Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Seven Ways to Change from a Human Doing to a Human Being

What’s a human doing? What do human doing look and act like? Am I a human doing?

Key points

  • Human doings believe that they must “do” things (really well!) to be valued in our society (and to value themselves).
  • Human beings believe that their self-worth is defined by their values, attitudes, and beliefs.
  • To shift from being a human doing to a human being, you must first change the way you view human beings.
  • Accept your humanity, redefine success, create more balance, reduce your to-dos list, become more flexible, lighten up, give self-love.
Artem Baliaikin/Pexels, used with permission
Source: Artem Baliaikin/Pexels, used with permission

My use of the phrase “human doing” may provoke some questions: What’s a human doing? What do human doings look and act like? Am I a human doing? This article will answer all of those questions. Plus, if you decide you are a human doing and you decide that you don’t want to be one any longer, I’ll show you how you can morph from a human doing into a human being.

What's a Human Doing?

We live in an achievement culture that worships at the altar of accomplishment. Growing up or living in today’s world means being bombarded by messages telling us that we must “do” things (really well!) to be valued in our society (and to value ourselves). However it’s measured, whether with grades, sports victories, admission into the best schools, accumulation of wealth, status, or power, just to name a few, it can become the basis for our self-identity and self-esteem. In being seduced (or brainwashed) by these messages, you may transmogrify from a human being to a human doing.

Human doings only feel good about themselves when they are accomplishing things. To prove themselves, they use some measurable criteria which can range from financial or professional status to seemingly trivial things, such as how many steps they take in a day (fitness trackers are insidious reinforcers of human doingness) or the cleanliness of their households. Human doings are often “list people” who wake up every day with a tally of tasks and they are not satisfied or happy at the end of the day unless they crossed off, every item on the list.

Human doings live in a constant state of discomfort that causes them to feel as if they must achieve and be successful or they are worthless people undeserving of love. This relationship between achievement and self-esteem becomes the basis for their own self-love. Having internalized their perceptions of being a human doing from their parents or culture, they come to love themselves only when they achieve success, and experience self-loathing when they are not doing, or they fail at doing.

What’s a Human Being?

Human beings believe that their self-worth is defined not by their accomplishments, but rather by their values, attitudes, and beliefs; their determination and effort; and how they treat people (all much kinder and gentler bases for self-evaluation). They are able to resist the tsunami of unhealthy messages from our achievement culture and make deliberate choices based on who they are and what is important to them. Human beings gain satisfaction and validation from being honest, considerate, and responsible, among other things. They also have control over what primarily affirms their self-esteem, so the vicissitudes of achievement (i.e., the inevitable failures that are a natural part of the human condition) don’t have an outsized impact on how they feel about themselves.

Because human beings don’t feel an unrelenting pressure to do, they are capable of just being. They can feel peace, calm, and contentment, even when they are surrounded by the whirling-dervish of a doing world. Human beings can also enjoy aspects of life that have no purpose beyond the immediate experience, such as reading, cooking, walking, being with friends, all without regard to the outcomes of those experiences.

Unfortunately, human doings don’t usually respect human beings because the former don’t perceive the latter as being driven or accomplished enough. In other words, human beings don’t, in human doings’ eyes, do enough. But being a human being doesn’t mean that they don’t accomplish anything. To the contrary, human beings can be very successful, but unlike human doings, they can experience meaning, satisfaction, and joy in their achievements because they aren’t driven by need, but rather by their values and life priorities. In other words, human beings’ achievement efforts are an affirming expression of who they are. So, not only can human beings be successful, but just as importantly, they can be happy.

How to Become a Human Being

Are you a human doing? Would you rather be a human being? To shift from being a human doing to a human being, you must first change the way you view human beings. If you can’t value human beings, you will not see becoming one as a goal worthy of aspiration. Remember, the goal is to be successful, not to do successful. Doesn’t that seem like a goal worthy of striving for?

Accept Your Humanity

Part of being a human being is accepting your basic humanity, which includes the perception that no one is perfect. We all have flaws and that is what makes us human. Since we are flawed then failure is an inevitable part of life. If failure is inevitable then it becomes acceptable, part of the lived experience. From this perspective, failure loses its power to harm your self-esteem. With being, there is no threat to self-esteem because there is no perfectionism, there is no fear of failure, and there is no fear of losing your self-love. You cannot fail at being!

Redefine Success

Becoming a human being requires that you redefine success. Your definition of success must be broadened beyond wealth, status, and other accomplishments. Human beings’ definition of success can include expending great effort in pursuit of a goal, gaining satisfaction and enjoyment out of that pursuit, exploring creative avenues, or helping others. Ironically, rather than interfering with human beings’ ability to succeed, extending the definition of success actually increases the likelihood of finding success that is meaningful to you. If you love what you do, are completely invested in your efforts, and are not threatened by the possibility of failure, the chances of success become greater.

Create More Balance

Living a “being life” requires that you move toward a life that is filled with less doing and more being. The first step in creating a being life is to have more balance in your life. As noted above, though your single-mindedness may have enabled you to become successful, that dedication to one area has limited the sources from which you can gain affirmation and fulfillment. By creating many areas of your life that are rewarding, there will be less investment in any one area and less pressure on that area to meet your self-esteem needs. The ideal balance is one that meets all of your needs, which might include intellectual, social, physical, cultural, and spiritual pursuits.

Reduce Your To-do List

This wider focus involves reducing your “to-do” list. Human doings are compelled by their need to do in order to gain validation and self-worth. As they check items off of their list, they are driven to keep adding to their list to keep receiving confirmation of their value. Thus, they are caught in a vicious cycle. You must come to realize that not completing the entire list will not make you an incompetent and unlovable person and that the world will not end. To the contrary, life will actually feel easier, freer, and less stressful.

Become More Flexible

Human doings typically have very structured lives to make sure they can complete everything before they collapse at the end of the day from exhaustion. Though structure can be quite efficient it can also act as a prison from which you cannot leave. You become limited in what you do and how you do it. This structure provides you with a false sense of security and comfort because you create a sense of familiarity, predictability, and control in a life that is anything but at its core.

In contrast, human beings create a flexible life with only enough structure to meet their most basic needs. This minimal structure gives sufficient order to the lives of human beings without it limiting their options. They are also flexible enough to break out of their structure when an opportunity presents itself. Human beings are open to and comfortable with acting on spur-of-the-moment opportunities and see such experiences as healthy breaks from their otherwise orderly lives.

Lighten Up

Human doings are generally very serious people. They have things to do, people to see, and places to go. “Don’t bother me. I’m getting things done,” is their attitude. This seriousness comes from their living in a state of hypervigilance to any threat to their self-esteem.

In contrast, human beings understand that life can get pretty dull if things get too serious. So, they have learned how to lighten up. They are serious about serious things, but don’t need the melodrama of making the mundane more serious to make their life interesting and worth living. They know that laughter and good humor bring happiness and joy to a world that often takes itself too seriously.

Give Self-love

It is impossible for human doings to give themselves love because nothing they do is good enough to earn it. There are always imperfections, mistakes, and failures that make human doings unworthy of their own love. Human beings, by contrast, are capable and willing to give self-love. Human beings can express self-love because there are no culturally driven or self-made “guardrails” that limit when it is appropriate to value and care for themselves. Human beings understand that self-love doesn’t have to be earned, but rather is bestowed as a gift to themselves just for being who they are.

More from Jim Taylor Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today
More from Jim Taylor Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today