The 7 levels of living - Spiral dynamics

First created by Don Beck and Chris Cowen, the descriptions of each level are not seeking to label or define an individual, instead they are a useful framework for understanding where you currently are and where you'd like to be. 

Every level is an important and healthy part of developing as a human, yet the longer you stay there without growing, the more hazardous it becomes. You can't skip levels and you can't move on until you've learnt the lessons of that level. It is possible to be living on one level in a certain area of life and a different level in another area. The description below will help you get an overall feel for where you are at. It will also help you to see if it is time for you to leave the safety of your current level and enlarge your capacity as a human being. 



Level 1 - Survival

Relationship with money: 

  • I have no idea where my next dollar is coming from.
  • I’m in serious trouble financially.
  • I’m really struggling and living off the bare minimum.

Relationship with work:

  • I’ve been unemployed for a long time.
  • I’m in and out of work all the time.
  • I really struggle to keep any long term job.

Relationship with others:

  • I am lonely and isolated.
  • No one even cares about me or understands what I'm going through. 

Relationship with self: 

  • I feel completely lost.
  • I have no idea who I am or what I'm doing. 
  • My head is a mess


- Crisis, chaos and danger

- In need of immediate assistance

- Cannot survive alone



You need to find good people who you can trust – fast. A church, community/support group, mens shed, friends and or family. Allow them to help you get back on your feet, but be careful to become so dependent that you stay there forever. 


Relationship with money: 

  • Almost all my money needs are taken care of by my family or friends.
  • The people in my world look after me.
  • I can share or borrow from others if I'm in need. 

Relationship with work: 

  • I do basic work that only requires me to follow a clear set of instructions.
  • I’ve always worked in the family business or done the jobs others want me to do.

Relationship with others: 

  • My decisions are based on what others tell me to do or what they think is best for me.
  • There are strong people in my world who control my life and there is a clear set of rules that govern most of my daily decisions.
  • I feel very connected to a close knit community. We share almost everything in common.

Relationship with self: 

  • For the most part I'm happy to go with the flow.
  • I'm not really sure what I want or who I am apart from the tribe I live with.
  • I rarely stop and ask many questions, if it works for others who I trust, that's good enough for me. 


- Emphasis on shared culture, traditions and beliefs

- Easy to blend in

- Safety in numbers

- There are a lot of things you do simply because they are time honoured traditions

-People like things the way they've always been. If it ain't broke...don't fix it


Being part of the tribe is a very happy and safe season of life. In fact when it is all working well, it is hard to imagine how life could ever improve. The challenge of living on this level is that you are not rewarded for your individuality or independent thought. It is not the place for questioning what or why. Inevitably, you will run into trouble when you have thoughts or ideas that are not in line with how the tribe operates. If you pursue them, it will take you in to level 3 rebellion. If you squash them in order to keep the peace, you remain very small and immature in life.  





If you want to keep growing as a person, eventually you will need to step away from the tribe and work out how to make your own decisions. This could be one of the hardest steps you’ll ever take, and you may be persecuted and ostracised, but take heart because everyone who has achieved anything in life has walked this same road before you. Take some risks, be prepared to speak up and step out. Just like the baby bird learning to fly, at some point you've got to leave the comfort and safety of the nest otherwise your wings will never work. 


Relationship with money: 

  • I don't need money to do what I want to do. 
  • I won't be controlled by it. 
  • Money is an evil part of the system. 
  • It would be great if we didn't need money at all.

Relationship with work: 

  •  I avoid working for the man wherever possible. 
  • Sometimes it is a necessary evil to put food on the table. 
  • I'm happiest doing work that I can do on my own with little direct supervision. 

Relationship with others: 

  • I don't trust others and prefer to be as independent and self sufficient as possible.
  • Most people are controlled by the corrupt system run by rich greedy politicians and multinational companies.
  • I have a small group of friends who understand me and are at a similar stage in life. 

Relationship with self: 

  • I battle many demons.
  • There is a large amount of pain inside I have no idea what to do with.
  • I suppress my emotions through self medication and substance abuse.
  • I'm angry and depressed a lot of the time.
  • On my best day I feel carefree and full of adventure. On my worst day I feel completely lost and hopeless. 


- Emphasis on independence

- Standing against something you don't like

- Pushing the boundaries and testing the limits of what you can get away with

- Experimentation 

- Casting off all rules


Rebellion is a vital stage of human development that allows us to move from dependence to independence on our journey toward maturity. It also helps us overcome the fear of what others think about us or needing others permission to do what we want to do.  It helps us to explore what we believe is right or wrong, good or bad for ourselves rather than being told what to do. 

The challenge is that it is very unsustainable to remain here for long. The rebel thinks that they will change the world, but instead they just make mess. The rebel who stays independent too long becomes paranoid, bitter and isolated. Their growth into adulthood is stunted and their passions and talents are made redundant. It turns out that we function best as part of communities and teams. 



If you want to grow as a human, it’s time to suck it up, build bridges back to the real world, restore relationships, apologise, settle down, stop fighting and deal with the anger. Most people are good and can be trusted. It is time to find people you can work along side and learn to trust. To progress to the next level you will need to learn how to humble yourself and be a student of those who have gone before you.  


Relationship with money:  

  • I work for a pay check. I can earn a bonus if I do really well. 
  • I have a clear savings and retirement plan.
  • Even though I’m in debt to my eyeballs, if I work hard for the next 20-30 years I’ll be able to have enough so that I can retire comfortably.

Relationship with work: 

  •  I work hard 9-5 every day serving someone else's vision. 
  • My hard work makes someone else rich. 
  • I'm good at what I do, but my job doesn't require the best of me. 
  • There are opportunities to grow within the company and climb the ladder, but only to a point.
  • I have to go to work each day to afford the lifestyle I'm signed up to.

