A Coaching Power Tool By Jessica Hull, Empowerment Coach, AUSTRALIA
What Is the Difference Between Human Doing vs. Human Being?
There are many people for whom being busy feels good! But are you busy being a human ‘doing’ or do you need to allow more time to be a human ‘being’?
To-do lists, checking off tasks, achieving goals at work, and reaching targets in life make us feel as though we are progressing and moving forward. Society reinforces this. We live in a society that praises hard work and productivity. It creates a feeling of importance and being busy all the time can make you feel as though you are fulfilled in life, which is a feeling that can genuinely and chemically become addictive. However, often this feeling is temporary, and we find ourselves wanting more. This in turn makes us ‘do’ more and so the cycle of ‘doing’ continues until we are doing so much that trying to live our modern, constantly connected lives can leave us feeling drained, frantic, and always playing catch-up. Over time, this kind of barren doing and busyness can make us feel empty and can be quite destructive to our health and well-being.
The question beckons: How are you currently feeling? What are your motivations for doing what you are doing? Are you aware of them? If you are aware, what is it about your actions, goals, and achievements that are in alignment with your values and your purpose? Which of your tasks are meaningless and which of them are meaningful tasks? What do you do when you experience unwanted feelings? Facing emotions head-on can be confronting and scary; however, taking the time to be human with them is crucial in working through them.
Human Doing vs. Human Being or “Doing vs. Being” Explained
It’s like climbing a ladder as fast as we can, only once we reach the top we realize it’s leaning against the wrong wall. Hougard & Carter
Our brain is an incredibly complex system of linked networks and an abundance of ever-growing neurological pathways, formed and continuing to form as a product of genetic factors, our environment, interactions, and experiences (Segal, 2016). Just like the stretch of an elastic band, our brains flex and adapt throughout our life.
If we looked into the brain, we would see shifting patterns in the activity of networks and their connections with each other as the mind moves from one task to another (Segal, 2016). Over time we would notice that there are a limited number of recurring core patterns of brain activity and interactions in a wide variety of different mental activities. These core patterns reflect some basic “modes of mind”. Two stand-out modes can be described as the ‘doing’ mode and the ‘being’ mode (Segal 2016).
The “Doing” Mode
If there is a discrepancy between what we want and what we have, then we generate thoughts and actions to try to close the gap. We monitor progress and adjust our actions accordingly. Edward de Bono describes this as ‘operacy’ (Burgh 2014). This process keeps us on the move and to do this, we are in a constant state of evaluation and our minds are always thinking from the past and moving to the future.
When we have worked through a goal and we get something we want—a promotion, an ice cream cone, or a kiss from a loved one—our brain releases dopamine. This chemical is often known as the “feel-good” neurotransmitter because it does just that; it makes us feel good (Schrader, J. 2016). There is no doubt about it, being busy and working towards achieving goals feels good.
So when does this become problematic?
Generally, action or the very act of “getting into motion” is the catalyst used in coaching to create change and can be very powerful (International Coaching Academy, 2020a). Action is a result of goal setting. Goal-setting is important – it enhances learning by providing a sense of direction and purpose. We are constantly setting goals – from doing our groceries to how we want to wear our hair. Goals derive from creating an idea of how we want things to be, or how we think they should be, and establishing a means by which to get it. But what if your goals are driven by a sense to ‘do’ rather than in alignment with who you are? What if your goals are in misalignment with your true core?
In our modern world, where we are always connected, our goals and our assessment of our progress are often established as a result of messages we receive from the ‘outside’ world. That is; social media, the opinions of others, and responses from our daily interactions with those around us. We are bombarded with images and opinions around what is considered normal or ideal and we begin to form ideas about what ‘should be – the perfect parent, the perfect employee, the perfect home, the perfect family, etc.
Our mind is focused on finding mismatches or misalignments with the idea of how we think things ‘should be’ versus how they are, or how we think they are. The impact is that these [often unrealistic] comparisons can fill us with a sense of never being ‘enough’. The job of this mode of mind is to get things done by achieving particular goals that the mind has set (Hougaard & Carter, 2019). These misalignments, which have influenced our state of mind, can prompt rapid and ill-considered goal setting, moving many into the doing mode, just so there is a feeling one is ‘doing’ something measurable to move towards these rapidly moving targets.
