How The Lifestyle Balance Pie Can Keep You and Your Students Motivated

As George Washington says in the musical Hamilton, “Dying is easy; living is harder.” 

As a newer student affairs professional and recent college graduate, I find this quote so relatable as I’m learning how to “adult” and face challenges with post-college depression, identity exploration, and goal evaluation. 

While there are many tools out there, I have found one extremely helpful in motivating myself and my students to meet many common challenges: The Lifestyle Balance Pie. 

What is it?

The Lifestyle Balance Pie is used by mental health professionals to help patients deal with multiple facets of life. Each pie piece has ten dash marks indicating a scale of one to ten.

a blank lifestyle balance pie

Participants start by picking eight areas to focus on. I recommend either choosing eight areas that interest you the most, or the ones you are the least familiar with. Both strategies create unique opportunities for self-reflection. 

Here are some areas that I find work particularly well with students:

  • personal growth
  • fun and recreation
  • physical environment
  • business and career
  • finances
  • health
  • family and friends
  • romance

After writing out the areas they’ll focus on, participants should then shade in the scale to represent how focused or satisfied they are within each area.

This activity is highly adaptable for many settings, student groups, and times of the year. I’ve found it especially powerful to facilitate at the beginning of the semester in order to emphasize the importance of setting goals.

While this tool is meant for honest self-evaluation and reflection,  participants may aim to rate themselves a 10 out of 10 in all areas. To avoid this, instruct participants of four ground rules:

1. Be honest. 

Participants should only consider their own feelings and experiences, instead of worrying about how other people may view their pies.

2. Trust your gut instincts.

The longer a participant thinks about a category, the more likely they’ll be to convince themselves that their lifestyle area is better or worse than it really is.

3. Don’t be afraid to ask for support.

Processing these categories may leave some participants feeling dissatisfied with their lives. When these feelings arise, student affairs professionals should advise participants to seek support — whether in the moment or after, through counseling services or a campus wellness center.

4. Have fun.

Looking at certain areas of one’s life should bring about feelings of accomplishment. Don’t be afraid to celebrate successes and accomplished goals!

Engaging students in this activity may be difficult, but it works best with lots of student interaction. 

To encourage honest conversations, connect the activity to something a student is passionate about. Not only will it create stronger conversations, but it’ll be more fun for you as a facilitator.

How To Customize It

I presented the Lifestyle Balance Pie as a tool during winter RA training. My co-facilitator, Morgan Moss, and I intertwined this activity with an artistic interest many students have: Hamilton

In addition to calling the activity  “Not Throwing Away My Shot,” the name of a Hamilton song, we related each lifestyle category to a song from the show, too. 

For example, when we discussed personal growth, Morgan and I played “Wait For It,” which focuses on Aaron Burr’s inability to seize opportunities throughout his life. The lyrics, along with the dramatic tones of the song, helped students reflect on how their personal growth may, or may not, be in the ideal place. (Here is the full song list worksheet and presentation if you would like to try it for yourself.)

Although some students were not familiar with Hamilton, they were still intrigued.

We also discussed how students can creatively apply this tool to other interests, such as sports teams, tv shows, film characters, career fields, musicians, and more. You can adapt the program to fit any interest.

But most importantly, consider the how. How does the creative theme speak to each lifestyle area? Without reflecting upon this first, students will not be able to appropriately analyze their lives and set goals.

How to Follow Up

As the facilitator, you should ask follow-up questions to help participants further process their conclusions. Here are some questions that work well:

  • What surprised you the most? Why?
  • How did you feel looking at the overall pie? 
  • What specific areas do you want to focus on from here?
  • How do these results relate to or ignore your current goals?
  • What new areas do you want to focus on?
  • Name one area with results you’re proud of. Why?
  • Discuss the area in which you feel could use the most work. How so? 

Note that participants may not want to discuss their feelings with facilitators or peers. But these questions can at least help them self-reflect and come to their own wise conclusions.

"I realized something today" gif

You can run this activity in less than an hour, but it may take way more time for students to process the ideas and emotions it brings up. Offering continued support is crucial. 

You may offer your personal support, but don’t do so if you lack the time or resources to follow through. You could also refer students to your campus wellness center, counseling services, a resident assistant, a professor, or another administrator. 

I also highly recommend helping students to conceptualize their goals through S.M.A.R.T goals, which pair beautifully with The Lifestyle Balance Pie. Encourage students to write down their goals and keep themselves accountable. 

In addition, when you meet with students in the future,  reflect back on this activity. It can help students evaluate their progress and lead to great conversations about accountability. It can also be a great way to keep students motivated. By showing you care about their goals, students will continue feeling invested in themselves, too. 
This tool is not only helpful for undergraduate students but for anyone. Comparing a recent grad’s new responses to their previous responses can help them set stronger goals for their financial wellness, health, relationships, and more.

Students will not be able to have the whole pie shaded in, but they can begin to reign in on their future goals and current ambitions. You can’t always eat every piece of the pie, but focusing on a few now can keep you hungry to eat other pieces later. 

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How have you utilized the Lifestyle Balance Pie? Is there a similar activity or tool you love? Let us know @HelloPresence.

Michael Greco

About the author: Michael Greco is an assistant resident director at Loyola University Chicago, where he is pursuing an MBA degree. He's passionate about student leadership development, mental health, and recruitment/training initiatives. Learn how we can help get your students involved.

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