Relationship with others:

  • I fit in well and play my role as a responsible adult.
  • There is a fair measure of obligation that drives my daily decisions, but that's just life. 

Relationship with self:

  •  On my best day I feel that I'm making progress towards my financial or retirement goals,  and ticking all the right boxes, yet on my worst day I feel like I've sold my soul to the system and I'm a caged animal slowly dying.
  • The longer I stay here the more unhappy I become.
  • It is better not to ask too many questions or explore the hidden areas of pain. Just suck it up and get on with life. It's not like I've really got any other choice. 


- Emphasis on comfort and security

- Willingness to play by the rules to get ahead. 

- Compromise, juggling, balance, sacrifice

- Rules, taxes, responsibility, work, savings, retirement plan 

- You don't love it but it's just the way life works

- In exchange for giving up individuality and control, you get comfort and safety


While it is crucial and healthy to live in level 4 for a season, the aim is to learn the lessons so that you are able to continue growing as a person. Entering level 4 in your early twenties is quite an achievement, yet if you are still here at 40, it is likely that you are now stuck in the system. It may have been a big step for you to land your current job, relationship, etc, but that was 15 years ago.  Now, you often feel stale and stagnant. The dream inside you is dying. If you stay here too long it will kill you. In fact, the only way you can stay on level 4 long term is by lying to yourself. - which ultimately leads to trauma.    Here are 15 checks to see if your lying to yourself.



If you know that you've been living on level 4 too long and now it is killing you, it's time to face up to your deepest fear. 

The biggest thing holding you in the level of the system is the lie that you are weaker than you think. You need to face that fear. Who are you? Are you enough? Do you have what it takes to go out on your own, not as a rebel, but as a person following their dream, passion and heart's desire.

To grow beyond the safety of level 4 into the relative unknown of level 5, really requires a significant shift in your personal development journey. The level 5 entrepreneurial journey is all about bringing your uniqueness to the market place. For that to happen successfully you need to find yourself. From there, the key is to develop confidence and skills side by side so that you are able to create something valuable and back yourself to deliver it well.  

If you desire to make a meaningful contribution in life, you must continue to grow through level 5 and onto level 6. Otherwise you will always be limited by small mindedness and a lack of resources. 

Level 5 directly confronts both of these limitations. 


Relationship with money:

  • I've moved beyond simply exchanging time for money
  • My money works for me. I’ve created passive income streams that continue to generate money for me even while I’m asleep. 
  • Now I can make my money work for me and there is no limit to what I can earn. 

Relationship with work: 

  • I'm my own boss. I've created my own job. 
  • I can operate as a freelancer or consultant on my own terms
  • I employ others to make my business succeed and outsource tasks that are not good use of my time

Relationship with others:

  •  I see others as either useful to help me achieve my goals or standing in my way. The path of an entrepreneur can also be incredibly lonely and isolated. 

Relationship with self: 

  • For the most part I see myself as happy and successful, yet I'm driven to prove that I can make this work and to make myself feel even better by having and doing more! I'm willing to take 100% responsibility for my life and my results. I know if I don't make it happen, no one else is going to do it for me. 
  • On my best day I feel like I am invincible and there are no limits on what I'm capable of. On my worst day I am wracked with self doubt, limiting beliefs about whether I've got what it takes to make this thing work. 


- Emphasis on innovation, creativity and pioneering

- Confidence, back yourself, chase the dream

- Finding your voice, speaking your message, discovering your gift

- Abundance, opportunity, possibility

- Bending the rules to suit

- Finding freedom to pursue your passion  

- Stress, anxiety, pressure



You’ve done the hard work of stepping out on your own, but there is still plenty to prove and plenty to defend. If you stay in this level too long you will start holding people back beneath you. There are many level 5 entrepreneurs who are solely focused on building profit and status and will stop at nothing to achieve this. Employees become commodities and everything becomes intensely personal. Those who don't grow beyond level 5 can become greedy, selfish, proud, lonely, and controlling. They are hard to get along with and life is all about them. 


To transition from level 5 into level 6 will require you to confront and overcome the ego. The key to go beyond this level is to shift the focus from building your own empire to genuinely serving others. The process of breaking the attachment between your personal significance and your own business is essential to grow to the level of contribution. It is some of the most confronting and deep personal development work a person can do. Not many people grow beyond level 5 because of how difficult this transition is, yet when a person has overcome their ego, the contribution they are then able to make is truly extraordinary. 


Relationship with money:

  • I have far more money than I require for my own needs. I can do whatever I want and not put myself in financial trouble.
  • My money is directed towards philanthropic work solving the worlds biggest problems of inequality and injustice. 

Relationship with work: 

  • I work purely for enjoyment and to serve as many people as possible
  • I'm very selective about what new projects I agree to. 

Relationship with others:

  •  I see myself as part of the global village. My aim is not to gain status or fame for myself, but to give back and add value to others. 

Relationship with self: 

  • My whole life has been about becoming the best version of myself. I  am still 100% committed to this journey of self discovery. Even though there is still plenty more growth to come, I'm incredibly comfortable in my own skin and almost everything I do is aligned with my highest values and purpose. 


- Emphasis on the global community 

- Giving back, making a difference on as big a scale as possible. 

- High level of self mastery



The key learning to move beyond this level of living is about stepping up into ultimate purpose and capacity, discovering that your greatest ability to serve others lies in giving extraordinary leadership.










Those who make it to this level have transcended level 6 by making such a significant contribution. Examples may be: Mother Theresa, Oprah, Bono or Nelson Mandela. The focus now turns to leadership and modelling a way that inspires millions of people to live differently.

Jaemin FrazerComment