Doing vs Being: The Importance of “Being” in a World Dominated by “Doing”


August 18, 2022
Filipe Bastos

Most mindfulness practices are founded on the idea of disengaging from self-perpetuating and unhelpful patterns of rumination and negative thought. By channelling our skills of attention and awareness in specific ways, we can go about life in a more intentional way.

Taking a more mindful approach to everyday life can be difficult because it often contradicts some of the core behaviours of the human mind. Over time, our brains have evolved to seek out problems and dangers in order to ensure survival; however, in a modern context, this can lead to stress and anxiety. That’s why in today’s article, we’re going to focus on a way of experiencing the world that promotes calmness and shifts us away from the busyness of our own heads. To be specific, we’re going to show you how to move from “doing” to “being”. Let’s get stuck into it.

The Difference Between “Being” and “Doing”

When we go about our lives, we are all constantly in one of two modes: “doing” or “being”. Doing mode is when we are living in our heads, thinking about the present, the future, and the past, making plans, and completing tasks. Being mode is when we are living in the moment, experiencing things directly. Both forms of mental state are necessary at different times; however, modern cultural values dictate that doing is more important that being. Therefore, most of us spend too much time in doing mode and very little time appreciating our core experiences in the present moment.

Different mental activities engage different patterns of brain activity and nerve cells networks (our article on the impact of meditation on our brainwaves explores this idea further). Mindfulness practices can be seen as a way of becoming more aware of the modes of mind we’re operating in and learning how to shift gears, so that we can experience the freedom and freshness provided by simply “being”.

A big part of this process comes down to recognising the differences between “doing” and “being”. Think of the distinction like this: “being” mode is about appreciating the complexity of experience, while “doing” mode is about boiling down the complexity of experience into one narrow, one-dimensional question: “How does this relate to me reaching my goals?” In order to fully understand the differences between these two ways of living, let’s explore them both individually.

The “Doing” Mode

Our goal-setting minds have a natural inclination to set us on the track of constantly “doing”. When our minds are in Doing mode, we focus on accomplishing concrete tasks that we’ve set ourselves, whether that be making a meal or finishing a piece of work, or something more internal, such as becoming a better person or feeling happier. Our minds work out how to solve problems and achieve targets using what is called the “discrepancy monitor”, an internal process of monitoring our current circumstances in comparison with a model or standard of what is desired, required, expected, or feared. By identifying mismatches between where things are and where they should be, the discrepancy monitor helps us achieve certain things.

This process is fantastic for solving problems and getting things done in the external, impersonal world. Therefore, we often translate this doing mode towards our personal, internal worlds; and it’s here that problems can begin to arise. While doing mode can be applied effectively in many different aspects of life, sometimes it only makes things worse — we call these moments examples of “driven—doing“, rather than just “doing”.

What Is The “Driven—Doing” Mode?

The term Driven–doing refers to the problematic applications of the doing mode. This state describes moments of overthinking and negative rumination which drive us to neglect ourselves. In Driven–doing mode, we’ll continuously monitor and check up on discrepancies between a current situation and an intended outcome. However, in moments when no immediate action can be taken to reduce discrepancies, the only thing the mind can do is continue to work on its ideas about how things are and how they should be, in the hope of finding a way to reduce the gap between them. This it will do over and over again, escalating feelings of suffering with no positive outcome. Therefore, in driven—doing mode, problem-solving tactics can backfire and lead to perpetuation rather than cessation of unwanted mind states.

If we’re facing an emotional dilemma or a difficult relationship break-up, for example, typical problem-solving techniques often won’t apply, and we’ll struggle to let go of the goals we’ve set in the way that we might with an ordinary task. This inability to let go causes us to dwell further on the differences between where or who we are and where or who we want to be, and these issues are perpetuated. We may start to question our sense of identity or self, and our chaotic Monkey Mind is activated. This is where doing mode can cause us problems.

The “Being” Mode

Being mode is about disengaging from a busy mind. Within this state of being, the mind has nothing to do, nowhere to go, and no external or internal pressures weighing it down. It can focus fully on present moment experience, and interact with sensory experiences in the here and now. This type of mindset can be practised anywhere, and at any time. It’s the kind of mode activated by mindfulness practices such as breath awareness, noting, and mindful meditation.

Now, the doing mode will often try to re-assert itself and take hold of our minds even when we’ve begun to experience the feeling of just “being”. While this can be frustrating, ultimately there needs to be a balance between the two states. Certain tasks require the kind of focused concentration or autopilot response that the doing mode promotes, while at other times, we’d seriously benefit from the peace and stillness of just being.

Being mode is all about practising acceptance. It could be considered the opposite of the driven—doing mode, in that you’re not motivated to achieve any goals or solve any problems. In “being”, your mind simply takes in all aspects of present moment experience without judgement, disengaging with specific goals, past events, or future consequences. One of mindfulness’ major teachings is that the thoughts, feelings, emotions, and sensations we experience in the present are simply passing events, which we shouldn’t attach ourselves to. “Being” mode encourages this agile approach to the present moment, and makes us less likely to react habitually to certain triggers. This can allow us to become better at tolerating uncomfortable or difficult states of mind.

