The Five Elements Model

Why can’t we all get along? The simple answer is that in spite of our physical similarities, we are behaviorally very different. This naturally leads to interactions that create sparks, both good and bad. Enter the Five Elements model, a model used in the Far East for over 3,000 years to explain both behavioral and relationship tendencies. It offers sage advice on how we can all get along better.

The Five Elements Model

Like any useable model, the Five Elements model takes a grandiose idea and reduces it to a simple design. At its core, the Five Elements model is associated with phases and interactions found in the natural world. The phases are represented by Water, Wood, Fire, Earth, and Metal. The interactions are seen in the two ways the elements relate to each other: the big circle and the big star in the model. The big circle is called the Nurturing Cycle and connects every element to the one next to it. The big star is called the Controlling Cycle and creates a connection between every other element. Connections move in a clockwise direction in both the circle and the star.

The relationship between elements on the Nurturing Cycle (the circle) is creative or nurturing; one element acts on another to build it, which reflects perfectly how these elements relate to each other in nature. Starting at the small blue circle in the bottom left, you can say that Water feeds Wood (trees need water to grow), Wood feeds Fire (fire needs wood to burn), Fire feeds Earth (the ash from a fire puts nutrients in the ground), Earth feeds Metal (material from the earth is used to create metals), and Metal feeds Water (minerals from organic metals enrich the water).

The relationship between elements on the Controlling Cycle (the star) is just what it says; one element acts on another to decrease it. This also reflects the way these elements relate to each other in nature. Starting at the blue circle in the bottom left, you can say that Water acts on Fire to put it out, Fire acts to melt Metal, Metal chops Wood, Wood anchors Earth (think of tree roots), and Earth dams Water.

The ancient Chinese believed that perfection rested in balance, so this model contains everything needed to maintain dynamic balance. If the Fire element has too little energy (it’s under-energized), Wood acts on Fire (via the big circle) in a nurturing way: Wood feeds Fire. If Fire is over-energized, Water acts on Fire (via the big star) in a controlling way: Water puts out Fire. Perfection!

The Five Elements and People

The whole point of the model is to describe how the elements relate to one another; at its core the model is completely about relationships. And because we are all born hard-wired with a natural affinity for one of these five elements, it turns out that the Five Elements model is excellent at explaining and understanding our relationships.

Think of our elemental affinity as a lens through which we view the world. It’s as though at birth we’re assigned to a secret club – so secret that no one tells us we belong – and we spend our life thinking, acting, and seeing the world as a member of this club. Our club membership affects everything in our lives: what makes us happy, what we hate, our physical problems, and especially our relationships. And because we all belong to one of these five clubs, we can use the dynamics of the model to predict the highs and improve the lows of all our connections.

For example, if Paula has an affinity for Water and her husband, Peter, has an affinity for Wood, their relationship will have an undercurrent of support. But if Paula’s daughter has an affinity for Fire, that daughter will likely feel slightly restricted by Paula, regardless of what Paula does or says. And knowing that this could happen helps Paula get along better with her daughter. Once we know our club affiliation, it’s possible to use the interaction dynamics inherent in the model (the Nurturing and Controlling Cycles) to predict the strengths and challenges for every interaction we have.

The Elements, The People, The Clubs



  • Introspective philosophers embracing theories and ideas
  • Eccentric loners inspired by the depth of life
  • Persistent, tenacious, and usually get their way
  • Little structure, go with the flow
  • Rarely attend parties, happiest alone
  • When balanced: hopeful, optimistic, trusting, objective
  • When stressed: fearful, depressed, hopeless, narcissistic
  • When really stressed: intolerant, cynical, sarcastic, paranoid
  • Loves: free time, deep discussions, reading
  • Hates: tight schedules, budgets, structure
  • Likely professions: authors, intellectuals, philosophers, artists
  • Primary focus: INNER LIFE
  • Favorite question: WHY?



  • Goal-directed visionaries creating the new
  • Assertive champions for the weak and downtrodden
  • Productive, decisive, and usually successful
  • Flexibly-structured, likes own rules
  • Willing to party for a purpose
  • When balanced: fair, bold, direct, decisive
  • When stressed: angry, frustrated, indecisive, impatient
  • When really stressed: driven, explosive, insensitive, confrontational
  • Loves: challenges, accomplishment, moving forward
  • Hates: dashed expectations, chaos, being told “No!”
  • Likely professions: executives, sports figures, elected officials, trial lawyers
  • Primary focus: the FUTURE
  • Favorite question: WHEN?



  • Inspirational performers transcending the ordinary
  • Charismatic people happy to meet and greet
  • Enthusiastic, outgoing, and usually dramatic
  • No structure, poor boundaries, hard to control
  • Willing to party and connect anytime
  • When balanced: happy, enthusiastic, ready for fun, passionate
  • When stressed: anxious, overwhelmed, scattered, indecisive
  • When really stressed: manic, hysterical, panicked, burned out
  • Loves: parties, attention, and being busy
  • Hates: boredom, ordinariness, and being ignored
  • Likely professions: actors, comedians, motivational speakers, public figures
  • Primary focus: the NOW
  • Favorite question: WHERE?



  • Nurturing caregivers offering support during change
  • Inclusive Earth Mothers embracing everyone
  • Loving, caring, and ready to help
  • Grounded structure, stable and steady
  • Will help with any party
  • When balanced: caring, compassionate, accepting, patient
  • When stressed: meddling, worried, guilty, over-compassionate
  • When really stressed: needy, obsessive, interfering, codependent
  • Loves: helping people, family, and home
  • Hates: conflict, people suffering, and not being needed
  • Likely professions: teachers, nurses, parents, counselors
  • Primary focus: PEOPLE
  • Favorite question: WHO?



  • Wise synthesizers distilling wisdom from the past
  • Honorable people who embrace process and protocol
  • Opinionated, forthright, and usually correct
  • Rigidly structured
  • Will pass on a party unless it’s for them
  • When balanced: kind, wise, honest, detached
  • When stressed: sad, critical, empty, controlling
  • When really stressed: harsh, self-righteous, inflexible, dismissive
  • Loves: understanding how things work, precision, and being right
  • Hates: being wrong, clutter, and time running out
  • Likely professions: architects, accountants, corporate lawyers, military
  • Primary focus: the PAST
  • Favorite question: HOW?

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