In relationship to feelings, ‘Doing mode’ is primarily one of evaluating them as ‘good feelings’ to hang on to or ‘bad feelings’ to get rid of. Actions then follow as a result of our assessment. But what if you are ‘doing’ to fill a void or to avoid uncomfortable feelings? Action can keep us busily occupied with tasks. However, the busier we keep ourselves with tasks (important or not), the more we avoid facing life. We keep a safe and comfortable distance between our minds and the issues that are sometimes hard to look at. Have we chosen the right career? How are we present enough with our children? Is our life purposeful? (Hougaard & Carter, 2019)
The addictive nature of doing, combined with the tirade of external influence on what our goals ‘should’ be and how we ‘should’ feel, mean that often we are prompted into ‘doing’, even before we’ve had time to sit with ourselves. Instead, we lose sight of our true selves and become focused on the feedback we receive from others and hooked on the ‘rush’ of achieving narrow-sighted goals. We are motivated to act and do, rather than sit and be, and it is easy to lose sight of our values and belief systems. We are blinded to the truth of who we are. As a result, the chemical rush of achieving can be short-lived because it is common to rapidly achieve something, recognize a sense of inadequacy and continue the cycle of setting new goals for ourselves. Often, rather than finding happiness and contentment, the resulting feeling is a sense of being lost and wondering about why we are so unhappy.
If people reflect on their life (which we have seen as a result of COVID, significant life events, aging, etc), it is common to realize that there is/has been a misalignment with actions and belief systems. For some, this awareness prompts a ‘shake up’ and for others, they continue as they are in a state of unhappiness and discontentment. So why might one stay in the state of doing, even when there is a realization of a possible misalignment?
Naturally, we continue to turn to this same doing mode when things are not as we would like them to be in our personal, internal worlds—our feelings and thoughts, or the kind of person we see ourselves to be. Particularly when faced with unwanted emotion, we habitually turn to this mode to free ourselves from our state of unease. The fear of ‘not doing’ drives us to do things that may not necessarily be the best thing for us.
The result of mindlessly doing or doing to avoid discomfort, increased misalignment with our values, less overall health and happiness, and system fatigue. Then 1 year, 5 years, 10 years down the track, one may wonder ‘What have I been doing with my life?’
The “Being” Mode
Turn off the radio, TV, DVD, iPod, computer and cell phone. Then, listen. Gina Greenlee, Postcards and Pearls: Life Lessons from Solo Moments on the Road
What is being? Being is the opposite of ‘doing’. Being means being still. Listening. Observing. There is no judgment of self. There is no thinking. There is no contemplation. Being allows your mind to rest and be still. It allows you to feel into the ‘who’ of who you are. In being, our mind slows and calms, and with that so do all of our systems, including our sympathetic nervous system, the system that contributes to our sense of overwhelm and burnout. Being decreases emotional reactivity, stress, anxiety, and depression (Boynton, 2020).
Being means that attention is no longer focused narrowly on only those aspects of the present that are directly related to goal achievement. Being is not dedicated to assessing. In the being mode, feelings do not immediately trigger old habits of action. There is no need to force the removal of unpleasant feelings. More time dedicated to being leads to a greater ability to tolerate the uncomfortable emotional states, the same discomfort that can make one want to ‘run’ and move into action. Instead, it provides the opportunity for acceptance and allowing. With that comes a sense of freedom and freshness! In being mode, moments can be embraced and processed into their full depth and richness. Being can then support us in becoming more responsive to each moment.
When we slow down momentarily and let go of doing things, we provide an opportunity for the brain to release its urge for dopamine. The state of rest ‘being’ provides the brain with a break. Without the need for dopamine and with space, we stop being so reactive and can focus and choose our actions out of clarity and freedom. It supports it to become stronger and has the positive impact of increasing cognition, memory, and attention. It can strengthen areas of your brain responsible for memory, learning, attention, and self-awareness (Boynton, 2020). With these enhanced skills, we can better pursue the larger goals in life like kindness, happiness, or whatever it may be.
This means that when you do ‘do’, you are more focused and the tasks that you are aiming to achieve are more likely to be in alignment with your true self and with who you want to be. Being is therefore crucial in overall wellness and happiness and essential in supporting one to achieve self-actualization and reach contentment and potential.
Are You a Human Doing vs. Human Being?
What are you doing? Is your doing bringing you genuine joy or is it short-lived? How do you rate your state of overall happiness? What drives the development of your goals? What is your response to uncomfortable feelings or states of unease? How do you approach challenges? What is it about your ‘doing’ is serving you? How would you prefer to be? How do you provide for moments of pause and being in your day or week? How are your actions influenced by your motivations? What have you comfortable being, to wait, to feel, to experience?
Mental models often drive us into doing without a connection to being. For example, we are told that to be successful, you must work hard. To be appealing to the opposite sex, you must look and present yourself in a particular way. To be happy, you must tick certain ‘life boxes’.
Addiction to dopamine Dopamine is a chemical released when you ‘achieve’, even when your achievements lack meaning.
Fear of not being busy can prompt us into action, even when the action isn’t in alignment with our goals. We force ourselves to do, even when there is nothing at that moment to be done.
Underlying beliefs and behavioral patterns about what success looks like and what progress involves can push us to move into doing. People may fear being is ‘lazy’; however, doing can be considered modern-day laziness. Laziness to face the truth of who and what we are and who and what we’d rather be.