How To Shift To Being Mode

We’re all constantly rushing around, trying to complete tasks and ensure we have a sense of control over everything in our lives. The thing is, this just isn’t always possible, and the sooner we realise that, the better. 

Mindfulness teacher Eckhart Tolle speaks about the dangers of “losing yourself in doing”, AKA getting lost in certain activities and the stresses, anxieties, and reactivity they produce. However, that doesn’t mean you have to just sit in silence doing nothing in order to have an experience of mindfulness. According to Tolle, “There needs to be a balance between noise and silence and between thinking and not thinking.” This refers to the idea of “Being While Doing”, which we’ll explore shortly. But first, here are a few pointers on how to cultivate a state of just being.

  • Connect with your thoughts in an observational, non-judgemental way.
  • Take in different sensations, sounds, smells, and tastes around you and your body. Consider what thoughts these sensory experiences bring up for you.
  • Notice things appearing and disappearing in the present moment. Listen to a sound, for example, and note the second at which it ceases to be heard. This is a great way to cultivate present moment experience.
  • Practise different forms of everyday mindfulness such as mindful breathing and the RAIN Meditation Technique.

A Short Meditation Script to Cultivate Being Mode

By accepting and experiencing things without judgement in the present moment, we can significantly improve our current reality. The following meditation script is something you can refer to any time you’d like to cultivate some inner calm and move out of doing mode.

  • To begin this meditation, find a quiet space with minimal distractions, and get yourself comfortable.
  • Focus on the sensations in your body, and gently let go of the thoughts going on in your mind. To move your attention away from the thinking mind, try to notice any warmth or tingling you can feel.
  • Focus on your breath to soften any mental activity and get in touch with a sense of just being. Notice the cool air at the tip of your nose as you inhale or at the back of your throat when air enters your lungs.
  • Relax any bodily tensions, particularly any tensions in your forehead, chest, back, and stomach. These areas tend to get tense when we’re in doing mode.
  • Notice if your body and mind are trying to get something done. Maybe you’re hungry, you want to get the meditation “right”, or you just want it to end. If you detect any signals that you want something to change, try to gently relax and let go of thoughts that take you away from the present moment.
  • Become aware of the fact that right now, you don’t actually need anything. You’re comfortable, and all your basic needs have been met. Try to feel grateful for that.
  • Observe whether you have any thoughts that dwell on the past or look to the future. Notice those thoughts patiently without judgement, before gently relaxing back into the sense of just “being”.
  • Ask yourself some questions: “What is here right now?”, “How does it feel when there is no problem to solve?”, or “What is present when you don’t go to the past or future?”
  • Now, rest in the relaxed state you have cultivated. When you’re ready, gradually start to transition out of the meditation. Open your eyes and begin to move your body.

The doing mode of the mind, which is constantly seeking something, shows up as physical and mental signatures. Learning how to soften those energy points allows us to move from doing to being. This process helps us appreciate what is happening without wishing for things to change.

Being While Doing

We’ve now explored how shifting from Doing to Being mode can enhance all sorts of physical, mental, and emotional experiences. But it’s important to stay aware of the importance of balancing these modes. Just because you’re doing something, it doesn’t mean you can’t experience “being”. In fact, being while doing is the essence of everyday mindfulness.

Daily mindfulness practices like mindful communication and mindful eating are a great way to incorporate the core values of Being mode into your life. By focusing on sensory experiences in the present moment, we can quieten our chaotic minds and enjoy a greater sense of calmness and peace throughout various types of experiences.

Being while Doing can genuinely improve your life for the better. You don’t need to always have concrete plans for your future or a feeling of certainty about how to get where you want to be. Enjoying the present moment as it happens is a truly liberating experience. Our new membership plan will show you how mindfulness can boost your ability to enhance your core experiences in this way — watch this video to find out more.

Before we go, let’s briefly recap the main qualities of Doing and Being mode.

Doing Mode

  • Judging
  • Planning
  • Categorising
  • Problem-solving
  • Logical, rational, and analytical

Being Mode

  • Awareness
  • Noticing
  • Observing
  • Exploring
  • Acceptance
  • Intuitive, creative, and open-minded

As you go about your life, try to take notice of which mental mode you’re operating in. Even if you’re completing tasks that need to be done and working in a practical cognitive mode, you can still be mindful whilst doing so. Being while Doing is the perfect way to incorporate the key principles of mindfulness into your life. For more on how to encourage this process, check out our article on quick mindfulness exercises you can do anywhere.

Frequently Asked Questions:

How do you focus on being rather than doing?

Try not to view doing and being as totally distinct modes of mind; even the most mindful individuals need to access doing mode on a regular basis. Instead, just try to mindfully shift towards being mode while completing tasks. Practise an everyday model of mindfulness in order to make this process easier.

Can you be present and think at the same time?

There’s nothing wrong with experiencing thought during quiet moments of mindfulness and meditation. Mindfulness practices and experiences of just “being” can’t stop us from thinking, but by engaging in the present moment and observing thoughts non-judgementally, we can become less reactive and start to think in a more balanced, present-minded way.

Does Being Mode lead to Deep Meditation?

Being mode can bring about an intimate experience of interconnection with all sorts of sensory experiences and surroundings. Therefore, it can be likened to distinct modes of deep meditation or non-dual awareness. If you’d like to find out more about this subject, check out our article on deep meditation.

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