The Carpe Diem Diagram


I write and think a lot about carpe diem. In this time, I’ve noticed most people get stuck at the same points and go through similar setbacks when they’re trying to seize the day. It occurred to me that carpe diem is just a series of steps people pass through.

So in the spirit of Maslow’s hierarchy and Bloom’s taxonomy (no relation), I came up with a diagram explaining the key aspects of how carpe diem works. And I think when you look through the diagram yourself, you’ll realize, like most things, living life to the fullest is a process.

Explaining the Carpe Diem Diagram

I divided the diagram into four levels. These levels start with basic life necessities and move on to motivation and fear until it reaches the top level, carpe diem. The first three levels have to be overcome before you can actually move to the top. With this in mind, I want to proceed through each level to explain its significance.

Level 1 – Basic Life Necessities

There really isn’t a point in seizing the day if you don’t have a life to do it with. And that’s why this is the most basic level in the diagram. If you’re struggling to feed yourself or maintain a roof over your head, you have more pressing issues than carpe diem. These need to be met first before you can actually do anything else.

This also relates to money issues. If you have no money, you can’t take classes, travel, learn a new skill or a lot of other things. Only once these basic life necessities are taken care of can you move on to the next level.

Level 2 – Motivation

Just because someone is well-fed, has a place to stay and is financially secure doesn’t mean they automatically move to this level. In fact, many people are content to just to reach a comfortable stable lifestyle. They don’t have the motivation to break out of their comfort zone.

Someone has to be motivated to want to make the most out of their life. Of course, this doesn’t mean that someone just decides to “seize the day” in general. To be truly motivated, they need an idea to go with. This idea can be anything from starting up a business, living overseas or passionately pursuing their dreams.

When it comes to finding an idea for carpe diem, most people need a source of inspiration. Ideas generally don’t come out of nowhere so one of the most important aspects of anyone at this level is to look around and be active with the world. When someone is inspired by an idea to do something, their motivation comes naturally.

Level 3 – Fear

The next step beyond motivation is fear. Once you have your idea in place, you’ll often feel a strong negative response to it inside of yourself. The bigger the idea and the more it is outside your comfort zone, the bigger your fear for it will be.

Fear in this area takes many forms. It can come from negative self-beliefs such as when you tell yourself you “can’t do something” for some reason. Various other excuses such as “it’s not the right time” to do something are also found here.

Habits such as procrastination and laziness are also induced by fear. Similarly, just giving up can be caused by fear of failure or even fear of success. Basically, anything that stops you from doing what you want to do that doesn’t fall into the basic life necessities level is found here.

This is the area that stops most people from doing what they want. I think it’s not that people have dreams or goals in life, it is that they are too scared to take risks in getting there. It’s the last stage before carpe diem takes place because if you feel the fear, it means you’re close. After all, if you’re at the bottom of this diagram, you’re going to be too preoccupied with feeding yourself, not seizing the day.

Level 4 – Carpe Diem

Now that you’ve passed through all the other stages, carpe diem can begin. But getting here isn’t the end to the process. Any of the other lower rungs can still undermine this level. If you suddenly get into debt and risk losing your house, you probably won’t be thinking about things in this level. The same goes if you lose your motivation for it or fear turns up.

But for the most part, this is where you should aim for in life if you want it to be extraordinary. I think that some of the most interesting people I’ve known and read about have lived a large part of their life in this level.

An Example of the Diagram

To properly illustrate how this diagram works in real life, I’m going to use an example. Let’s say someone saved their money so they have enough to feed themselves and pay off all of their debt. Their basic necessities have all been taken care of.

Then they get inspiration from a movie to travel for a year around the world. They’re excited, but unsure about how to do it. Something inside of them is telling them they can’t do it. Their thoughts dwell on the negative outcomes of their travel plans.

Eventually, this person deals with their fears and goes ahead with the plan. They buy the plane ticket and make preparations to go. Unless their fear creeps back or the motivation from that movie dies down with time, this person will be doing something extraordinary.

I know the road to carpe diem can be difficult so I hope laying out the process like this can help some people make their lives better. Perhaps, I’ve shed some light on the path to living life to the fullest. Or maybe I’ve just pointed you in the right direction. Either way, you’re a little bit closer.

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  1. Thank you for mentioning money. I think some people try to just be so positive and encouraging, they seem to come across by saying that money doesn’t matter or that you shouldn’t use it as an excuse and let it hold you back. Sure, if you actually DO have the money but if I am only just paying my bills, from paycheck to paycheck, I literally CAN NOT jump on a plane to Europe. It’s not because of fear. It would be terribly irresponsible to go.

    • Money really is necessary for doing the things you want to do. I know some fun, amazing things are free, but if you’re really buried underneath debt it can occupy a lot of time and energy.

      • I think this is where persistency shows up. There are days when motivation doesn’t materialize in a tangible way. We need to be able to set aside the emotion of a given situation and be persistent. There are awesome things we can enjoy with money or without.

        Some life changing free things:running a marathon, reaching a physical goal (maybe benching 300 pounds), writing a book, singing in public (when sober!), joining a mastermind group,etc. The list goes on.
        It really depends how we look at it. Reason a solution out. Training for a marathon takes about as long (if not longer) than saving for a trip abroad. It all starts with the first step.

        Live it LOUD!

  2. I was stuck at basic necessities for many years and it is horrible because I really did not see a light at the end of the tunnel. However something came my way, one thing lead to another and I was able to move up to motivation, then fear and then Carpe Diem. It is a good way of describing it.

  3. Woo hoo on creating this diagram. I find the step where I’m most often stuck is the intersection of motivation and fear. I like the thought about procrastination being a symptom rather than a cause of fear.

  4. I think travelling makes you realise how lucky we are to even consider reaching carpe diem, which in a way makes me even more determined to reach it. Most people in the world are still striving for Basic Life Necessities. I’ve realised that having lots of money or having a nice house doesn’t make you happy, it makes you feel safe which is a kind of happiness but I wouldn’t call it Carpe Diem. It’s life experiences that make you happy. What better excuse to go travelling!? Interesting post.

    • That’s very true. Most people in the world are busy with basic life necessities. We should all feel lucky if we can reach the top level and really live life full.

  5. Steve,
    Very thoughtful approach to the idea of living life to the fullest. You make a great point that it’s a process, and you have to put certain parts of your life in order to pursue other goals.

    This is motivating me today!

  6. Steve,

    Thanks for this diagram and more importantly some amazing insight. This is the perfect model to mimic to prepare yourself to “seize the day.” So many times people jump to conclusions without appropriately listening to the question. You have given great steps to make sure we are prepared to reach our ultimate potential. Great post!

    • Thanks Frank, I tried to make the diagram pretty clear so people would know what step they’re on at any time. I certainly hope it gets people to reach their ultimate potential.

  7. I was in the carpe diem section but now I am in the fear section. I have many projects but I have to do things that I dislike in order to get there (eg: taking a long bus trip with freezing weather). Can anyone help me overcome this problem? It is the only obstacle I have. You help me change my life, I change yours.
    Good post


  1. […] Steve let go of perfect: “Once I realized this and let go of needing to be perfect, I’ve had more success in the things I’ve wanted to accomplish in life.” […]

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