Simplifying Life

To say life was complicated would be an understatement. It’s a hugely rich web of connections, activities, locations, relationships, responsibilities and countless other stuff.  It’s more than complicated.

If you want to change something in your life it can rightly seem a huge task. Knowing where to start can be difficult. Often, this leads people to think about change in huge chunks:

“I need to quit my Job”

“I’m going to move to Australia”

“I’m going to start my own business”

These can be great changes to make, and this “big bang” approach works for some people.

But for others, possibly the majority, this kind of wholesale change doesn’t work for two major reasons

1 – The change is so big to contemplate, it never actually gets made.

How many people do you know that say they’re going to do one of those things, but never quite make it.  They dream big, but acting on that dream is too scary.

2 – The change gets made, but it wasn’t thought through.

The same old problems are there in your new job. You land in Australia and find you still hate working in an office. You have a business now, but you still have a boss, only this time its you and you’re very demanding to work for.

So what should we do?  There’s still a lot of people out there who aren’t happy with their current lot and want to make a change – how can they make sure not fall foul of one of these pitfalls?

What if the answer lies in simplifying life.  Not in the sense that the minimalists would have you live with only 100 things, but breaking it down into a simple model, which we can use to work out what’s going on, and what needs to be changed.

What if we could model life using this diagram?

Life Model


Life has a finite amount of time, represented by the box.  Everyone’s day has 24 hours, and no one is immortal. The box is24 hours deep by a lifetime long. Although the choices you make in the box can have an impact on how many sets of 24 hours you get to experience, there will be an end somewhere.

Within that box of time, you get to choose.  Life is made up of What you choose to do, With Whom, and Where. (The 4Ws).

Success is to choose the combination of these that make you happiest.

This is a very simple way of modelling something infinitely complicated, but those really are the basic choices you get to make. We’re far better at making choices when are options are simple, so bear with me.

The Fuel

At the top of the model is the “fuel”. This is about making things sustainable, letting you carry on doing your 4Ws for as long as possible.

Taking money first, you need to have enough money to meet your basic needs, and allow you to continue with your 4Ws. If your 4Ws don’t generate enough money, you’ll have to change them at some point, thus they’re not sustainable.

The other fuels are equally simple. You need to be in good health mentally and physically. This doesn’t mean you need six pack abs and a PhD, it means that you need to be healthy enough to keep going for a good innings and happy enough to enjoy things.

If you have a job you love, but you sit at a desk and eat junk food all day and don’t exercise, then you’ll probably not continue to enjoy your 4Ws as long as you might like.

If you make a huge salary and hit the gym every day, but you’re not fulfilled and die a little inside when you cross the office threshold every day, there’s a good chance it’s not sustainable, and you’ll miss the point of life as it goes by.

The Footprint

The “footprint” is the output of your life.  It’s what you leave behind, not just after you’re gone, but in the hands and minds of other people in the present. It’s split into positive legacy, and negative residue.

A legacy could be a great work of art you created, a school or company you built, the way you brought up your children, or even just the kind words you said to someone.

Conversely, residues are negative environmental impact or harm done to other people – anything negative that you leave behind.

Understanding your footprint can have a profound effect on how you feel about your life, and so can have an effect on the mental part of the fuel.

The one thing I’ve deliberately left out of the picture is “stuff” – physical things that you collect through life. Whether stuff makes us happy, and indeed whether it should, is a debate for another time, but or the purpose of the model, lets assume that you accumulate the right stuff to support your 4Ws, and don’t look upon stuff as a means to an end.  Things are easier that way!

OK. that’s it then, life all summed up into a thousand words and a scrappy drawing. But why?

I thought about this model to help me take a simpler more objective view on life. If it’s interesting or helpful for you, then brilliant. If this model doesn’t work for you, then no problem – what would your model look like?

The point of this post is not just about modelling your life though. If we can create a simple model for something as complex as our lives, what other models could you create to help you solve problems? They might seem complicated, but they’re trivial compared to life itself right?


  1. Thaddaeus Moody

    Good stuff Rob. I seem to be a Big Bang approach guy but I can see the benefits of smaller steps. With all of the long term goals I have set for myself I should probably start testing that method. When I make those big changes it seems like I wait and wait for the “right moment” instead of realizing that every moment is the right moment I the change is small enough.


    • Thaddaeus Moody

      I guess i wasn’t done. I really like your model as well. When I really thought about it, your framework allows a quick analysis of where I am right now and where I want to go without fumbling through all of the details. Nicely done.

      • Thanks Thad, glad it works for you, helps me to think clearly about what’s going on. By the way I don’t see any issue with a big bang change if it works for you, but I know I sometimes struggle with something looking too big for one go.

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