Friday, January 7, 2011

Taking Action: Before You Do, Start with Be

As the cliché goes, we are notoriously “human doings.” We are action oriented, and evaluate ourselves daily on how much we are doing, producing, and achieving. We have to-do lists and goals and resolutions and "shoulds." We tend to place priority on problem solving and accomplishing tasks (do), so that we can yield some sort of outcome (have), and then be something or someone in the world.

When we are in this Do-Have-Be orientation, we often are evaluating our actions and whether or not we are worthy, valid, successful, productive, or [insert judgment here]. How many of you out there do your work/career, so you can have the money to create/maintain the life you want, so that you can be happy and fulfilled?

Our intentions are not bad; rather they are misguided. What would life be like if we were clear about who we are and what’s important to us, and made choices in alignment with that? It would seem our actions would flow more naturally and be better suited to what we really want today…as opposed to this continual tackling of to-do lists and email requests, and “shoulds” and “have tos.” Perhaps we would no longer feel like we are pushing a boulder uphill. Perhaps we could feel energized knowing that our actions are based on a solid foundation that is a reflection of the person we are now, not what we were in the past or believe we should be in the future.

Our perspective and approach to what we are up to in our lives is just as (if not more) important to the outcome as the actions themselves. We tend to be happier and more satisfied when our actions are grounded in a sense of purpose and are aligned with our values.

Rather than enacting the Do-Have-Be approach, consider instead the Be-Do-Have Model -- a cycle of thought and action related to making, enacting, and evaluating choices.


Rather than focusing first on the action and the "Do," let’s start with who we are and what’s important to us, or the BE. While it is important to create structures, accountability, and targets, how often do we take a step back and ask ourselves why we are doing what we are doing? We get so caught up in the go-go-go of daily life and all the responsibilities that go along with it, we neglect to ask ourselves on a regular basis about:
  • Purpose/Calling: Who am I? What am I passionate about? Who do I want to be in the world?
  • Values: What’s important to me? What do I stand for?
  • Motivators: What turns me on and off? What keeps me going?
  • Influencers: What am I capable of? What do I really want?
How clear we are about the “why” has a huge impact on our levels of commitment, engagement, and satisfaction with the experience. It also affects our effectiveness, innovation, creativity, and ability to maintain and sustain the action over the longer term.


We are experts at this part. However, when we are clear about who we are and what is important to us, the choice to act is much simpler. While we might need some assistance in figuring out the best actions to take, the bigger picture goal is self-evident. We know we want something and are willing to take the steps to move us in that direction.


Whether we are happy with the results or not, we get something. Perhaps it’s something tangible, or maybe it’s a feeling. Whatever the case, we are in a position to evaluate our outcomes and choose whether we want to continue on the same path, cease what we are doing, or reevaluate how we are going about it. When we reevaluate, it is important to cycle back through BE to confirm whether our self-assessment was accurate. If so, we analyze what worked and didn’t work in our previous effort to identify where our actions need to be repeated or tweaked.

You are free to approach your experiences in whatever way you choose. Greater happiness and satisfaction in work and life come from being conscious of who you are and what’s important to you as a foundation for what you choose to do and create.

If you are interested in learning more about this, I am happy to share the Master’s thesis I wrote at Northwestern University titled: The Quest for Happiness: An Exploration of Values, Vocational Choice, and Meaning in Life and Work. Email me and I’ll send you either the full thesis or an executive summary.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for such a succinct analysis of the BE Do Have principle. I love this principle, and this just made sense to me. Have a wonderful day

Jeralb said...

Yes tnx this info please emailb me the full thesis to

Gerrit said...

Superb! Thank you!