Have you ever made a really lousy decision, one where you ask yourself, “How in the world could I have done that?” I still mess up, but I owe part of my personal growth to an exercise I’ve used for over 20 years. I think of myself as a house.

 Using a box of crayons I have stuck in an old box in my bottom drawer, I doodle the house that is me. I think about what kind of house I am today – what color and what shape. Imagination, reflection and observation are all a part of personal change.

 On one sheet of paper, I draw in my windows and doors, my yard and my roof. Since I’m not showing this house to anyone, I give myself permission to go a little crazy.

 First, I consider the exterior of my house. A realtor might call it my “curb appeal.” If a total stranger were to walk by, what would he or she first notice? What about family members and friends who know me well? What do they see? I combine words, pictures and colors to represent what I feel I’m showing on my outside.

 Like all buildings, my house has a foundation on which everything has been constructed. These foundational blocks cannot be changed, but there is power in recognizing how they buttress the rest of my structure. I was born the fourth of four children in a small Iowa town. My skin is white. I have brown eyes and pretty average physical dimensions. I am not overly bright, nor dull. I developed an early stutter. I was raised Catholic. I had an inner imagination that took me to scary places. I acquired gumption from my mother.

 On another page, I draw the different rooms of my house. This is how I structure the important aspects of my life. I generally have seven to 10 rooms, which include my wife, my work, my friends, my health and my finances. Generally, as I work on my house, a few temporary rooms pop up that may include a certain fear, a major problem or a big decision I have been putting off.

 This focusing step allows me to enter one specific room calling out for my attention. I sketch this room on a separate sheet of paper. I make a list of the people and things involved with it. I think of how the room has changed over the months or years, and how it attaches to my other rooms. I ask myself how comfortable I am in the room and if I take responsibility for its current state. Finally, I write a little dialogue about the room as if I’m talking to someone I trust, admire or love. Often they talk back to me. I draw and color the room as it is now and, often, I draw another picture of what I’d like the room to look like in the future.

 When all is said and done, I look over my house and can recognize its history, its order and what I can begin to work on changing. I actually have developed this exercise into a workshop I’ve conducted with other professionals and individuals going through a major life experience.

 My house metaphor is just one way to structure self-evaluation and decision-making. It helps me stay away from making those really lousy decisions, and it keeps me from getting rid of my crayons.