We are human BEings, not human DOings.

In the past two weeks, I have heard or read this saying, so popular among personal development professionals, no fewer than five times. Do you think the universe is trying to tell me something? I don’t know, but the repetition certainly made me pause, put down my eternal to-do list, and think.

This time of year, it’s easier than usual to get caught up in doing. Whatever your beliefs, the holiday season is a busy time. There are family gatherings, dinners with colleagues and clients, end-of-year parties with hobby groups and friends, and school shows and fetes, not to mention all the associated buying, wrapping, baking, cooking and decorating that we consider absolutely necessary to the festive fun. Add to that the pressure to complete work projects before taking time off, or use up budget before the end of the calendar year, plus any administration that has to be performed at year end… Yes, December is a month where DOING really does top the agenda for many of us.

It’s rather odd, when I think about it. Christmas, the festival I celebrate at this time of year, is really all about being and feeling rather than doing. The seasonal songs speak of “comfort and joy”, feeling merry, light and bright, and – my favourite, ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’, tells us explicitly that the greatest gift we can offer another person is that of love, giving our heart. The messages are all about who we are and how we behave towards each other, yet the actions we undertake are too often quite divorced from seasonal notions of cheer, hope and peace to all men.

So, this festive season, whatever you will be celebrating, I offer you these very practical and immediately applicable ideas for stepping out of (or at least turning down) DOING mode and putting a bit more BEING into your personal and professional life.

  1. Make a morning to-be list

Most of us have some kind of to-do list that is constantly being elongated, then shortened, then re-elongated. Some of us even extend to creating a daily to-do list at the start of the morning. A few of us (yep, me) even add one thing they’ve already done that day in order to have something to cross off straight away and feel smug about. But what about your to-be list? If your to-do list is your destination, what comes up when you think about how you want to travel?

Why not, alongside your to-do list (or indeed instead of, for the really brave of heart), make a morning to-be list, noting down HOW you want to feel, behave, and generally move through the day? It might say: gentle, methodical, calm, peaceful. Or perhaps: energetic, loving, enthusiastic. Or maybe: courageous, joyful, patient. At work, the to-be list might read: “be an approachable manager”. Or it might just say “today I choose to be flexible”. Write these things down to make them feel as much of a commitment to yourself as your list of tasks. Then, keep the to-be list in mind as you move through your day, letting them steer your reactions and choices.

  1. Make an end-of-day “I was” list

To bookend my previous suggestion, try taking a moment at the end of each day to think about who you were today and how you felt. Think about how you behaved, the choices you made, and the reactions you had all day and consider how you felt and how you were. You can even start from what you did to get to what you were. I spoke up about my doubts about our new marketing strategy in the team meeting: I was courageous today. I explained to my child why she couldn’t have sweets after dinner instead of just saying no: I was a calm and patient parent today. I ate salad for lunch: I was healthy and self-caring today. Thinking about your day in this way helps you remember that your worth does not reside in what you do but who you are and how you choose to be. This exercise gives you an opportunity to celebrate a different kind of achievement.

  1. Consider your to-be when making to-do decisions

Knowing how you want to be and feel (today or in life more generally) can really help when you have decisions to make, especially when you‘re having to choose between several – often conflicting – options. A simple example: when faced with the choice between going for a lunchtime run, working through and getting home early, or eating out with a colleague, your to-be list can help you decide. Going for a run makes me a healthy person, and I’ll feel disciplined; eating with my colleague makes me sociable, and I’ll feel connected. You can apply the same process in the professional realm. A team member regularly misses deadlines: how do I want to feel about the way I deal with this? What kind of person do I want to be? Let the answers to those questions steer your next move. By considering how you want to feel and who you want to be, you make sure that your BE is driving your DO, which will create greater alignment with your wider purpose and aims.

  1. Offer be-based recognition

So often in life, especially in the workplace, we receive recognition – that is to say positive feedback – for what we have done, the things we have achieved. While it’s good to get compliments on a brilliantly delivered presentation, a well handled negotiation or excellent quarterly sales, they don’t quite feed the soul the same way as a “You are” compliment. A compliment about who we are speaks to our essence and cannot be taken away, while a “you did well” is ephemeral and can vanish if we mess up or fail. Try offering yourself and those around you more recognition for what you/they are and see how it feels. What does it feel like to look in the mirror and say “You are insightful and perceptive”? Or “You are caring, loving and patient”? (As opposed to “You came up with good ideas in the meeting” and “You spent time making great cakes for the school bake sale”.) Tell your assistant “You are organised and methodical”. You can even make it an image. How would the newest member of your team feel to hear “You are a real breath of fresh air”? Or maybe your spouse gets “You are my rock”. The only rules are it has to start with “You are”, it has to be positive, and – above all – you have to mean it wholeheartedly.

In a world that values achievement and accomplishment highly, it can be hard to recentre ourselves as human beings rather than human doings. But doing so will not mean you get less done or that you’ll drop the ball; it will actually make the things you do more powerful because they will be more aligned with who you are and how you want to feel. The choices you make and activities you accept will be driven not by external expectations and pressures but by the very core of who you are, who you want to be, and how you want to live your life. Make your “do” a result of your “be”, and watch much of the hustle and hassle of your to-do list melt away.     


Do you feel harried, stressed and overwhelmed by life? Is your day-to-day to-do list stopping you from starting the projects that really matter to you? At work, do you constantly tend to the urgent at the expense of the important? You can leverage my dynamic energy, intelligent insights, and laser focus to gain perspective on your situation and implement practical change to work, live and feel better every day. Contact me to find out more about working together.

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