Forget the TO-DO List: Create a YOU List

Forget the TO-DO List: Create a YOU List
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“Beware the barrenness of a busy life.”

— Socrates

I often find myself thinking that we’re acting as human doings or human havings rather than human beings.

Think about it: When you first meet someone, do they ask, “Who are you?” No. They want to know what you do: your work, where you are in school, how you spend you free time. Then they want to know what you have: your family, where you live, maybe your education, even what kind of golf clubs you play with. So you answer: “I’m a physician. I’m married with two sons. My husband and I live in Winding Oaks.” You’ve identified yourself by what you do and what you have.

And if someone did ask you, “Who are you?” do you even know what you would say?

When you wake up in the morning, do you sit down and write out who you want to be that day? Or, like most in Western culture, do you create an endless list of things you have to do? A list that covers all the obligations and errands and appointments. Your list might even be colored-coded by priority as “Absolutely Must Get Done” and “Really Should Get Done” all the way down to “I Really Hope Some Day This Gets Done!”

But does it reflect who you are? The person you’re meant to be?

And what about what you have? Are most of your goals centered around having? That relationship, that new car, that degree, those toned abs, that job? All of those things are good. And by putting forth good effort (doing), we can certainly expect to have what we desire.

But in pursuing those things, did you lose sight of who you are? Are you using what you have to define you?

Last month, I talked about the Iago trance where you get so caught up in the doing and having of life that you go numb to who you are and who you’re meant to be. I went through a period of this trance many years ago. I was totally caught up in starting my career, learning about business and making more money to get things I wanted. I was totally succeeding at those things and advancing rapidly.

But one day I woke up and realized, “This is not who I really am.” Since I was a child, I’ve known that I’m someone who is interested in the esoteric, someone who wants to empower people by teaching them how to tap their own inner wisdom and health, someone who values relationships. Yet in the doing and having craziness of that time, I’d forgotten all of this—and it was painful.

Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not against doing and having by any means! I get a lot done in a day, more than most people. I have a lot of things that give me pleasure and serve my needs. But I learned from that experience years ago that my doing and having must be driven and guided by who I am meant to be.

In some ways, it’s just a question of the order you put things in. Rather than starting the day with a list of what I want to get done in order to have what I want to have, I focus on who I am, my purpose. So when I first wake up in the morning, I focus on my purpose--to empower the planet by teaching the tools I’ve learned through Neuro Linguistic Psychology (NLP) and Huna. Then I focus on the type of energy I want to bring forth to fulfill that purpose on this particular day. If I’m doing a training, I might focus on clarity, expressiveness, and being acutely aware of my students. If I’ll be in business meetings, I might focus on the energies of creativity, receptivity, decisiveness.

Out of this process, it’s easy to put together my daily To Do list. From that perspective—my overall purpose and who I am within that day to fulfill it— I can set clear goals for the day or the week. I’m clear on what is important to get done and who I need to be while doing it. I know what is important to have—and most importantly, what isn’t. As Robert Heinlein wrote, “In the absence of clearly-defined goals, we become strangely loyal to performing daily trivia until ultimately we become enslaved by it.”

Your process for initiating your day may be different. What’s most important is to return to the human being you are meant to be before heading into the doing or having.

Some of my students argue that they don’t know how to find out who they are really meant to be. They make the process more complicated than it needs to be and think they need the “correct answer,” the ultimate statement of their purpose that will last over their lifetime. But if you haven’t delved into this before, all you’re looking for is the first inkling of your purpose.

Try this: Spend fifteen minutes writing down what’s truly important to you in the areas of your life like health, relationships, career. Spend a minute or so thinking about what you would like people to say at your eulogy. What kind of contribution would you like to make to your world? You might end up with a personal mission statement like, “I write books that inspire, entertain and uplift people all over the world” or “I am a great dad to my children, helping them become healthy, happy, loving adults.” Or it might be as simple as “I’m here to be kind.”

Whatever your come up with, let that sense of your being to drive and guide your doing and having.

“He not busy being born is busy dying.”

— Bob Dylan

To your TOTAL empowerment!


Dr. Matt


Byline: Matthew B. James, MA, Ph.D., is President of The Empowerment Partnership, the world's leading integrative personal development company for over 30 years. Author of several books, Dr. Matt has trained thousands of students towards excellent health and personal empowerment using Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP), Huna, and Mental Emotional Release® (MER®) therapy. Connect with Dr. Matt on Facebook or visit his blog at

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