How to map out what’s important to you in life

Now that you’ve been asked the question, here’s a process to enable you to start identifying and taking action on what matters to you. Each section has an activity attached to it to get you started on doing the same.

To put these activities into perspective, we’ve included a real life example of how this works.

Cara’s story

I remember the day someone asked me what was important to me and my life.

I didn’t know what to say. My answer was a sheepish “I don’t know.”

At that stage in my life I had accomplished many goals I’d set for myself, but I was left with this sense of coming up blank when I was asked the question.

I shifted from embarrassment to disbelief as I pondered it in the next few days:

  • Embarrassment that I didn’t have it nailed down. Was I just drifting through life? Was my existence merely at the mercy of everyone else’s needs?
  • Disbelief that someone like me, who is quite driven and ambitious, could be at a loss as to what mattered most to me in life.

The more I thought about it the more it started to crystallize.

Crafting a vision for your life

I looked back on my childhood photos, and started to recall what I loved and how I loved being as a feisty, adventurous young girl who loved Barbie dolls, Abba and gymnastics just as much as climbing pine trees and taking off into the bush for hours.

As I looked back, the happy and sad memories flooded in and I started to formulate an idea of what would become a vision for my life–not a purpose or a plan as such but an overarching theme to guide each day.

What I settled on was living a wonder-filled life and I’ve since started writing a book on how to create such a life. That was how impactful this question was for me.

Activity

Go through your old photos and start journaling the thoughts, memories and feelings that come up with the photos that stand out to you. These could be negative or positive.

  • When did you feel the happiest, safest, most joyful?
  • What were you doing during those times?
  • What was your life like?

Sit with it and see what comes up for you that could give you a clue as to what your vision for your life could be.

  • Does it feel like a fit?
  • Does it define what matters to you now?

This process may take you a little while and it may also ebb and flow. That’s okay. It gives you something to start with.

Mapping out what you want for each area of life

Once I had that overarching vision, I then went to work on crafting what that would look like in reality.

I listed every area of my life that mattered to me the most:  * My family’s happiness, health and wellbeing * My own happiness, health and wellbeing * Experiences that create joy, gratitude, wonder, awe and excitement * Standing for peace, justice and compassion in the world * Creativity

I then mapped out the things in my life that contribute to these areas of importance and the things that don’t. I call this an intention map, where I map out the aspects for each area of life as intentions to live into.

For example, for no. 1, my family’s happiness, health and wellbeing, I created the following:

What contributes:

My family’s health, happiness and wellbeing:

  • Shared, fun family experiences
  • Creating memories
  • Being bold and courageous as a parent
  • Sharing my knowledge, wisdom, and experiences to enliven others
  • Noticing life before me
  • Being open and inquisitive
  • Providing for my family’s needs: food, shelter, love, clothing
  • Creating a safe and nurturing space

What doesn’t contribute  My family’s health, happiness and wellbeing:

  • a lack of income to provide for family needs
  • Not doing things together as a family
  • Being resigned about life
  • Fighting and arguments
  • Being negative
  • Being self-interested and selfish
  • Being distracted and checked-out
  • Justifying yourself
  • Being defensive
  • Being emotionally reactive, volatile and spiteful
  • A messy, disorganised living space
  • A lack of consideration for others’ needs and goals

These were starting points I could use to start formulating an action plan.

Activity

Make a list of each area of your life that is important to you and then, under each area, list what contributes to you living a life that aligns with what is important to you and what doesn’t.

Reality check

It’s great to list intentions, but without action they are meaningless.

After listing intentions and roadblocks to those intentions for each area of life, I then had to look at my reality.

What was I doing or not doing to fulfil on these? Where was my life way off track?

I started another list where I took a good, hard, honest look at what my life was like now to see just how far it was from what was important to me.

What I realised was that I’d lost that spring in my step. I was stuck in a startup that wasn’t working, I barely had a social life and was scraping by financially. I’d get out of bed feeling lacklustre about the day ahead of me rather than joyful at the tasks I had on my plate that day. Something had to give.

At this point you may feel like giving up and you may feel confronted. I did. I don’t want to sugar coat it. The reality check is not necessarily going to be easy. It could even be painful, but it is a necessary step in reclaiming your life as your own. On the other side of that process there is a reward — a life that aligns with what is important to you.

Activity

Make a game of it! Against each item you’ve listed as a contributor, give yourself a score between 1 to 10 with 10 being the highest and 1 being the lowest.

The score should reflect how much of your life actually reflects the intention you’ve set for yourself in that area of life.

For instance, in ‘creating memories,’ I would score myself as a 5 at the moment because I feel like this is an area that needs some attention.

How did you score? What actions will enable you to score higher? What prize would you give yourself for winning the game?

Taking action

After facing my own reality check, I realised I had to formulate a different path for my life.

What that looked like was undertaking different work, closing down my failing startup, completely rejigging my finances, scheduling in time for a social life, and starting a leadership program that would challenge me to shift the areas of my life that were just not working. For every shift I need to make I created a date for when I would take action by so that it wasn’t just an airy fairy idea.

Tools that will empower you

There are a few tools that could be really helpful in this process. Trello is awesome for managing projects and your life. You can earmark Trello boards for every important area of your life. Trello connects to your calendar and means that you stay accountable to what is important to you.

Google calendar enables you to schedule everything and while that may seem pedantic, if you don’t schedule things in they just don’t get done.

Audio books and podcasts: Listen to audio books and podcasts while out and about and pick up a lot of insights and tips on how to live into what matters.

Activity

Start creating action items and give them a date by when you will have taken action. Schedule these into your calendar and check it every day. One step at a time, you will start to see the pendulum swing in favour of what’s important to you and your life over what’s not. You’ll also start to notice and tune into what matters to you when others present you with ideas and activities they want you to be part of. When you’re clear on what matters to you and the people you love, it is easier to say “yes” and “no”.

Get started on what’s important to you now

What’s important to you and your life? is the most important, impactful question you will likely ever be asked.

To empower you to work out what matters to you, we’re creating a set of tools and resources to help you make what is important to you a reality rather than just an idea.