Sometimes when people approach the process of “trying to get their lives in order”, either as a choice for general improvement or in the aftermath of some kind of major upheaval, they may find themselves flummoxed at the scope of change, and unable to pinpoint a place to start. When clients come into my office for help with this kind of reconstruction work, we often start with the Needs and Wants work discussed in previous posts, so that we know what kinds of needs the client is seeking to address, going forward from this moment in their lives. After we know what port they’re trying to make for, we create a roadmap, something that gives them a framework to approach changing important aspects of their lives by adjusting how they express and boundary the needs and wants attached to those aspect. A roadmap identifies specific goals the individual wants to meet, and a reasonable, realistic plan for attaining them as best they can.
When creating a personal roadmap, these kinds of general goals are a second or third step in the process. They help define things we feel are needful, but they don’t address the very important question, “why?” Why are these kinds of changes necessary? What are they intended to move a person towards? What needs are they intended to meet?
The purpose of a roadmap, generally speaking, is to help define and prioritize meeting an individual’s needs and wants. By defining a high-level need in one’s life, then defining all the intermediary needs that make up that culminating purpose, then defining all the goals the individual feels they need to achieve to meet those needs, a person creates a customized list of short-term checklist goals that are congruent both with the larger needs, and the overall purpose. Employing the map analogy to full effect, it’s like charting a high-level, low-detail map of the globe, then zooming in until, at the most detailed level, you have a street map of your own neighbourhood. Each level of the roadmap is designed to refine the goals at that particular level, the needs that goal meets, and/or the actions or changes required to address the needs that meet the goals.
Many people struggle to communicate their own needs, for two main reasons:
- They don’t know their own needs, and
- They don’t trust that communicating them will get them met.
A roadmap is a tool for better understanding your own needs. It may be that your needs are not being met because you’re unclear or inconsistent in their presentation, or you frequently downplay their priority when presenting them to others. This exercise is going to be most difficult for people who lack a willingness to be honestly introspective, or who have difficulty finding their own voice in relationships, but if you’re willing to tough it out, you’ll have the start of a improved, more consistent understanding of yourself, and that can help ease communicating this material to people around you.
Grab pencil and paper; I’ll wait…
For the purpose of this exercise, we’ll start with a familiar, reasonably common goal. For most people (at least in our own culture) the overall goal in life is to be happy. If this is true for you, pick up your pencils and write that in the middle at the top of your paper: “I want to be more consistently happy”. If happiness isn’t the be-all and end-all of your life’s purpose, write a more appropriate mission statement – where “appropriate” means “applicable to yourself, personally” – and leave me a comment to tell me what you chose, because I’ll be curious to see how the process works out for other goals. For the purpose of documenting the exercise (and partly because I’ll be using myself as an example), I’m going to continue with increasing happiness as this particular roadmap’s destination point. As the highest priority, everything else on your roadmap should be pointing at this goal, and giving you something to which you can align your decision processes.
Creating a Personal Mission Statement
When you look at that statement, “I want to be more consistently happy”, what does that mean to you? When you consider happiness in the in the big picture of your life overall, what contributes to your happiness? For many, if not most, of us, the answer to this question will amount to something that feels like a personal mission statement, such as “I want to improve the quality of my life such that I am secure, comfortable; my needs are met and I have some degree of luxury”. If this assessment doesn’t fit for you, insert your own mission statement, one that encompasses your highest-priority need(s). Yes, these statements may seem banal and obvious at this stage of the game, but you’d be amazed at how many people have *never* thought to make these intentions for their lives explicit, and not clarifying the overall intent makes it difficult in both the long and short term, to do the evaluative assessments in situ that tell them whether or not they are behaving congruently, moving towards their priority need(s). Remember the Seneca quote from last week: “When you don’t know what port you’re making for, no wind is the right wind.”
Applying the Needs Framework
Now look at that mission statement and ask yourself, what needs must you meet in yourself to achieve your definition happiness, your priority need as you have defined it? These are the overall life needs or goals that you will strive to attain over the term of your life, the larger motivators that will help you shape decisions that make you happy, or move you towards your priority need. List everything that comes to mind on a second line under “I want to be more consistently happy”, in a column of its own.
