The way you live has a profound influence on the choices you make.

I learned the hard way that it’s easy to hide weaknesses, and they usually exist in areas you’re overlooking.

I’ve always been a disciplined person, and I’ve never had difficulty sticking to a training plan, putting in long hours to meet writing deadlines, or following a reading schedule to broaden my mind.

But it was only after a friend passed me an Anthony Robbins book that I sat up and realized I’d completely neglected several other key areas of my life.

The Robbins book was useful to me because it talked about breaking your life down into several key areas, assessing where you’re at, and setting goals for each.

Robbins broke his goals down into:

  • Physical
  • Mental
  • Emotional
  • Attractiveness
  • Relationships
  • Living environment
  • Social
  • Spiritual
  • Career
  • Financial

I don’t think you need to make it quite that exhaustive, but you do have to address at least these key areas: Physical, Mental, Emotional, Social (which includes your core relationships), and Financial (which includes your source of income). In my opinion, Spiritual is optional. If you have religious or spiritual beliefs, you should include them in your assessment. If you’re an atheist, those aspects of your life which I call Personal Philosophy could be addressed individually or could fit in with the other aspects.

These categories were incredibly helpful because they made me realize something I’d been missing. I was doing great in the Physical, Mental, and Emotional areas, but I was absolutely hopeless when it came to Financial.

My lack of attention to finance alerted me to the fact that I’d never invested the time and energy to create an income stream capable of financing the life I wanted to live. All the training, reading and writing in the world wasn’t enough to get me to my goals, because I was unable to fund the experiences I needed.

My lifestyle required some form of financial independence, which to me means that my income is not dependent on anyone else–it is generated by me alone. And so I formed a portable online business. But I probably wouldn’t have devoted any time to it if my self-assessment hadn’t revealed this was the thing that was holding me back.

Sitting down and closely examining ALL areas of your life will ensure that you never focus solely on your strengths while paying no attention to areas of imbalance. It’s fine to work only on your strengths for a while, because they’re your most “marketable” asset. But it isn’t sustainable to ONLY work on those things. What goes up must come down, and what is imbalanced will eventually have to be balanced.

Do this now. Take a large piece of paper and divide it into three columns. In the left hand column, I want you to list the lifestyle categories we just discussed. Leave some room in between each one so you have plenty of space to write.

In the middle column, write where you find yourself right now in each category. Be brutally honest.

In the right hand column, write how you would like your life to look in five years, in each of the categories you listed. It’s fine if this right hand column is a little bit vague. I just want you to start forming images in your mind about where you might want to be, and to see those images in relation to your current position.

So how are you doing on each of the categories I proposed? And when was the last time you really sat down and took stock?

You’d be surprised what a difference this simple exercise can make.

[Ed. Note: Ryan Murdock is the author of Personal Freedom: A Guide to Creating the Life of Your Dreams. When not helping people find their own brand of personal freedom, Ryan travels the world’s marginal places as Editor-at-Large (Europe) for Outpost magazine. He recently released his first travel book, called Vagabond Dreams: Road Wisdom from Central America. And his Outpost feature “Taklamakan: The Worst Desert in the World” was nominated for a National Magazine Award in Canada.]

Ryan Murdock

Ryan Murdock is the author of Personal Freedom: A Guide to Creating the Life of Your Dreams. When not helping people find their own brand of personal freedom, he travels the world's marginal places as Editor-at-Large (Europe) for Outpost magazine. His first book is called Vagabond Dreams: Road Wisdom from Central America. He lives on the small Mediterranean island of Malta.]