking on a regular basis.

But once you're done, you'll be ready to put all your wants in the format of a hierarchical chart. This will form the middle section of your Life Diagram, which might look something like this:

Wants

Physical

  • Morning walk
  • Obstacle climbing
  • Practicing soccer
  • Outdoor gardening

Cognitive

  • Solving math problems
  • Playing tetris
  • Debating
  • Listen to audiobooks

Emotional

  • Playing guitar
  • Singing acappella
  • Practicing breathing
  • Attending church services 

Identifying Your Aspirations

Aspiration is an important concept in the realm of personal development. It corresponds to a goal which — although unnecessary for survival or maintaining psychological health — allows you to flourish and to live a truly fulfilling life.

Due to their transcendental nature, aspirations are generally distinguished from wants, which operate at a lower emotional level. In fact, an aspiration is often known under many different names such as: 

  • Mission
  • Dream
  • Wish
  • Purpose
  • Vision
  • Yearning
  • Ikigai
  • Meaning of life

As the names suggest, aspirations are much like the long-term outcomes that cater to your highest and innermost callings. They allow you to live in full alignment with your values and physiology, so that you feel not only fulfilled, but accomplished.

Unlike finding your needs and wants, finding your aspirations can be a bit tricky (since some of them can be rather detached from your day-to-day reality). To help facilitate this process, here are some existential questions you can start with:

  • What did I dream to do when I was young?
  • What enlivens me at physical, cognitive, emotional and spiritual levels?
  • What allows me to express myself fully, and to fulfill my deepest yearning?
  • What must I do to have a life that's truly well-lived?

If you're like most people, the answers might not come to you right away. This is why you want to dedicate some time every day to think about your highest callings, the things that resonate with you, and the outcomes that make you feel the most alive.

For example, some of your aspirations might include:

  • Living in a mountain residence surrounded by forests and sea
  • Running and operating my own charitable organization
  • Becoming a traveling scholar
  • Performing concerts worldwide with accompanying orchestra 

Whichever they are, make sure to document and revise them as they come up. Before "setting them in stone", it's also a good idea to evaluate them against the following criteria:

  • End goal: Aspirations by definition are the destinations themselves, rather than intermediate points your need to pass by. Never confuse the mountain top with a tree.
  • Self goal: The aspirations you've identified should be your own and yours only (e.g., not a reflection of societal pressure). The last thing you want to do is to spend decades climbing on someone else's tree.
  • Specific: Don't make your aspirations overly generic or wishy-washy. After all, wishes such as "having unforgettable experiences" or "being happy" are hardly going to get you anywhere.

Once you've checked your aspirations against these criteria, you can then put them into the format of a hierarchical chart. As expected, this will form the topmost section of your Life Diagram, which is now almost complete.

Living Your Life Diagram

Now that you've identified all your needs, wants and aspirations, your Life Diagram should start to look pretty solid. Before moving on though, you also want to make sure that each item is still valid, and that there is no unnecessary duplicate in the chart.

(in fact, as you go through the diagram, you might have noticed that there is usually a most appropriate section for each item. This is due to the fact that we've defined our needs, wants and aspirations in such a way that they mutually exclude each other.)

But once you're done with this final checking, your Life Diagram should be ready to go. And if you've drawn the diagram the way we did, then it might look something like this:

Aspirations

  • Living in a mountain residence surrounded by forests and sea
  • Running and operating my own charitable organization
  • Becoming a traveling scholar
  • Performing concerts worldwide with accompanying orchestra 

Wants

Physical

  • Morning walk
  • Obstacle climbing
  • Practicing soccer
  • Outdoor gardening

Cognitive

  • Solving math problems
  • Playing tetris
  • Debating
  • Listen to audiobooks

Emotional

  • Playing guitar
  • Singing acappella
  • Practicing breathing
  • Attending church services 

Needs

Health

  • Daily exercise
  • Reducing tabacco consumption
  • Meditation to reduce stress
  • Sleeping before midnight

Finance

  • Finding a more paying job
  • Buying a house
  • Selling off old car
  • Reducing monthly expenses

Relationship

  • Talking with children
  • Getting rid of toxic acquaintances
  • Preventing a divorce
  • Resolving conflicts between coworkers

As you can see, this type of diagram shares some resemblance with the so-called Maslow's hierarchy of needs, except that this time, it's much more tailored to you in a non-generic, elegantly practical way.

What's more, while most people document and keep track of their goals on paper, with the Life Diagram, you can allow yourself to be a bit more sophisticated — by committing the entire diagram to your memory.

In fact, if there's ever anything you should do with your Life Diagram, it'd be this:

At the beginning, middle and the end of a day, every day, rehearse the entire diagram in your head.

And as you go through each of the items in the diagram, ask yourself this question:

What is the most important action I can implement today, so as to move me towards the goal?

If anything, your life might begin to move at an accelerated pace once you start to use the diagram along with the Traveler Framework. It's hence no wonder why you should keep your diagram as close to you as possible — for it could be the most valuable possession in your life.

Of course, that doesn't mean that with the Life Diagram, every day will be a piece of cake. But it does guarantee that if you have achieved nothing in a day, then you'll start to worry and feel guilty about it, which in turn can propel you towards the goal.

And if on the other hand, you've made some great progress thanks to the diagram, then you'll feel fulfilled, confident and powerful, all of which are integral to your personal sustainability, well-being and future success.

At the very least, following your Life Diagram every day can free you from the existential angst and anxiety many of us are facing. So as long as you don't push your diagram away, its potential in helping you live a life of purpose will be certain.

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