Doing Mode and Being Mode

Calm is the new busy: “Doing” and “Being” Mode

Is busy-ness a badge of honour or a sign of failure?

There was a time when being busy was a badge of honour. Ask a colleague how they are and they’d reply, “busy!” either as some sort of indicator that they’re highly in demand or to make it clear they’re at capacity to avoid any more landing on their desk. We speak of “keeping busy” largely as a good thing, whether it’s as a distraction from difficulties or a sign that your work is in demand. But an increasing number of us are recognising the epoch of busyness has a dark side. As awareness around wellbeing increases, attitudes are changing: rather than being seen as a proxy of success, constantly being busy may now be seen as a sign you’re not efficient or don’t prioritise effectively. Calm is the new busy. Why is this though and what is the problem with being busy? Let’s take a look at “Doing” and “Being” mode to find out…

“Doing” Mode and its evil cousin, “Driven Doing”

In mindfulness terms, when we’re busy we are operating in “Doing Mode.” It’s important to state that there is nothing inherently wrong with this. Indeed it is quite wonderful and lets us achieve all kinds of fantastic things. Why then, do we need to learn a different way?

The dark side of Doing Mode is an exaggerated version of it, which we refer to as “Driven Doing Mode.” The difference is one of having responsibilities, and addressing them as best you can, with clarity and at times even a sense of urgency, but feeling adequately resourced and in control. In Driven Doing mode, problems start arising, such as:

  • Feeling that you are too busy
  • Overthinking
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Having the sense there isn’t enough time
  • Irritability
  • Resentment
  • Rumination

You may also experience it as physical ailments such as headaches; tummy aches; constipation; diarrhoea; over-eating or losing your appetite; tension in your shoulders or jaw; or an inability to fall asleep because you can’t “switch off”.

An alternative way of “Being”

When you first learn mindfulness, you are guided to experience life in an alternative mode called “Being” Mode. You’ll often hear, “We are human beings, not human doings!” It can feel a bit weird at first, frustrating even, as that urge to do is so strong within us.

Our usual way of operating in “Doing” Mode is largely characterised by thinking. We think about what we want to do in future (planning), what we’ve done (reflecting), and we make judgements. As we’ve already said, there’s nothing wrong with this mode, in fact it’s how we accomplish a lot of important things and learn from our experiences. But as our default mode, we are used to applying it in all situations, and there are tasks it is simply not suited to. And worse than simply being ineffective, it is actually, despite our best intentions, damaging.

So what is “Being” Mode, and how does it help us? 

“Being” mode is characterised by direct experience through the senses – seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and touching. For example. seeing a sunset rather than getting your phone out to Instagram it; tasting your food (again, rather than Instagramming it or wolfing it down whilst doing something else); feeling the sensation of water on your skin in the shower rather than thinking about what the day ahead holds.

But what possible benefit could come from interacting with the world in this way, through direct sensing rather than through thought? How could fully tasting your food have any meaningful impact on your life or cause you to be less busy? It doesn’t seem particularly profound, does it? It might even feel like it would take up more time – “I don’t have time to sit down quietly and eat my lunch and I need my morning shower time to plan my day.” Well, luckily for you this is a question you don’t need me to answer – you can try it for yourself and perhaps let me know what you discover. Here’s a little hint from the modern-day mindfulness master, Jon Kabat-Zinn:

“The little things? The little moments? They aren’t little. They are life.”

Learning to use our superpower for good not evil

Our thinking brain affords us the benefit (and curse) of time-travel. Like any superpower it can be used for good or evil yet many of us don’t know the difference. We look to the past and imagine the future. Often when we do so, we home in on those aspects we weren’t happy with rather than the things we did really well, or worry about the worst case scenarios, rather than the best case, and in all this, we miss what’s going on right now. And now is all we ever really have. This moment. Right here. Now.

You can’t feel a bodily sensation for yesterday. You can’t taste a meal from last year. Being mode exists only in the present. With practice, we learn to notice which mode we’re in at any one time, and with more practice, we learn to switch modes. This ability to switch modes at will is associated with great benefits to our wellbeing, namely, it is the antidote to “Driven Doing”. Can’t switch off at night due to a busy mind/ racing thoughts/ planning for tomorrow – when you learn to switch modes sleep will welcome you with open arms into the land of nod.

The Balance of Doing and Being

So it’s not about condemning busyness, or thought, and neither is it about becoming a monk. It is simply about having options and using the best mode available for the task at hand. Because often, that is what we are lacking, just a bit of balance. Cultivating Being Mode using minfulness practices ensures it is accessible to us when we need it. And the more we cultivate it, the more it becomes a natural part of us, meaning we find ourselves less susceptible to the downfalls of Driven Doing Mode in the first place.

We don’t necessarily need to change what we are doing or get rid of all our responsibilities in order to alleviate our worries and stresses (and that might not be possible anyway). We can instead change the way in which we approach the activities that fill our moments. And what did we learn about moments? They’re all we have. They are life.

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