For myself, this second line contains the following column headers:
- Good Physical Health
- Good Mental Health
- Financial Stability
- Strong & Healthy Relationships
- Comfortable Home
You can re-arrange the items on this line according to priority, if they are not all valued equally in your personal roadmap. For my roadmap, I value all five of my entries on this line equally. If any *one* of these items slides sufficiently off-kilter, it will pull all the rest of the items on this line out of balance fairly quickly.
Next, draw lines on your paper to form columns for each of these secondary-level needs. In this stage of the exercise, I want to document the core personal needs, the emotionally-invested requirements you have for each of the categories of life needs defined in the column headings. For some of you, this section may be the most difficult, because it requires you to look inside and become aware of, and give name to, some fairly intimate needs. In many cases, you may not know what some or all of these needs are, and that’s okay – a roadmap is a lifelong project-in-progress; you can come back and fill in the blanks (or adjust previous content) later as you become more aware of your own core needs.
Breaking Down the Emotional Needs
The importance of this exercise comes from knowing what sub-level, emotional needs are likely to skew your attempts to meet your high-level life needs. If you find you are consistently not achieving some degree of success with the need identified in the column heading (such as “Financial Stability”), look at the emotional needs you’ve connected with that life need. For example, my map has “Meaningful Work” tied to “Financial Stability”, because when I don’t have work I find meaningful, my own unhappiness jeopardizes my willingness to stay in unsatisfying jobs, which has incredible impact on my financial stability. Honestly assess whether your emotional requirements are being fulfilled. If what you’ve written on paper here doesn’t feel like it’s the issue, perhaps there’s another emotional need you haven’t yet identified but are responding to as it goes unmet below surface-level consciousness. Or perhaps one of the needs in another category is sliding, and pulling everything else with it (as when pervasive job dissatisfaction starts to manifest as conflict or struggles in relationships). Knowing the emotional needs as well as the life goals becomes an excellent diagnostic tool when you become frustrated at a perceived lack of progress in any one area, because you can come back to your roadmap for reference to see where an identified, prioritized need is sliding.
Being aware of your emotional needs, and how they map to your life goals and global need, also makes the whole deal a hell of a lot easier to communicate clearly, and with relevant priority, to those people with whom you share your life.
For myself, mapping emotional needs for my life goals looks like this:
- Good physical health: I need to feel attractive (in my own eyes, at least), and physically capable, strong enough to be (by and large) physically independent.
- Good mental health: I need to feel like I’m doing more than coping from one day to the next, that I’m actively resolving, or at least working on, my own issues.
- Financial stability: I need to feel like I’m responsibly managing my resources so that I can both cover my basic expenses, and allow for a reasonable degree of discretionary luxury, and am planning adequately for future/retirement necessities.
- Strong & healthy relationships: I need to feel like a respected and respectful equal; I need to feel desired and desirable; I need to feel I am trusted enough to have some degree of decision-making autonomy; I need to communicate effectively, and be communicated with likewise; I need to be able to continue with intimate (invested/emotionally engaged), non-primary relationships, both sexual and non-sexual in nature.
- Comfortable home: I need to feel secure in my home; I need to feel it is a place of peace and comfort. I *want* to be surrounded by items of beauty and quality; I *want* to be able to have at least adequate space for all my myriad hobbies.
The Action Plan
Now we come to the portion of the exercise with which people have the least amount of difficulty producing, if a harder time maintaining. In this stage, you’re going to list what you’re doing, not doing, and planning to do, to address the emotional needs that drive the life needs that direct you towards your priority need. (Are you seeing how this all starts to hang together now?)
You may have to go to a second sheet of paper somewhere around here; I often do.
Keeping your *emotional needs* firmly at the forefront of your mind, look at everything you have written in each column, and under that information, I want you to outline the definitive actions you are doing to meet those needs. Try to word things in the positive if you can; it helps clarify forward focus when we define plans by what we’re doing rather than what we’re NOT doing. For example, instead of saying “stop eating junk food”, say instead, “eat more balanced meals, more healthy snacks”. Working in the positive gives you actual goals to move towards; working in the negative declines only a small number of possible options for your actions, which leaves you with unclear goals and a harder time measuring congruency in meeting or moving towards your stated global and personal needs. Think positive!
Next, list the things you aren’t doing but WILL do to help meet that need. These are going to be the larger milestones on your roadmap, goals that may take some work to manage, but real, achievable things you can reach either immediately or with some degree of short- or long-term directed planning.
