A Coaching Power Tool Created by Monica Kremer
(Transformational Coach, SWITZERLAND)
A powerful tool to reframe one’s perspective
We are human beings, not human doings. Deepak Chopra
The objective of the following power tool is to help the client to understand how our goal-setting, “doing-focused” mind causes us to fixate on one track, and how we can become more responsive to the richness and complexity that each moment presents, by shifting towards a so-called “being mode”.
The being vs doing power tool is a powerful coaching tool to help a client to reframe her or his perspective, and consequently, bring more opportunities into her or his life.
Doing: our default mode
We spend most of our time focusing on what we’re doing, or would like to do, or have done, or haven’t done. Already in our childhood, we have learned that the formula for success looks like: “Do, to Have, to Be.”When we perceive that there is something wrong in our life, we ask ourselves “What must I do to change this?” When someone does something that wronged us, we think, indignantly, “How could they have done that to me?” This approach to life has become so ingrained in us that we are generally not even aware that there is another way to look at life.
As a further consequence, when we are feeling unhappy, our doing-focused mind is naturally programmed to figure out why we’re feeling this way and to find a way of solving it. However, unhappiness, fear, or sadness aren’t problems, they are emotions. And emotions can’t be solved. So when you try to solve your problem of unhappiness you deploy one of the mind’s most powerful tools: rational critical thinking.
Rational critical thinking works as follows: you feel unhappy and want to be happy, your mind analyzes the gap between the two and tries to work out the best way of bridging it. To do so, it uses its Doing mode, so-called because it performs well in solving problems and getting things done. It consciously or subconsciously breaks down the problem into pieces, constantly reanalyzing it to see whether it’s got you closer to your goal.
The primary job of the Doing mode is thus to achieve particular goals that the mind has set. These goals could relate to the external world (cook dinner, go to the fitness, or make a presentation) or to the internal world of self (feel happy, not make mistakes, be a good person, etc). Your mind is thus continually monitoring and evaluating your current situation against a model or standard, an idea of what you desire, require, expect, or fear, constantly finding mismatches between how things are and how we think they should be. This often happens in an instant and we are frequently not even aware of the process. It is natural, then, that we 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. And this is where things can go wrong. What if we cannot find any effective actions, and our attempts to think up possible solutions get nowhere?
As such, there is often nothing wrong with the Doing mode, as it helps us – often brilliantly, to solve problems and achieve goals in the impersonal, external world. The problem is that dwelling on how things are not as we want them to be can sometimes create a further negative mood. This is where critical questions arise such as, “What’s wrong with me? What did I do wrong? Why do I always make these mistakes?” These questions require the mind to find reasons to explain its discontents, and the mind is good at providing these reasons, no matter how critical or realistic they can be. In this way, our attempts to solve a “problem” by endlessly thinking about it can keep us locked into the state of mind from which we are doing our best to escape. With an external problem, we might simply give up and get on with some other aspect of our lives. But once the self becomes involved, it is much more difficult simply to let go of the goals we have set. We cannot let go because we have such a central need not to be the kind of person we want to be. This dwelling makes us feel even worse, taking us even further from our desired goal. This, in turn only serves to confirm our view that we are not the kind of person we feel we need to be happy. It’s a vicious circle.
The mind will continue to focus in this way until the problem seems to be reduced or some more urgent task takes the focus of the mind elsewhere, at least for a while, only to return to the unresolved problem once one has dealt with the other task.
If we look closely, we can see the Doing mode in action in very many areas of our lives. Whenever there is a sense of “have to,” “must,” “should,” “ought,” or “need to,” we can suspect the presence of doing mode. Fortunately, we can learn to recognize and disengage from this mode.
Being: the freedom mode
As mentioned above, the Doing mode is not an enemy to be defeated. It only becomes a problem when it volunteers for a task that it cannot do, such as solving a troubling emotion. Negative feelings thus persist when the mind’s problem-solving Doing mode tries to bridge the gap. But there is an alternative: it’s called the Being mode.
