We Are Human Beings, Not Human Doings

Staying resilient and optimistic during challenging times starts with the tools we are armed with as human beings.

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We’ve spent the past few weeks focusing on the work of doing.  This week, we switch gears and start talking about the work of being.  When we’re used to living life at 90 miles an hour, sitting still feels unproductive and almost stifling.  Especially when we’re being asked to sit still in our homes amidst the chaos outside.  But by embracing the being part of us rather than the doing part of us, we tap into something deep within ourselves.  We develop an inner fortitude which helps to build our resilience.

We are human beings not human doings, after all. 

Letting ourselves off the hook and just be during this difficult time might be precisely what we need to get through this period wiser, stronger and more capable than before.

Here are three techniques to cultivate our sense of beingness rather than doingness:   


If there’s one lesson for us all to learn during this time, its how to be more gentle with ourselves.  The world as we know it has turned upside down.  We can’t expect ourselves to function with the same zest and vigor as before.  Its not realistic and may be counterproductive to building resilience.  During times of stress, its critical for our mental health to honor all of our emotions, even the difficult ones.  The only way around is through.  So give yourself permission to ease up on the shoulds, need tos, and must dos.  Now is the time to be gentle with yourself and cultivate self-compassion.  It’s the only way through this morass of uncertainty.

A good daily practice for us all to delve into right now is to learn how to fill our own cup before filling another’s.  Its not selfish, it’s a form of self-compassion.  And filling our own cup during a pandemic requires us to be supremely gentle with ourselves.  Maybe its through a shared laugh with a loved one, a daily prayer, a moment in the sun, or a mug of hot tea.  Whatever your mode, fill your cup daily and often.  It’ll build your sense of self-compassion, which is the quickest path right now towards building your resilience.

Below, an excerpt from one of the great classics The Desiderata, talks about why being gentle with ourselves during difficult times can help us feel more grounded:


For those of us who are Type A people, achievement is part of our DNA.  But during pandemic times, our definition of achievement needs to be tweaked if we want to remain resilient.  In our old lives, we may have always been on the search for life hacks to become faster, better and more efficient.  Right now, learning to coast might be the most useful and valuable life hack we can develop. 

Resist the urge to function at the top of your game in work, family, relationships, well-being, nutrition and all the other areas of life.  Its not realistic or feasible and may be counterproductive, ultimately lead to burnout and exhaustion, which is the opposite of resilience!  

Human performance and productivity operate on the Goldilocks principle (see below).  Too little stress and we feel bored and can’t be productive.  Too much stress and we feel anxious which limits our productivity.  But when our stress is just right, that’s when we optimize our performance. 

During times of extreme stress like now, we’ve all by default shifted to the right of the curve.  We’re having a normal human reaction to a very abnormal situation.  We can gradually shift ourselves back to the middle of the curve by temporarily learning to coast.  This may be the most valuable resilience-building skill we can teach ourselves to help us perform at our very best during the pandemic.


When we take a step back from human doingness to focus on human beingness, the one trait that is key to develop is self-compassion.  It sounds like a fancy word, but it is nothing more than befriending yourself.  Can we learn to encourage, care about and talk to ourselves the same way we would to someone we loved?  Yes, we can.  Self-compassion is a teachable skill, and one that can have profound effects on our resilience, mental health and emotional well-being.

One therapeutic technique to build self-compassion is this mirror exercise.  In a world of social media filters, this mirror exercise is a moment to connect with your unfiltered self.  [Warning, it feels kooky at first but it is a legitimate therapeutic technique that is highly effective.]  

Sit in front of a mirror, look into your eyes and smile like you’re seeing a friend.  Start asking yourself the same questions you’d ask someone you love about what they’re going through.  What’s bothering you? How does it make you feel?  What can make it better?  It doesn’t have to be long or complicated.  Just a brief check-in with yourself.  Try it out daily for a week and notice if your self-compassion grows.  I can almost guarantee it will. 

Below is a “self-portrait” to show us all how valuable befriending yourself can be in building resilience!  After all, the most important relationship is the one you have with yourself. 

Source: Painting by Jim Tweedy

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