Being and Doing

It is a paradox that we spend our time doing, but are happiest and most effective being. These notes suggest some ways we can heal this split.

Most people are busy, in a rush, doing things in order to earn a living, or make their lives better. Yet, our happiest and our most effective times often involve being not doing. This note explores this paradox and suggests some ways we can be and make a difference.

A story 

Kay and I were in Florence. One day we went on a coach tour. The morning was a Chianti vineyard and in the afternoon, we visited a monastery. As our noisy group of tourists got down from the coach, a young monk met us. We all became quiet, attentive, and peaceful without him needing to say a word. He radiated peace by the way he was. We often talk about this experience. I would like to be like him some day.

Another story 

My nephew and his wife had their first child. We saw Martin looking at Ben as he slept. Martin was enchanted, spellbound, and transported. Ben was just being himself. Perhaps we all had this quality once and maybe we can recover it.

The consultant as human instrument 

This was the title of a session on a process consultation course. I can’t remember anything we discussed but the idea has stuck. It suggests that if we want to make change we have to use all of ourselves not just “techniques”. All the truly great leaders, for example, Nelson Mandela, Ghandi and Jesus have been authentic people. We trust and follow people who are true to themselves. There is no difference between their being and doing.


One of the key ideas in Flawless Consulting by Peter Block is about the power of being authentic. He says “In the end it is our authenticity, the way we manage ourselves and our connection with our clients, that is our methodology … and that is the heart of the matter”.

The split between being and doing 

I think this is quite recent. Our economic system requires people to work hard, earn lots of money and then spend it on things and services. The money keeps people fully employed providing the goods and services. There are “primitive” societies where people work very little and just meet their basic needs and spend most of their time socialising and having fun!

I have listened to many people describe the times in their lives when they felt most alive and fulfilled. What are the moments that are of such high quality that, if your life had only consisted of those moments, it would have been a richly rewarding life? These are very often “being” moments. For example, a woman described the wonderful experience of being pregnant, nurturing a new life and looking after herself beautifully to do so. A man talked about looking at a sunset over the sea and feeling a sense of wonder and oneness.

So where do we find happiness? 

The happiest people I have ever met were in Nepal. This is a very poor country materially but the people live and work together in close families and communities. Their being and doing are integrated. Life is more of a whole, less fragmented than it is in the West.

Healing the split 

A good place to start is with yourself. You probably have years of working for a living and spending your leisure time doing, so making a change is difficult.

One-way is to think about those fulfilling “being” moments. Have you ever seen a sky so full of stars you can’t count them? Sat on a beach and watched the surf? Have you walked in the hills in the spring? Giggled with a friend?

I was very busy rushing from one thing to another and being ineffective. A friend advised me to spend ten minutes a day doing “absolutely nothing”. The first time I tried it I sat outside and noticed that the birds were singing to me. There is a world of difference between listening to the birds and noticing they are singing to you. If you, or your clients, feel stressed and pressured, do try Helen’s prescription.

The more work you do on your own development, the more able you will be to have influence through just being yourself.

You may want to help other people. It will help people be happier, less stressed and more productive if there is more balance between being and doing. You can try either of the approaches, above.

You could also try “two chair work”. This is a simple technique where you ask you client to have a conversation with her or himself. In one chair the person is the “doing” side and in the other the “being” side. You might ask the “doing” side what he or she would like to say to the “being” side and then have the “being” side respond. Do this a few times, offer support and encouragement and ask the two “sides” to explore how they could work together. This can be surprisingly effective.

If you would like help using this idea, or have any comments or questions please contact me. Thanks, Nick