CEO of Sagatica, guiding executives and their teams to decide, relate, and execute with wisdom, love and power.
Recently, a client of mine, who I’ll call Brianna, came to me, pleased with herself. She had been trying to meditate regularly for years, and over the past six months, she had finally found success. She then said she’s now thinking more about the concept of “doing vs. being.” Specifically, she wanted to learn how to stop “doing” and learn to simply just “be.” This is something I had been thinking a lot about, too.
And frankly, I didn’t have the answer. “C’mon, Eric! You’ve been at this for decades,” she had said, her surprise mixed with disappointment. I told her, “Where this hits a dead end is in the word ‘versus,’ which means ‘as opposed to or in contrast to.’”
“But that’s exactly what I want,” she pressed. “I want to stop the stress of doing and enjoy the peace of being.” I then explained that in my experience, when we think of “being” and “doing” as two separate, competing ideas, we get trapped in a false binary. To me, doing isn’t opposed to being; instead, you can bring more “being” quality to whatever it is you’re doing.
More than 30 years into my meditation practice, and I don’t see credible evidence that you can simply just “be.” To be alive is to “do.” Meditating, for example, is doing something. Thinking is doing something. Loving is doing something. Relaxing is doing something. From my perspective, you can’t not be doing something.
The problem with what I call “compulsive doing” — or the idea that you’re always pushing toward and focusing on what you “should,” “have to” or “ought” to do — is that you can become fixated on the future and your flaws, grow impatient with your moods and feelings, and begin measuring every aspect of your activity and progress. It’s too simplistic to conceive that “compulsive doing” can be permanently resolved by simply relaxing and not fixating on goals and objectives. The key is learning how to “be.” Being is a type of presence — a way you can direct your attention and awareness — whereas compulsive doing is a constant humdrum of attending now, tomorrow and yesterday; it’s a blend of activity, anxiety and scarcity.
Being isn’t opposed to doing; it’s a form of doing. Being is attending to the present moment where there are activities, sensations, thoughts and feelings. But this doesn’t mean you need to constantly weave your thoughts into stories, convert feelings into identity or endlessly reflect on everything that can go wrong. In the present moment, you make unfiltered, direct contact with your experiences. This is how you peel away anxiety and scarcity. I believe when you immerse yourself in the direct experience of your task at hand, you are “being” (even as you are “doing”).
In my experience, for business leaders, weaving being into doing can also help reduce stress and anxiety, as well as improve mental health, relationships and decision making. So, what are a few practical steps to subdue compulsive doing and experience more being? Here are four tips.
1. Pause. This is foundational. In compulsive-doing mode, your focus can quickly shift among the present, past and future. To break this cycle, I recommend using a timer or app to set up a sequence of daily pauses. As you take these pauses, assess whether you’re on autopilot; breathe deeply a few times; notice your body and any sensations you’re experiencing; and be fascinated by the sounds around you. In other words, be mindful. Shift to intimate contact with current reality. The more you do this, the more I believe you can enter a state of being.
2. Align with your values. If you haven’t already, take time to identify and articulate your values (such as adventure, boldness, compassion, curiosity, fun, influence, etc.). I’ve found your “being mode” switches on when you live deliberately, and I consider values to be a guide for deliberate, intentional living. In my experience, living your values can also help reduce the triggers of “have tos” and “oughts,” as well as create more alignment and meaning.
3. Work your strengths. Compulsive doing is implicitly focused on your inadequacy. This can set off a perpetual drive for self-improvement, self-criticism and a relentless goal to work harder, fix yourself and monitor your progress. The truth is that as a leader, you’re likely really good at a few things, and you can’t be a master of all things. Identify your strengths and honor them, then your efforts will be more harmonious and less odious.
4. Befriend your past. Regret is an expensive mental activity, as it can drain your energy by replaying your past and reaffirm feelings of being upset or ashamed. I’d be a fool to glibly tell you to “let bygones be bygones,” and it’s not always easy to “just let go.” Do, however, engage in whatever inner work you have to do to resolve your regrets, shame and guilt. Dwelling on the past holds your attention captive. It also compels you to keep planning and preparing to make sure you don’t repeat previous mistakes. Go to the past to learn from it and extract wisdom. Then, bring your powerful attention to the present.
Since not doing is off the table, I deeply encourage you to uplevel your being skills. This is not only good for you, but I believe it’s also good for your loved ones, teams and the entire human ecosystem.