There are two modes of human operation. One is doing and the other is being. Doing is work, achievements, recognition, creating value and improving yourself. Being is loving, enjoying and appreciating life. Without any improvements needed. You need a healthy balance of both if you want to be truly happy.
Doing is a prefect bully of being (and vice-versa as we will see). Doing is a very convincing illusion of escape. You can always start doing something and forget being.
You can have an endless to-do list. You can always take on more responsibilities. You can take your phone in your hand and check work emails anytime and anywhere.
You can nicely whine and complain about how busy you are to whoever you meet so you get a little bit of comfort and love. And achievements can always give you a short-term boost of self-worth and confidence.
I’m extremely inclined towards doing. It’s called being a workaholic and it’s an addiction like any other, helping you run away from yourself and life – from being.
With becoming older and a little bit wiser, I have been slowly learning to also just be. To only be, without any work. I improved in this sense a little bit and still have a lot of work to do. I know “a lot of work to do” sounds a bit ironic in this case. Well, I have to do less work I guess.
Anyway, I grasped the theoretical concept of what leads to an ability of only being in the present moment, but implementing it is a completely different story; if you are a natural born workaholic. Actually, nobody is born pure workaholic. You become workaholic usually because of the toxic upbringing.
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If you are a workaholic and struggle with just being like I am, let me share with you a few core concepts that could help you find the right balance between doing and being.
You’re valuable for who you are, not what you achieve
If your parents told you that they love you only when you did things right and didn’t have your back when you made mistakes, you might have started confusing achievements with love.
In the same way, if you don’t get enough emotional support and proper care when you are young in general, later in life achievements might become a way to compensate for that; because other people are applauding you and it feels good.
No matter how hard you work, it will never be good enough for your parents, if it was never good enough in your past. Some problems can’t be solved by only working harder.
Soon your self-worth gets connected to what you do, not to who you are. That leads to great oscillation in feelings of your self-worth and capacity for self-love. When you achieve something, you feel great about yourself and life, when you don’t win or when you make a mistake, the feeling of your self-worth crashes to zero.
The tighter the connection between self-worth and achievements, the greater oscillations occur. In a complete extreme, doing any small mistake, like a spelling error or breaking a glass, can immediately make you feel worthless. That kind of a personality characteristic consequently makes you an extremely volatile and labile person.
You’re valuable for who you are, not what you have
Unhealthy craving for status can be one type of compensation, greed for money is the other. For emotionally wounded people, money and possessions sometimes seem like the way of filling the void. There are several big problems with that.
Greed is a bottomless pit which exhausts the person in an endless effort to satisfy the need without ever reaching satisfaction. – Erich Fromm
The first problem is that net worth fluctuates and consequently your feeling of self-worth also fluctuates. Then we have the problem that there is always someone who has more money than you, and that again provokes your feeling of self-worth. The last problem I would mention among many is that today, you can very easily look rich without actually being rich.
Seeing your self-worth exclusively through money lenses can drive you to bad financial decisions. People are buying homes, cars and other possessions they can’t afford, often just to feel that they matter. They want to be loved, noticed and seen as capable, and a fancy car seems like the way to get all these things. Obviously it’s not.
Without money, your life can definitely be miserable. Money is important. You need enough money to live a happy and quality life. You also need status and achievements. But at the same time, focusing on money and achievements too much and putting them way before your health, relationships, integrity and balance leads to poor life choices and misery. Greed is not good.
You're not your job. You're not how much money you have in the bank. You're not the car you drive. You're not the contents of your wallet. You're not your fucking khakis. You're the all-singing, all-dancing crap of the world. – Tyler Duren, Fight Club
You can’t just be if you’re running away
There are so many things you can be running away from. Your childhood life and your abusive parents. Disliking parts of your personality. Finding yourself in the same toxic relationship patterns as you had with your parents. Feeling like you were a burden to your parents. Not to mention all the fears known to humankind.
If you have to run away from a single thing, you can’t just be. You can’t be free. You have to move, you have to go forward, you have to be constantly running. Unfortunately, running away from yourself is like running away from your shadow. No matter how fast and how long you run, you can’t outrun yourself.
If you want to free yourself, you have to sooner or later confront yourself and your fears.
You can’t just be if you’re caught in severe negative thoughts and emotions
How can you just be if you’re thinking the same negative thoughts over and over again? How can you just be if you’re feeling lost in severe negative emotions like anger, guilt or sadness? It’s impossible to be, all you can do is to keep busy and try to work away all the negatives.
The moment you stop working, the moment you stop being busy, negative thoughts and emotions get louder. How can you then stop for a moment and take a deep breath? Because the moment you start to relax, a monster of negative thoughts and emotions start to hunt you.
If you’re busy, you’re okay. If you stop, you’re not okay. You have to choose the lesser evil in a way.
