Living Life Forward: The Being-Doing-Having Model

I previously shared this important concept from Naked Idealism as part of a discussion on wealth, where it generated a few interesting responses.

Several decades ago, Shakti Gawain outlined a simple but powerful model in her popular book Creative Visualization. She holds that much of our existence is based upon three interrelated aspects that support each other: being, doing and having.

  • Being is “the basic experience of being alive…the experience of being totally complete and at rest within ourselves.”
  • Doing is “movement and activity. It stems from natural creative energy.”
  • Having is “the state of being in relationship with other people and things in the universe…the ability to allow and accept things and people into our lives; to comfortably occupy the same space with them.”

The above definition of having is likely very different from what the word generally brings to mind for you. We usually equate having with possessing something, but it goes well beyond that.

For example, each of us may possess a car, but we may relate to that object very differently. I may use my car once a week, never taking the time to wash it; and the role it plays in my life is one of pure utility. On the other hand, you may depend much more heavily upon your car, utilizing it three times a day and spending two hours each weekend seeing that it sparkles and shines. Unlike me, you may view the condition of the car you drive as an important reflection of your identity.

Neither of these two people is “right” or “wrong,” but having a car is very different for both people. It really depends upon each of our sets of values and priorities, and what we each want out of life.

Gawain explains that we often “live life backwards,” first striving to have more resources (e.g., money) so that we can do what’s important to us, which will then finally enable us to be happier. This leads, for example, to individuals working extra hard their whole lives at “just good enough” jobs to save for retirement, only to discover that they’ve never really found fulfillment.

A key to lasting happiness appears to be the exact opposite – if we make efforts to discover and be who we truly are, we’ll develop the foundation to do what’s truly important to us, which will then enable us to have more of what we want in life.

In other words, we often engage in this pattern:

having –> doing –> being

When this would make us much more fulfilled:

being –> doing –> having

You may already be familiar with alternate versions of this framework, as a Google search on “being doing having” yields thousands of pages. The phrase has been popularized by speakers and writers including Zig Ziglar and Dave Ellis.

The concept also aligns with a key assumption of a popular counseling model, Reality Therapy/Choice Theory, that may be applied to life coaching: we often attempt to fulfill our most fundamental needs in roundabout and ineffective ways.

The more we’re aligned, the more directly we can pursue what’s most important to us. That’s pretty exciting stuff.

If you’re interested in developing strategies and tools specifically related to having, also check out More Than a Sidewalk to Sleep On (gratitude and wealth) and The Snuggle Party Guidebook (conscious relating and connection). These take some of the concepts covered in Naked Idealism to a deeper level, based upon some life-changing experiences.


Dave welcomes phone-based life, career, and transition coaching clients from around the world.

4 thoughts on “Living Life Forward: The Being-Doing-Having Model”

  1. Hello Dave,

    The American philosopher William James on this topic.

    “Not by accumulating riches, but by giving away that which you have, shall you become beautiful;You must undo the wrappings, not case yourself in fresh ones; Not by multiplying clothes shall you make your body sound and healthy, but rather by discarding them…for a soldier
    who is going on a campaign does not seek what fresh furniture he can carry on his back, but rather what he can leave behind; Knowing well that every additional thing which he cannot freely use and handle is an impediment. In short, lives based on having are less free than lives based either on doing or on being, and in the interest of action people subject to spiritual excitement throw away possessions as so many clogs.”

    And the American poet Walt Whitman on the same subject:

    “I could turn and live with animals, they are so placid and self-contained, I stand and look at them long and long; They do not sweat and whine about their condition.They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for
    their sins. Not one is dissatisfied, not one is demented with the mania of owning things, Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived thousands of years ago. Not one is respectable or unhappy over the whole earth.”

    I think we have to be careful about ‘the mania of owning things’; else, they begin to own us. Abundance is one thing. Wealth, especially of money or things is in my
    view a dangerous thing as it twists priorities, and distorts relationships between those who have and those who haven’t. It easily turns into greed.

    If we are accumulating too much money, perhaps we should share not by giving it away, but by inviting others to share in the abundance as we gain it. In other words, pay more to our suppliers. Provide employees with share ownership. Invite others to invest and thrive with us.

    We must also constantly consider how much “wealth” we are extracting from the natural world, which we don’t own, and we all share in.

    It is one thing to create win/win solutions from our ingenuity, so that we damage the earth less than we would otherwise. It is another thing to use up finite resources that are not ours, but are given to all of us in common, and belong to future generations as much as they belong to us.

    Norm Ruttan
    iWasteNot Systems

  2. Being – Doing- Having – I love that – thank you!

    I feel like that is finally where I am now. After years of “only ifs” I finally listened to the voice that connected to my being. You articulated it so well and made it simple to inderstand. I am going to use this (and quote you).

    Thanks again!

  3. Norm and Beth,
    Thanks so much for your thoughtful comments!
    Norm, I particularly appreciate the manner in which the passages you cite reflect the various types of wealth that surround us everyday – types of wealth for which we often forget to express our gratitude. Your comment on “inviting others to share in the abundance” brings to mind spending a little additional money here and there to support businesses that are socially and environmentally sustainable.

    Beth, I’m glad you found the passage useful, and appreciate your making others aware of it as well.


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