In the “Age of Busyness,” we are desperate for time and efficiency in our lives. We increasingly see articles promoting success and life-improvements written in lists. I am drawn to these, as much as any other, for the easy-to-scan format and quick provocation of thought and perspective. These articles are often dove-tailed by other articles discussing ways to “be present,” to practice “mindfulness,” and to “manage stress.” Getting off your devices, ways to respond to your inbox, and how to communicate with co-workers, are proposed strategies to improve day-to-day experiences advancing us one step closer to “success.” Designed to save time, these lists may be complicating the struggle we strive to overcome.

I’ll start by saying there is no list here. There are not ten solutions listed below. You cannot scroll down rapidly discovering the secret key, that if quickly incorporated will unlock your life’s potential. Solutions are never in another person’s list. Further, despite increased popularity, this formula is woefully inadequate. Even if thought provoking, the hurried lists of how to achieve success and manage our stress add to a list of things to do but fail in addressing the root cause of the problem.

Here is the challenge – despite several action items, there is no definition of success given by these articles. We struggle to manage the stresses resulting from ambitions toward someone else’s nebulous description of success. By not defining success directly, while achieving other items from the lists – “regaining proper sleep,” “disconnect using this app,” “5 tricks to start your day” – we lose our personal goals in the noise.  A definition of success adopted from online articles misses the point entirely. This is not to downplay the benefits of maximizing our resilience or improving our ability to protect health and happiness. However, as we attempt to encourage the management of our stresses we fail to address the stressors themselves. Refocusing on the true problem facilitates finding true solutions.

To attain success, improve your life, and ensure your health, your own valued priorities become blurred when exposed to things you should be doing, habits you should be forming, practices you should be adopting, and questions you should be asking. Staying busy is not the problem. Having more things to do is not the solution. Similarly, meditating, sleeping, exercising, and good relationships, although helpful and healthful, will not solve a problem. Rather than working to ease or eliminate the stress, we work on ways deal with it.

Establishing a clear and personal definition of our own goals and priorities is the problem. So, it is backwards. Chasing undefined success or success defined by others is the stressor. A culture of busyness and imbalance between work-life and personal-life further weigh down the stress scale. With ample external influences and opinions, including lists made by others, there is only one step to reaching your true measure of success- defining it for yourself. In fact, to protect your success, you may find yourself having to do less.