Goal Setting – Reviewing life roles

In this post I will describe a technique for gaining clarity on what roles we play in life and how we are feeling about each at any given time. In subsequent posts I will then explain how we use this data to help us set smarter goals and, in the process, build self-awareness, the fuel for personal development.

A starting point for reviewing our current situation is to think about what roles we play in life. Our life roles overlap and we must switch between them in quick succession. I am father, partner, son and brother all in the space of one family get-together. I am manager, leader, employee, specialist and change agent all in the space of one meeting.

We rarely take the time to stop and review each role in isolation and can sometimes feel good, bad or indifferent about something or someone but not know which role these feelings are assigned to.

Chunking our lives into distinct roles helps provide clarity on what is going well, what is going less well and what we might want to change in each area of our lives. It helps clear the fog that can sometimes appear when asked questions such as “How are things?”, “What’s going well for you at the moment?” or “What would you like to see change?”

Distinguishing which emotions should be assigned to which role, helps in creating a balanced view of the positives and negatives. It prevents overwhelming positive or negative feelings being assigned to life in general, which can mask underlying issues or unnecessarily taint our overall demeanor.

When I was at university studying engineering, I would take things apart so I could see how they worked. I would deconstruct and then reconstruct to see how the parts come together to make the whole. Reviewing our life roles as separate concepts is a deconstructing and re-constructing exercise that can leave us with fresh perspective on the whole, having looked at the parts. It can make balancing our many roles easier and can help with in-the-moment decisions about which action to choose based on which role is taking priority and how our roles impact each other.

A model for reviewing our lives through the lens of our various life roles was originally suggested by Donald Super through his theory called the developmental self-concept. Whilst originally linked to career planning, this theory has been developed by others and variations on this theme are now widely used in many aspects of personal development. Pamelia Brott has written a very useful (but technical) summary of these approaches.

One technique from this stable that I have found particularly useful is a review of one’s life roles as a ‘role web‘. This is a visual representation of your life roles that includes a rating of how ‘good’ or ‘bad’ you feel about aspects of each role at any particular time.

Take a piece of blank paper and write down your life roles. Don’t worry at this point about numbers or detail. Just write them down. Think about a typical week or month and the things you do. What roles are you fulfilling through your actions? Remember that the research on goal setting indicates that working with a trusted buddy or coach is a good idea. See my list of possible roles at the end of this post. This is by no means exhaustive.

Most importantly, don’t forget and always include, the ‘self’ role. This is where activities are focused on you, for your benefit. Activities such as exercise, relaxation, learning or meditation might come under the self role.

Experience has indicated that about eight major life roles is the norm, but don’t worry if you have more or less. You might want to group some under categories such as ‘leisure’, ‘family’ or ‘work’.

Take a fresh piece of paper and draw straight lines out from the centre of the page to create what looks like a spoked wheel. The number of spokes should correspond to the number of roles you have on your list. Make sure all the spokes are the same length. You might want to draw a circle to link up the outer edges of the spokes to ensure they are reasonably equal. See the examples below.

Now think about each role and give yourself a rating for how good you feel about each one. “How good you feel” is a very arbitrary, subjective statement. It doesn’t pin down exactly what aspect of each role you might feel good or bad about. This is deliberate. Go with your first instincts. What emotions do you feel when you focus your attention on work or leisure or family, for example? We will dig deeper into these feelings in the next post.

For now, rate the feelings from 1 to 10. Rate it 1 if you are feeling really bad about a particular role and 10 if you feel brilliant. Mark the ratings for each role on a spoke, one spoke per role. Each spoke will have a scale of 1 to 10 on it with 1 being near the middle of the spoked wheel and 10 being at the outer ends. Now join the marks on each spoke with straight lines to create what looks a little like an unfinished spider’s web, hence the name ‘role web’.

Assuming you don’t have all 1’s or 10’s, your web should have an irregular shape to it, with some roles pulling the connecting strand towards the middle of the web (dents) and some pushing it out to the edges (spikes).

The dents indicate where you might want to make changes in order to become happier in that role. The spikes indicate where you might want to continue to do what you are doing because you feel so good about it. You may also want to learn why things are going so well and transfer that learning to other roles where they are not so good. The overall web will also give you a clear indication of where any underlying feelings of unhappiness might be coming from and, assuming you have some spikes, give you hope that if things are going well in at least one part of your life, they can be made better elsewhere.

With the drawing complete, you will have created a snap-shot in time of your current life roles and how you feel about each of them. I find that this exercise is enough on its own to give me clarity on my feelings and any lack of balance in my life. By itself it is also helps me refocus my attention where it needs to be.

In the next post we will start digging a little deeper into these initial thoughts and feelings so that we can extract learnings and, if necessary, adjust our initial ratings. We will also start to look the limiting and liberating beliefs at play in our daily decision making.

Remember our research into goal setting indicated that ‘chunking’ goals into manageable parts, in this case our life roles, and learning from failures, are important. This technique speaks to two of our twelve recommendations.

Until next time…


Possible Life Roles (not exhaustive!): Self, father/mother, brother/sister, son/daughter, nephew/niece, work (sub-divided – team member, manager, leader, union representative, etc), hobbies, community, charity, sports, club member, etc.

Your master role web may have sub-webs. For example, ‘work’ might be one role on your fmaster role web. You might then want to dig into the work situation further by creating a work role web with your various work roles separated out.






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