The Being mode is similar to a shift in perspective that helps you to step outside of your mind’s natural tendency to overthink, over-analyze, and overjudge. In the Being mode, you find that you can change your internal landscape, no matter what’s happening around you. You are thus no longer dependent on external circumstances for your happiness, and you’re back in control of your life. If Doing mode can be a trap, then being mode brings you freedom.
The Doing and Being modes differ in their time focus. In doing, we often need to work out the likely future consequences of different actions, anticipate what might happen if we reach our goal, or look back to memories of times when we have dealt with similar situations to get ideas for how to proceed now. As a result, in Doing mode, the mind often travels forward to the future or back to the past, and the experience is one of not being “here” in the present much of the time.
In Being mode, the mind can focus fully on moment-by-moment experience, allowing us to be fully present and aware of whatever is here, right now. The Being mode thus involves a shift in our relation to thoughts and feelings. It is devoted to focusing on “accepting” and “allowing” what is, without any immediate pressure to change it, and no goal or standard to be reached.
In Doing mode, thoughts are seen as reality and are closely linked to action. By contrast, in Being mode, thoughts and feelings are seen as simply events in the mind that arise, become objects of awareness, and then pass away. It also triggers a sense of freedom and curiosity.
A powerful step that one could take to shift into Being mode is to stop and ask ourselves “Who am I being right now?”, “Does that serve me? If not, then who and how do I want to be?”In every moment you have an opportunity to ask yourself whether or not your way of being is empowering you.
In coaching it’s important to make a distinction between doing and being. Doing is related to the actions the client takes, the decisions she/he makes, her/his behavior, and all its visible manifestations. Being is related to who the client is. It’s her/his qualities, her/his thought patterns, and her/his conditioning. It’s the pattern of beliefs that she/he holds about herself/himself and her/his environment. It’s her/his worldview.
As mentioned earlier, when we set out to make a change, we usually attempt it on the Doinglevel. We try to do new things, or we try to do things differently. But in most cases, we haven’t worked on the Being level. So what ends up happening is that we revert to our old defaults, and the change doesn’t last. So no matter what we change in our external life, no matter what we try to change in our minds, we remain stuck in a pattern of resistance to the moment.
Let’s say you want to be more organized. To solve your problem, you could change what you do — by setting up structures for your finances or adding systems and processes for your project. However, your underlying belief is certainly that you want a sense of control and a feeling of certainty. What you want is to know that things will work out, that they’ll be OK. The Doing problem is organization. The Beingproblem is dealing with uncertainty.
Maybe you want to be more relaxed and less stressed. The immediate Doingsolution is to meditate, to the journal, and to do yoga. But you can try to chill out all you want. You’ll always have the annoying sensation that you should be doing more, something more productive. That’s because, below the surface, your sense of identity is tied up with productivity. And so you feel like you have to prove yourself in every situation that you face. But deep down you’re scared of what you’ll find if you stop to take a breath. Doing a problem is stress, fatigue, and burnout. The Beingproblem is an unconscious need to struggle.
When locked into Doing mode, one also tends to be get caught up in important career and life goals, and demanding projects such as childcare and looking after elderly relatives. And because they can be so demanding it’s tempting to focus on them and neglect or forget everything else, including your health and well-being. You then avoid the hobbies and pastimes that nourish you. Giving these things up can gradually deplete your inner resources and, eventually, leave you feeling drained, and exhausted.
The Beinglevel is where robust, sustainable change is created.
How to shift to the Being mode
As we’ve seen earlier, the Doing mode is truly brilliant at automating our life using habits, but the downside comes when you give too much control to the autopilot.
One way for stepping aside from the doing mode and embracing the being mode is to practice mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness helps one to learn to be whatever is going on, and see the world as it is, not as one expects it to be, or what one fears it might become. To allow whatever thoughts and feelings are present, using the breath as an anchor to which return, whenever the mind wanders off, with gentleness and patience, noticing what is happening without making judgments, seeing the experience as neither good nor bad. The client thus neither gets sucked into stories that drag her/him into rumination nor try to stop or avoid the feeling of what is troubling her/him. Instead, she/he learns to move attention compassionately into the experience.
