Wednesday, November 30, 2011

My Week Without the 'Book - Life Graphs

I am a grapher. I love graphing different things in my life to help me understand what is going on and what I should do about it. Graphs are super cool because you can explain the relationship between any number of things in the blink of an eye. There's a depth of understanding that comes from a graph. You know what's happening now, what happened a minute ago, and you certainly know what will happen as time approaches infinity.

I want to write about something I've been thinking about that I'm calling life graphs. A life graph is a Radar Chart or Star Plot. The idea is pretty easy- you put five lines (or howev
er many you want, you know, like n) coming out from the center. Each line represents something important that you can assign a value to. I know for a fact that Dance Dance Revolution once used a radar chart called a "Groove Radar" to show you how difficult a song was. Pokemon (at least in one of the guides) used to show how good a pokemon was using radar charts. Following their good lead, let's think about humans instead of Polywraths.

Consider a life graph with 5 axes (that's axises for those of you from central and southern Utah...) that represent five important aspects of life- school, work, family, spiritual stuff, social stuff. Depending on how you rate yourself on those things, we can make a sweet radar graph. Check it out.

So our friend Pablo has got the social stuff down- but he's lacking in other categories. The life graph is fun for looking at strengths and weaknesses and opportunities for improvement.

One of the cool things about radar graphs is that their area does not increase linearly- it goes up as a square. A graph of [1,1, 1, 1, 1] has one quarter the area of a [2, 2, 2, 2, 2] graph. Moral of the story? If we take total graph area to represent satisfaction with life, a small improvement in one area can lead to a disproportionately large increase in area and happiness. Theoretically, of course.

An important thing to note is that these axes (axises...) are completely arbitrary. This is just an idea, so we could toss any ridiculous axes in there we want. We could have a 7-spoked graph or a 12-spoked graph. I suppose that deep down, as humans, we have certain things that are truly important to us, whether we recognize it or not. Perhaps there is an official life graph inside of us that we don't fully recognize. Maybe we should find out what its axes are.

An important thing to note is that the relative values on the axes are not necessarily weighted the same between different axes. A score of 20 on my "Starcraft II l33t skillz" axis probably isn't worth as much as a 20 on my "school" axis. Visually, this means that each one unit in my SCII axis doesn't move me as far away from the origin as every one unit does in my school axis.

I've been feeling lately that life is about balance. Our life graphs are constantly fluctuating. A month and a half ago my school axis was dominating and my social axis was pretty shallow. These days my social axis is doing much better- but possibly at the expense of school. I find that it is very difficult to dominate at all things at once. In the words of a wiser man, life exists in both abundance and scarcity at the same time. My goal right now is to balance and therefore increase area.

Spencer had a great application. He suggested a "wife graph" instead of a "life graph". The current idea is a 4-spoked graph that quickly evaluates any marriage candidate based on our ridiculous ideas. We think it'd be nice if these graphs were displayed automatically when girls walked into the room. Maybe we'll program an app for that...

Consider the following examples:

"Maria" (a fictional character) is lacking a brain- which is a total shame. See, aren't graphs fun?

Girl Y (also fictional) has balance. See, I told you graphs were fun.

We could go on and on, but we probably shouldn't. What is the moral of the story? Why have you read this far? Because graphs are cool and can be used to understand ourselves and others. I understand that this is a complete oversimplification of the whole system, but it is the idea that counts. These things are not that stable.

Here's the optional homework for willing candidates.

1) Make your own life graph. Figure out how many axes you want, figure out what you want those axes to be, and then evaluate yourself on them. I've had fun evaluating things between 0 and 6, but you can use whatever scale you want. After you do that, take a look at what you want to work on and make a goal to do so. Balance is important, but remember that that doesn't mean backing down on your high scores- it just means bringing your low scores up. A change from a 2 to a 3 is pretty significant. This brings up some significant questions that we can address. What are the axes that are important to me? What is truly going to give me satisfaction with life? Where are am I doing well? Where do I need to improve? What do I need to do to improve in that area? A quote from the guys I don't know talking in my living room right now: "I'd rather be decent at socializing than fantastic at hoops" (I'm assuming he's referring to basketball). I know people that would disagree. We define our own graphs here based on our priorities.

2) Make your ideal wife graph (or dude graph, you know, if that's what you're into). Here's the only catch: You get as many axes as you want (which you can define yourselves) and you only get to use 50% of the available points. So, if you label each axis from zero to six and have four axes there would be a total of 24 points available. In that case you only get to use 12. The reason? Priorities :) One trillion bonus points to anyone who wants to share their graphs- whether anonymous or publicly.

Thanks for reading this post that has been altogether too long and way different than normal. I love the idea of the life graph, and have had a blast explaining it to my roommates using our whiteboard as a fridge today. Just imagine this post except a million times shorter and with moving dynamic pictures instead of jpgs. Yeah, it was that good. I hope you're all doing well. Have a great night!


Valerie said...

I had to do something like that in a class one time, except we had to do cirlce graphs instead of radar charts. Once we did that, it was kind of easy to see where I was spending the most of my time, and where I was slacking off. It was definitely interesting.

Sylvia said...

For the record, your latter life graphs (with categories spiritual, physical, social, brain) lack parellelism, and that should reflect in your life graph.