Draw four circles: an exercise that could change your life

I look to my left. He’s asleep. And he must be dreaming because his mouth is twitching and he’s making funny noises. Later we’ll go out for a walk. I’ll chuck a ball and give him a treat.

Our pets have it easy.

I started John Gray’s The Soul of the Marionette yesterday. He starts off by describing a difference between animals and humans: We have self-awareness. Animals do not.

This peculiar ability of ours often leads us to grapple with the question, “how should I live?”

Another question we ask ourselves—with increasing frequency now that we live in a more open and boundless society—is “what should I do?”

It’s a question that comes up in personal relationships as well as our professional lives. Billions are generated from books and courses and seminars that attempt to answer that question.

Last year I listened to a conversation between Tim Ferriss, author, entrepreneur and investor, and Kevin Kelly, a man with many diverse talents. They were discussing why you don’t want to be a billionaire and what Kevin Kelly learned from doing a “6-months until death” challenge.

The synthesis of those two topics birthed a powerful concept.

Draw two intersecting circles. Within one is the question, “what would I do if I had a billion pounds?” Within the other is the question, “what would I do if I only had six months to live?” The intersection between those two circles is what you should do.

This exercise cuts through the trivialities, the non-essential and the unimportant that we spend most of our life paying homage too. It helps.

But we can also make this exercise more specific and more applicable. Let’s add a few things.​

Draw a third circle. This one asks the question, “what am I good at?” It represents your current strengths, or if you’re a blank slate, what you’re willing to get good at in the near future.

We can add something more.

Draw a fourth circle. This one asks, “what does the world need?” The key word here is “need.”

There’s one more thing to add. And it’s not a circle. It’s an objective. Above your four intersecting circles, write this:

“Aim: maximum benefit for the largest amount of people”

Next time you find yourself at a junction in your life, torn between this path and that, try this exercise. It will help you re-calculate your course, figure out your priorities and make a decision.

Next time you ask yourself, “what should I do?”, draw four circles.