And it’s not only that. All the negative thoughts and emotions have to be directed somewhere. They can be directed inwards, toward self-destructive behavior, or outwards. In the latter case, negative emotions can be the drive to achieve, sometimes even by trampling other people.
With severe negative emotions and thoughts, you can’t just be. They drive you to do stupid things. They drive you to bully yourself or others.
You can’t just be if you don’t know how to play
If you had to become an adult too soon and take responsibilities on your shoulders that your parents should have taken care of, or if you were never allowed to really play and do childish things, or even if you were always overprotected and not able to freely explore and water your curious mind, you might have forgotten how to play as an adult.
If you can’t play as an adult, you can’t enjoy life. If you don’t know how to really enjoy life, you can’t only be. You have to work, you have to be productive, you have to be responsible. But you also have to be capable of stopping and playing. Fortunately, what you’ve unlearnt you can learn again.
Sense of control
Doing gives you a great feeling of control and consequently a feeling of safety. You are the one moving things around when you clean your home. You decide how you will perform a specific task. Maybe you can even completely decide what will be on your to-do list. Doing gives a sense of organization, predictability and control.
On the other hand, being requires leaving things as they are. Being requires you to not bother with how things could be, to not be afraid of not having control, but accepting things as they are and just being relaxed. It’s hard to accept the chaos of life and world as messy as it is.
That may bring a sense of uncertainty, insecurity and fear. But the moment you start doing again, you gain control at least to a certain extent. You aren’t just passively enjoying life in all its chaos, you are the one moving things around. You have control. But you have no life.
On the ego level man expresses himself as a creator, on a body level he is the created. As a creator his focus is upon doing. As a creature his role is simply to be. – Alexander Lowen
Addiction to adrenaline rushes
If you had a stressful, anxious childhood full of adrenaline rushes or a longer such period in your adult life, there is a great probability that you got addicted to stress, anxiety and adrenaline kicks. Doing things is a very easy way to cause yourself a lot of stress, anxiety and fire-fighting situations.
One big reason for overdoing in life instead of enjoying can be that you need drama and other negative feelings, because they are something you got used to as your default mode of operation.
In such cases, you tend to find work and business relationships that are stressful and bring drama to your life by default. You are the one choosing and co-creating your environment. Build yourself motivational environment, instead of a stressful one.
Finding balance between doing and being
If you want to live a quality happy life, you have to somehow find balance between doing and being. If your feeling of self-worth is wired completely wrong and if you have extremely low capacities for self-love, professional therapy might be the only way to go.
But if you need just a little bit of adjusting, there are a few concepts and exercises that might help you find the right balance. These exercises are not quick fixes, you have to practice them regularly and usually things get worse before they can get better; especially because you have to stop running away from yourself.
I encourage you to start with different exercises, building up your self-worth and self-confidence, and measuring results. If regularly performing exercises (regularly is the key word) doesn’t show any results and you can’t see a better balance in your life, I encourage you to decide for therapy.
Nobody deserves to live a miserable life.
Stop running away from yourself
The first step you can make to go from doing towards being is to stop running away from yourself. You have to stop and start paying more attention to your emotions. Doing this, you may realize that your feelings aren’t as stable and okay as you thought they were.
Paying more attention to your feelings may show that you’re hurting and trying avoid the pain by being busy. That’s not an easy realization. But sometimes you have to take a step back in order to take two steps forward.
The best way to start paying attention to your emotions is the happiness index. Build yourself a chart on which you mark how you’re feeling one, two or more times per day. Then examine further what’s causing those feelings. Regularly performing reflection with the happiness index will slowly help you learn to pay attention to yourself and fully focus on yourself.
Define how much is enough and then go for good enough
If you want to find a better balance between doing and being, you have to better manage yourself, your time, your emotions and your expectations. One way to do that is by defining very strict limits and going for the good enough.
The idea behind the concept of good enough is that it’s completely acceptable to be reasonably consistent with your goals and not follow them 100 % of time to complete perfection; because the latter is simply impossible and only makes you unhappy and miserable.
You don’t need the perfect job, you need a good enough job. You don’t need the perfect spouse, you need a good enough spouse. You don’t need to be filthy rich, you need a good enough financial situation. You don’t have to eat perfectly healthy, your diet must only be good enough. You don’t need the perfect life, you need to fight for a good enough life.
In a similar way, you can set very strict limits that curb your desire for endless doing. By setting limits, you can very clearly define answers like:
- How many hours of work per week is a reasonable maximum? The answer should be around 50.
- How much money do you need in your bank account to feel safe? The answer should be around 6 – 12 of your monthly costs and not drowning in debt.
- What is the minimum number of hours you deserve per week to just do nothing?
- When and how is the best way for you to have an hour of power completely for yourself?
