Learn how to set your goals and make a life map with this how-to guide
If you have creative dreams and goals that you want to get down on paper, you may want to try out life mapping. Try a crafty version, like this collage from Sonrisachica, or grab a notebook and read these tips from the book "My Life Map" by David Marshall and published by Gotham.
The goal of life mapping is a meaningful and fulfilled life. Seeing your entire life on one map helps you to live with intention and purpose, and increases the chances that you will achieve your goals. If you develop and organize your thoughts into a visual picture of your hopes and dreams, you are not only more likely to actively work toward them, but you will also be better prepared to recognize and take advantage of unexpected opportunities that may come along.
Why is it important to view your whole life from start to finish? Why not just create a future map? Seeing the whole life — past, present, and future — offers an important perspective in shaping the future you want. By seeing patterns and turning points in your past, you can see what has and hasn’t worked well so far. You may acknowledge, accept and honor what has come before, and then move on.
If this sort of life planning is already familiar to you — you have a firm understanding of your past and a clear picture of your goals for all main areas of your life — you may already be well on your way to life mapping.
If the idea of long-term planning terrifies you, and it might, take a deep breath. You are not being asked to make irrevocable decisions, or to let go of spontaneity in your life. You will not be a failure if what you write in this book does not come true. This book is simply a dialogue with yourself. If you’re still feeling anxious, pretend you are using life maps to sketch the life story of a character in a novel you are writing. Like many novelists, you create a character who resembles you and whom you care deeply about. You want the very best for this person, so the life story you tell is one which you would find satisfying, too.
General Life Mapping Tips
Resist the temptation to write a lot of detail about your past on your maps. Not only is there not enough room for it, but you will learn more about key trends in your life by looking at the big picture. Journal your thoughts in a notebook before summarizing them in the maps.
A big part of life mapping is identifying and naming themes in your life, both in your past and your future. Summarizing or naming segments will lead you to clearer takeaways from your maps. If you moved around in your twenties, rather than list every town you lived in in the Place row, you could simply name that time “exploring the world,” “searching for new community,” or “wandering aimlessly.” Likewise, if you frequently changed jobs until you found the right career path, you might name that period “exploring my options” or “I once was lost . . .” Or name the dominant feeling from that period “content,” “confused,” or “in love.”
When filling out your map, consider using symbols, drawings, or other visual prompts as well as words to depict events. Draw them yourself or use stickers or clip art. A visual map will be easier to see patterns in than a map dense with text. Visual images of your future may also be more motivating and stay with you longer.
Use Pencil (Not Pen) and a Ruler
Give yourself the freedom to try things out — sketch out a plan and tweak it or completely redo it — until you’re happy with it. Unless you naturally draw straight lines, use a ruler to divide your past from your future and to create chapters on your Life Map.
You may prefer to work on your maps on your computer in a word processing, graphics, or spreadsheet program. After you finish your electronic versions, print them and paste them where you can see them every day.
Consider pairing up with your life partner or a trusted friend to talk through the exercises together. Explain your finished maps to each other and support each other’s dreams as you move forward.
Finally, there are a lot of exercises and maps offered in this journal. Pace yourself. Don’t let yourself get overwhelmed— it is not an all or nothing deal. It’s okay to leave some maps partly or fully blank. You might have a lot to write about family but not work or play, or the other way around. Do as many exercises and maps as are helpful to you — no more, no less.