- Good Physical Health: a. rebuild spinal integrity as much as possible; b. rebuild general fitness level (aquafit/swimming, cycling); c. moderate food intake to reasonable portion sizes; d. reduce the carbs-content of that intake (not necessarily to Atkins-level, but down); e. eat more home-cooked meals and less fast food & junk.
- Good Mental Health: a. continue my own therapy; b. address/resolve known outstanding fears of feeling undervalued or minimized in my intimate relationships; c. continue to practice and evaluate and refine my risk assessment processes.
- Financial Stability: a. redo the monthly budgets and see how much money I actually have when all the bills and standard personal and professional expenses are paid each month; b. move investment portfolio to a better-managed, higher-yield program; c. determine whether I can safely increase monthly contributions to that portfolio base, or increase loan payments; d. create list of high-want items, and look at short- and long-term budget options for planned purchasing.
- Strong & Healthy Relationships: a. clarify relationship structures and expectations tied to those structures; b. re-evaluate and clarify any changes to the Relationship Framework & Needs; c. apply improved tools and techniques as developed via counselling, evaluate and tweak as needed; d. continue to evaluate and improve communications (especially where prioritized needs and wants are concerned); e. invest more time in discovering the things we enjoy doing together
- Comfortable Home: a. improve chore and general maintenance schedule; b. ask for more help when necessary; c. check the budget to see if hiring even occasional professional help is possible; d. rearrange space to make sure prioritized activities have priority access.
Evaluating Obstacle Risk
Now we’re getting to the closing sections of the roadmap.
You have now defined, or at least begun sketching in, your needs: global, life, personal. You’ve developed some milestones that set you on the path of meeting those identified needs, achievable goals that are not out of your reach (even if they may take some planning and effort to attain). But any pragmatic planning requires a degree of Risk Evaluation: you have to know what hurdles stand between you and your milestones, what dependencies you must factor in (either things you have to do in a specific order, or factors that may be beyond your control), and your contingency plan for managing your way over those hurdles. You’ll need to know which hurdles can be surpassed in the short term or with relatively minimal effort, and which ones require mini-roadmaps of their own to circumvent.
You can make separate lists of these as needed. I’m not going to go into too much detail here, because this is the stage where it becomes easy to become bogged down in the details, or dismayed by the hurdles. The purpose of this part of the roadmap is awareness, not obsession. You’re not documenting the known hurdles in order to throw them up as excuses to step off the roadmap and slide into despondency – to do so defeats the work and purpose of the roadmap exercise itself. This part of the roadmap simply lists the known challenges, like a topographical map might list mountains (take *THIS* pass through them), or rivers (detour to *THIS* shallow ford), or simply, “Here Be Dragons, avoid at all costs”.
And here we come to what should for all of us be the battle cry for this work: “Don’t let the fact that the work is hard become your excuse for not doing the work”.
I suspect most people won’t be able to pull a detailed roadmap together in one sitting, certainly not without some degree of mental stressing. It took me several sittings to write this post, with several revisions over the years since it first appeared, and now multiple attempts to prep it for this release—and the roadmap concept is one I’ve been actively working with now for *years*. I’ve had to go back rooting through some of the more introspective relationship-building posts I’ve written over the years to find places where I’ve already done some of the work, or explained some of the concepts. Trying to distill the process proved to be a hard exercise in and of itself, but it has proven to be a useful tool for myself and my clients over the years as we try to shape a frame of reference for their self-development.
When we ask question in session like, “What kind of person do you *WANT* to be?”, we have to know as much about the needs their answer is trying to address as we do about the obstacles they perceive getting in their way. Then we figure out what we need to do about the goals of meeting those needs and working around the obstacles. This roadmap is a good way of allowing people a means of thinking about those questions, then measuring their own progress along the route they’ve plotted.
Seven years in private practice as a CRPO-registered psychotherapist/marriage & family therapist, in south Kitchener (est. 2010; CRPO-registered 2015). I am also pleased to be part of the clinical team at Bliss Counselling in uptown Waterloo. I am always seeking counselling clients (individual, couple, or poly groups) at either location. I have extensive experience with non-traditional relationship structures and dynamics, and also an intimate understanding of the nature of Waterloo Region’s High Tech industry and the varied, often stressful impacts this field has on family, home, and relationships.
For more information, please see www.kgrierson.com