How Drawing Stick Figures Can Help You Make Major Life Decisions

Psychotherapist Satya Doyle Byock developed a 15-minute-long exercise that consists of drawing two stick figures to help individuals set tangible goals for their future.

By Jennifer Hollohan | Published

stick figures

If you are feeling stressed or torn about your future, it may be time to tap into your inner child. Consider diving into a new-ish exercise in which you draw stick figures to help you figure out your next move. The good news is that this trick is fun and can also help you set tangible goals.

It comes from a book called Quarterlife: The Search for Self in Early Adulthood by Satya Doyle Byock, a psychotherapist. The term “quarterlife” refers to the period between midlife and adolescence. But don’t worry; her technique works for people of all ages.

Byock developed a quick, 15-minute exercise called “My Two Conflicting Selves.” Its purpose is to help anyone who feels torn between two worlds. Byock refers to this as a person’s “stability” side and “meaning” side. 

And it’s simple. You start by folding some paper in half and drawing two stick figures, one on each side. If you are anything like me, the simplicity of it is good news.

Then you assign a name to each stick figure. Keep it simple, or feel free to get adventurous. After all, these are your imaginary stick figures.

Once you’ve got your stick figures drawn and named, it’s time to give them some personality. Right down, or draw, different traits you ascribe to each side. Remember, one represents “stability,” and one is where “meaning” is found.

But, as this isn’t necessarily the easiest task in the world, Byock offers some starter questions. According to NPR, “You may also find that you have the same response for both versions of you, or something radically different, and that’s OK. Either way, she says, answer as honestly as possible with the true desires of each side of your personality in mind.”

The questions can include (but are not limited to), “what are your hobbies,” “what job do you have,” “what kind of clothes do you wear,” and “where do you live?” However, you also want to include some slightly deeper questions. Consider “do you have/want kids,” what is your relationship status,” and “do you have a religion or spiritual practice?”

Now it is time to take stock of both sides. Where are your stick figures similar, and where do they differ? It isn’t necessarily bad news if one side is more dominant than the other.

Instead, this gives you a solid jumping-off point to evaluate your life, hopes, and dreams. Ask yourself what the ideal balance looks like. “Then figure out how to achieve that balance of desires in your life, says Byock.”

Feel free to post your stick figures somewhere visible as a reminder of your goals. You can refer to it as often as you need. And you don’t have to feel at a crossroads to do so.

However, any time you feel stuck or torn between multiple paths, it wouldn’t hurt to repeat the exercise. Often what we need isn’t clarity, per se. But we do need to get out of our own heads, so we can clearly think through our problems and find a solution.