Discovering What Is Underlying Human Doing vs. Human Being
Allowing yourself to BE rather than to constantly DO – Let the deprogramming begin!
In coaching, there is a distinction between doing and being (Calibri, A, 2018).
Doing is what you do. It’s the actions you take. It’s the decisions you make. It’s your behavior and all its visible manifestations. It is the WHAT.
Being is who you are. It’s what’s underneath all of the doing. It’s your qualities, your thought patterns, and your conditioning. It’s the pattern of beliefs that you hold about yourself and your environment. It’s your worldview (Caribi, A, 2018). It is the WHO.
Establishing whether your ‘doing’ is helpful or harmful requires a level of awareness, which can be brought about through coaching (Caribi, 2018). A coach can help you navigate through your ‘doing’ to decipher whether you are functioning in a space that is in alignment with your true self. To assess this, you must first be able to be with who you are. That is, even though it may be uncomfortable, you need this objectivity to be able to delve below the surface and discover what is underlying your ‘doing’ motivations.
Discovering what is underlying ‘doing’ motivations can be uncomfortable and, with a coach’s support, you can be guided to observe, take note, acknowledge, accept and allow – that it, receive and give yourself feedback and then sit with it. There are many coaching tools to help support these explorations and can include tools such as:
- Feedback through mirroring
- Powerful questioning
- Acknowledging and addressing fears
If you are unfamiliar with being, at first it may likely seem trickier and scarier; however, there is often discomfort in growth and it is in this unfamiliar and more confronting state that there is likely to be robust and ongoing change. The greatest thing for a person who likes to be ‘busy’ to realize is that if you address being, the doing naturally takes care of itself – but in a fulfilling and wholesome way. This is fluidity and grace.
An example can be seen in the way some people may respond to the breakdown of a long-term relationship. In the analysis, self-judgment, and blame that inevitably wants to follow, it is likely there will be any discrepancies between our current reality and how we wish things to be. Mostly, people are likely to wish they were happy instead of sad. In addition, the newness of being single may make us feel so uncomfortable that we may wish our partner back or for a new person to fill the void. There may be solutions we could search for and find that involve actions and doing. However, the doing may avoid grief and growth… and like anything left unresolved, it is likely to come up over and over again until it is looked in the eye and truly felt.
You Have Explored, so What’s Next? Techniques for Being
Following this, it is important to develop the skills to disengage from unhelpful modes of mind (the ‘doing’, which includes thinking, analyzing, and being busy) and to engage more helpful modes. In a way, this can be thought of as a conscious shift of mental gears.
Mindfulness supports us in recognizing two main modes in which the mind operates, and learning the skills to move from one to the other (Boynton, 2020). In essence, in being mindful, there is no thinking, no goal-setting, no planning, and no wondering. There is only being. There are many ways to be mindful. Some are easier than others and entirely dependent on the individual (their experiences) and your knowledge in offering choices
Take a Break
Factor time into your day to take a break from it all, even a minute! These breaks are a mini reset and can be used to stop the spiraling mind and busy selves from putting the doing into perspective.
An example of a break might be a breathing break where in the first breath cycle, you focus on relaxing your body and mind. At the second, you focus your attention and pause. Upon completion, take the time to ask yourself “What am I doing right now and is it meaningful?” (Hougaard & Carter, 2019)
Stop When You Realise You Are Mindlessly Doing
The result of doing so to fill a void or avoid discomfort is that the shallowness of goal achievement and the constant dopamine release that fuels our want for ‘more’, means we are constantly chasing short-term wins (Hougaard & Carter, 2019). We keep ourselves busy chasing minor targets and we lose sight of larger goals.
If you catch yourself, pause. Don’t act. Don’t talk. Don’t solve a problem. Just sit. Do nothing. It can be as little as 30 seconds or as long as 30 minutes. When you don’t know what else to do, just BE! Don’t think about what you could do, should do, must do, just BE. The doing will follow in time.
Ask Yourself: Are You Choosing Busy? Bring About Some Awareness
Next time you feel busy, allow some time to be and then schedule some time to consider your drivers. What’s keeping me busy? Why am I choosing to do this? Is it worth it? Are there things I do not need and would be better off letting go of? Be honest and embrace the answers, even if you don’t like what you hear. If the answer to any of those questions is in misalignment with your larger goal and you don’t know what else to do about it, choose to be. The answers will present themselves with time and rest. (Hougaard & Carter, 2019)
Boynton, E. What happens to my brain when I meditate?
Burgh, G. Creative and lateral thinking: Edward de Bono
Carabi, A. Doing vs. Being: The two levels of change
Hougaard, R. & Carter, J. Are you addicted to doing?
International Coaching Academy Power Tool: Action vs. Delay, www.coachcapmus.com
Schrader, J. The science of accomplishing your goals
Segal, Z. The difference between doing and being