When Pia Webb lost her first child at birth, it inspired her to think about the fragility and meaning of life. The doctors, it was later discovered, mistook her heartbeat for that of the baby, who died of oxygen starvation before anyone could realize a tragedy was transpiring.
The hospital changed its routines to ensure such a mistake never happened again, but Ms. Webb, a Swedish native who has bounced between that country and Britain, kept asking herself questions like: Why do we live? What is quality of life? And, as someone with an entrepreneurial spirit, she also wondered whether she could devote herself to building a company that could help people struggling with their own quality of life.
She realized she could, and so began a business and a model for improving your quality of life, which revolves around a diagram of a wheel that divides your life into six elements: Time, passion, health, environment, people and driving force.
To use it, you might draw separate wheels for your personal life and your professional life. Then, on a scale of one to 10, rate how comfortable you are with the six elements personally and professionally, shading in the wheel so you can see at a glance what seems reasonable and where you are falling short:
Most of her clients feel they aren't spending their time well, and rate themselves at a two or three. She suggests writing down three parts of your life where you wish you could spend more time. Then figure out how you could improve. Don't spend enough time with your family? Vow to leave work on time today. Not enough me time? Commit to spending two hours a week recharging your batteries.
"Do you have hobbies and a chance to enjoy them? Is passion part of your personal life or is there no passion as your life is work, work, work?" she asked in an interview. What do you enjoy doing? When do you feel you are at your best – moments when the time just flies by? She suggests writing down three examples of passions you have, or had as a child, that you spend little or no time on. Then consider how to regain those inspiring moments.
Do you eat well, exercise regularly and sleep sufficiently? She is particularly vigilant on food, having cured herself of some health issues by becoming gluten- and dairy-free. "You are what you eat. It has a major effect on your life," she insists. Again, score yourself and look for some steps to improve. Eating too much fast food? Perhaps commit to a home-cooked meal on Sunday night. Not enough sleep? Commit to a more sensible time of going to bed this evening – and to shutting off your mobile device, computer and television 90 minutes earlier, so you can slow down.
When you come home or go to work, you want to feel you're in the right place. After living in Britain, she moved back to Sweden a few years ago, to a lovely rural home with wild animals nearby and an enviable lifestyle. "But my body told me that I had to move back to the U.K. I was losing the energy I felt in England." But settling in the Manchester area she found herself in a home with mould and even after moving, the damp weather never allowed her to feel well, to the point the family is returning to Sweden. For other people, it's the office environment that fails them, and needs to be reassessed.
Are you surrounded by people you like who give you energy? Perhaps you have lost touch with a good friend, and need to pick up the phone and reignite that relationship. Perhaps you can't speak your mind to your spouse, and have to address that openly. With her clients, this often can lead to vital discussions and a reassessment of their relationship – in one case, a very liberating divorce for a man with an overcontrolling wife. "If you speak your mind, it will be a relief to both parties," she said.
You need to understand the strengths that motivate you. "When we are allowed to use our positive forces to move forward, a natural feeling of well-being and satisfaction comes over us. How different would the world be if we all used our positive driving forces every day?" she asks in her new book, Improve Your Own Quality of Life the Swedish Way.
But tackle the wheel with lagom, a Swedish word that means "just the right amount." She urges you to aim to be moderately satisfied in these six aspects of your life, rather than seeking perfection. "You might collapse if you seek 100 per cent on everything," she warned in the interview.
Her final piece of advice: Dare to put yourself first. Often we are afraid to do so. But it's your life – your wheel – and you need to gain better balance for yourself, which in turn she argues will help others as you become a positive role model.
Harvey Schachter is a Battersea, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online work-life column Balance. E-mail Harvey Schachter