How to Build a Life Map to Connect Your Daily Activities to Your Lifelong Dreams

by Trent on 6 April 2010

This post by Trent Hamm from The Simple Dollar originally appeared at his site on 24 January 2007. The article has been revised for Success Daily.

A while ago, I discovered a technique that helped me clarify my goals and dreams. It took some time (about an hour and a half), but when I was finished, I had constructed a tool that keeps driving me towards my aspirations, giving me specific actions I could be doing instead of spending money at the bookstore or watching television.

To do this, you’ll either need a big sheet of paper (I used a big piece of brown packaging paper and a Sharpie) or a program like FreeMind (an open-source mind mapping package) or KeyNote (an open source note-taking package).

J.D.’s note: MindMeister would be a keen tool to use for this project, also.

In the middle of the paper, write your name and circle it. Why? You’re at the center of your own life; everything you do connects back to you in some fashion.

Around that circle, write down your main goals in life.

  • Do you want an amazing home?
  • Do you want to be a good husband or wife?
  • Do you want to be a good parent?
  • Do you want to be a millionaire?
  • Do you want to retire and become a freelance writer?

Consider this carefully, and ask yourself what values you hold central. You should be able to come up with three to six of these. Write them around the central circle, spaced as far apart as possible, circle each one, and draw a line back to yourself, showing the connection. This is the innermost wheel, and from here we’ll add more wheels.

Now, for each main goal, identify two to four specific subgoals goals that you’d like to achieve in the next ten to fifteen years. At this point, we’re moving from the intangibles to the tangibles. Let’s say one of your goals is to be a great parent. Related subgoals for the next ten to fifteen years could be to guide your child towards adulthood, teach them a solid set of values, aid in training them in their favorite activity, or be an active part of their education.

Write each of these specific goals outside of the inner circle near the associated main goal, circle each one, and draw a line back to the main goal. Maybe you find that you have a goal that associates to two or more main goals; if so, write it twice and draw a dotted circle around one of them so you know it appears elsewhere in the circle. These should form another large circle.

Now start breaking them down. What can you do in the next two to five years to reach each of these specific goals? Again, you should be able to come up with three or so steps for each one. List those and add another wheel. Then create another wheel outside of these listing the things you can do in the next six months to two years to reach each of those goals.

At this stage, I was identifying things like “paying off a student loan” (in with my larger goals of being a good husband and a good father -> providing a financial backbone for my family -> eliminating all debts) and “growing The Simple Dollar to great heights” (in with my larger goal of keeping my creativity and thinking alive -> being a full-time professional writer -> getting published).

Now the final piece of the puzzle: For each of these short term goals, make a list of one thing you can do for each goal in the next week. Some of these tasks will be mundane, like paying bills or calling your stockbroker or doing some research, but they’re powerful things! You’re basically building a to-do list for the next week that you can directly connect back to your primary life values. When I did this, I wound up with a 121 item to-do list for the next week — and it felt absolutely invigorating. Why? I understood how each item on the list connected directly back to a primary value in my life. I felt empowered to tackle lots of things.

I’m planning to redo this exercise on a regular basis, so that I can keep up to date with my own goals. I expect the overall picture to evolve over time as my life evolves. In order to make sure I do this again, I added a final item to that to-do list: Remake your life map.

Photo by Johnny Goldstein.

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