When practicing regularly mindfulness exercises, the client starts to understand that thoughts are just thoughts; they are events in the mind that are often valuable but they are not the client or her/his reality. It trains the mind so that she/he consciously sees his thoughts as they occur. She/he can still remember the past and plan for the future, but being mode allows her/him to see them for what they are, thus avoiding the suffering that sometimes is felt when reliving the past and imagining the future.
Mindfulness brings the client back, again and again, to full conscious awareness, a place of choice and intention. When the client becomes more mindful, she/he brings her/his intentions and actions back into alignment, rather than being constantly sidetracked by her/his autopilot. To be mindful means to be back in touch with one’s senses, so one can see, hear, touch, smell, and taste things as if for the first time. The client gradually starts cultivating an intuitive sense of what is going on in her/his inner and outer worlds, with profound effects on her/his ability to relate to people and the world in a new way.
To conclude, we’ve seen that the Doing mode involves judging and comparing the real world with the world as we would like it to be, ideal and perfect. Being mode, on the other hand, invites you temporarily to suspend judgment, and approach the world, a situation, a problem just as they are, without preconceptions.
A coach can thus help the client to switch out of automatic pilot by bringing the client’s awareness to this present moment. When the client does this, she/he starts to see that she/he has a choice, and this is often the first step in taking care of themselves differently in the face of negative moods. With the additional help of mindfulness practice, the coach can help the client gain a tremendous sense of perspective, sensing what is important, and what is not.
Questions to find out whether the client is locked in autopilot/doing mode:
- Do you find it difficult to stay focused on what's happening in the present?
- Do you tend to walk quickly to get to where you're going without paying attention to what you experience along the way?
- Do you rush through activities without being really attentive to them?
- Do you get so focused on the goal you want to achieve that you lose touch with what you're doing right now to get there?
- Do you find yourself preoccupied with the future or the past?
A mindfulness practice for being with what is
To practice shifting into being mode, one can invite the client to the following short guided mindfulness practice:
- Take an upright, dignified, relaxed sitting posture, and practice mindfulness of breathing for a few minutes. Follow this with a period of mindfulness of body practice, opening awareness to body sensations, as they arise.
- Do you notice any unpleasant aspects of experience that are present at the moment? Are you feeling discomfort or pain anywhere in the body? If so, where? What about difficult emotions? If there are some, ask yourself where they are and which sensations appear. Be aware of any tightness, pressure, restlessness, heat, throbbing, and so on.
- Bring attention gently to the thoughts in your mind. Are these pleasant or unpleasant? Notice any reactions to arising sensations or thoughts. Are you tending to pull away from them, get annoyed by them, ruminate on them, or are you reacting in some other way? Without buying into them or trying to stop them, simply notice these reactions with kindness and interest.
- Now, turn your attention towards an unpleasant sensation, a region of intensity in the body. It could be a subtle sensation or more pronounced. With gentleness, direct the mind’s eye to this area and tune into what you find. Allow yourself to feel whatever sensation is there, softly. You could imagine breathing into the sensation as you inhale, and breathing out from it as you exhale, letting it be experienced with the rhythm and flow of the breath. Without trying to change it in any way; just offer it a kind space in which to happen. See if you can let go of any attempt to eliminate it or distract from it. Just offer your curiosity, being with it, moment by moment. Is the sensation moving at all, shifting in location, intensity, or quality?
- Notice any thoughts that arise concerning the feeling, and let these pass through in the background of awareness, without trying to follow or stop them. Let go of trying to think your way out of the difficult experience. Just let it be, embracing it as compassionately as you can.
The client can also practice shifting into being mode, by trying this 7-minute guided practice called Two Ways of Knowing from The Mindful Way Workbook by John Teasdale:https://www.mindful.org/a-7-minute-practice-to-shift-out-of-doing-mode/
Full catastrophe living: how to cope with stress, pain, and illness using mindfulness meditation, Jon Kabat-Zinn
Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World, Mark Williams, Danny Penman
The Difference Between “Being” and “Doing”, Zindel Segal
The EY 8-week mindfulness course