If good enough is good enough, then you don’t have to work so hard. You can relax a little bit.
Doing is not hard work and being is not lazy
Our society rewards doing and often sees being as a lazy thing. Laziness and being are not the same thing. And doing is not the same thing as working hard, even less working smart. These are all different categories you mustn’t mix.
- Being means taking time for yourself, feeling good in your own skin, being able to relax and enjoy and appreciate life, and not connecting your value exclusively to accomplishments.
- Doing is as important as being. You do it by having an important life mission, providing value, developing your talents and creating. You are here to enjoy life and you are here to create. All in healthy limits.
- Doing is not being busy. It’s not like the richest people work the most. Doing means working hard and working smart. And also includes knowing when the time comes to rest and recharge.
- Laziness means that you don’t do things at all. It means overbeing. You’re like a leech, expecting other people to do all the work instead of you. If you aren’t creating value, somebody else has to do it instead of you.
Being plus action
There is a nice sublimation you can do to doing. If you really manage to find work you enjoy based on your talents and based on your life vision, life mission and values, and if you find people with whom you love to create value together, you can take doing from doing to being plus action.
In such a case, you still must take enough time off, you still need to learn how to just be, you still need regular technology detoxes, but you can also be while you do. That is the easiest way for me to just be. Being in action. It’s not completely the same as just being, but it’s close enough.
In the past, I’ve learnt to not just be busy, but to work smart, have a superior life strategy and follow the concept of being plus action. Now I’m slowly learning to also handle just being.
Talk back to your inner critic
Your inner critic is the internalized voice of your parents telling you how nothing is good enough, how you have to try harder, how your accomplishments are nothing, how every mistake is the end of the world, and so on. So you work harder, you try harder, but nothing is ever good enough.
Your mind can take you to some very dark places. Having constant thoughts that you aren’t doing enough is absolutely such a dark place.
If you want to enjoy being, you have to constantly talk back to your inner critic. You have to see reality in a clearer way. You have to see that you matter, that you are good enough, that you also deserve to enjoy life and that people can love you for who you are as you are. The way to talk back to your inner critic is with emotional accounting.
Leave things as they are, relax and just be
You can make the relaxed feeling of being in the present moment a regular constant in your life. You just have to practice it enough. First list different things that you enjoy and make sure they aren’t doing, but just being activities. Usually, they are things considered playing.
Then regularly timebox playtime and rest-time and technology detox time, and don’t allow work to invade it in any way. Turn off your computer, mobile phone and TV, block any other distractions and just play. Play board games with your kids. Barbecue with your friends. Have a date night with your spouse.
Enjoying the path
One destructive concept that might help you stick to overdoing could be saying to yourself, I will enjoy life when … I earn enough money, when I manage to get a better job contract, when I pay off the debt, and so on.
Usually what happens is that there is always something new that prevents you from enjoying life.
I understand why people do this, I’ve been there many times. It’s hard to enjoy life if you’re caught in a shitty situation. It’s impossible to relax when you have so much burden hanging over your head. But you can find a way to make things more manageable.
You can define what you need to do to get out of the worst crisis, and how much time it will take. Then you can slowly start to add being to doing. You can define small “being rewards”, after you innovate your way out of tough life situations by doing or when you reach one of your milestones.
You have to somehow put yourself in a position where you can enjoy the path while you’re walking, not only think about enjoying life when you reach the goal someday. Because by that time, you may actually be dead.
You are valuable the way you are
Being is good. Doing is good. The right balance between the two is the best. Love and work. Work and love. Poor mindset, emotional problems and other psychological issues usually lead to overdoing or overbeing. In the next step, both lead to a poor quality of life, addictions and running away from the true essence – yourself.
It’s not something you asked for, but it’s definitely something you have to deal with. If you’re inclined towards overdoing, there are a few tools you can use to find a better balance. We looked at a few of them, now it’s up to you to apply them into your life. Here they are once again:
- Remind yourself over and over again that you matter for who you are, not what you do
- Material things are meant to be enjoyed, they are a very poor surrogate for love and for feeling better about yourself
- Figure out what you’re running away from and then stop running
- Start paying attention to yourself and your feelings with the happiness index
- Get used to playing and enjoying life by “forcing” yourself to do it in the beginning
- Talk back to your inner critic with emotional accounting
- Practice letting go of control and surrendering from time to time
- Define strict limits and go for good enough
- Don't see doing as hard work and being as lazy; healthy being has nothing to do with laziness
- Find things you enjoy doing in life and practice the concept of being in action, instead of just doing
It makes no sense to overdo everything to the point of getting attention from the whole world, if in the end you doom your own life. You’re here to be happy, enjoy life, connect, grow and create. That includes doing and being.
Don’t become your own worst enemy by leaning too much to one side or the other. Choose wisdom instead and make the best out of your life – with being and doing.