To Do or Be: That is the Question

Source: The Four Agreements Card Deck

Do You Over Do?

Are you an over-doer? Are you unable to stop yourself from doing, talking, giving or having too much? The tendency to overdo is all too common and it has us in slavery to committing to tasks we don’t want to do, telling people lies we don’t want to tell and eating Tim Tams we no longer even feel like eating. So why do we overdo it?

These days it seems impossible to stop ourselves from trying, striving or achieving. We are demanding more and more of ourselves in every aspect of our lives. Somewhere along the line we have begun compiling checklists, setting goals and forming expectations in relation to our family, relationships, health, fitness, hobbies and leisure pursuits.

We don’t seem to be content unless we are ‘mastering’ something, from making healthy cupcakes to downward dog yoga poses. We’ve also devised innumerable ways in which to measure and track ourselves. I can now use an app to time, track and keep statistics on my meditation practice – and I just wanted a simple way to stop me from falling asleep and drowning in my own drool. But how necessary are all these measurements – do we really need to monitor ourselves and strive for improvement during our so-called ‘down-time’? It seems like we’ve forgotten how to just be.

Can you identify a situation or aspect of your life in which you have no expectation of yourself? Where the mental chatter of constant evaluation, feedback and refinement is quiet? When is it that you don’t demand anything of yourself and just allow yourself to be?

There is nothing wrong with aspiring to be the best chef, gardener or interior decorator you can be, but when and where does the drive to be your ‘best self’ stop serving you and start enslaving you? A good friend of mine once told me about a commitment she made to keep fit and relieve stress by walking every day. At first she revelled in the crisp fresh air of the early morning and the stillness and beauty of the old trees in her neighbourhood. Feeling energised she started jogging instead of walking. It wasn’t long before she started to run and run and…run. It got to the point that she was getting up earlier and earlier to run longer and longer distances and was unable to stop herself despite an increasing list of running-induced injuries. When I asked her why she had turned herself from a leisurely morning stroller in to a Forrest Gump-style running machine, her answer was simple: running was the only time her mind switched off. It became the only time she allowed herself to be. It gave her the experience of being in the moment or “the zone” and there was a freedom of not having to do anything else other than move her body. My friend had gone to great (and painful!) lengths of over doing in order to seek the experience of being – freedom, peace, silence, stillness. She didn’t need to run further or faster to do this, she just needed to be comfortable being.

Quite simply, overdoing is a result of the belief that we have to do something in order to be something. We have to do (e.g. clean the house) in order to be (e.g. relaxed). We overdo so we can “be” and the less we can be, the more we have to do!  We get so caught up in doing stuff in order to be peaceful, content, happy, calm and free that we don’t know how to just be peaceful, content, happy, calm and free.

In order to stop the vicious cycle of overdoing we need to recognise that the relationship between ‘Being’ and ‘Doing’ is a not one of cause-and-effect, that is, doing does not result in being. Nor is it an either/or relationship, that is, doing does not exclude being. Being and Doing are actually partners in a balance of energy. They are Yin (being) and Yang (doing) expressions of energy that are intertwined and interdependent. The key is to balance their expression.

Achieving this balance isn’t easy, as the ‘overdoing’ has probably become an engrained habit for most of us. Here are three suggestions for how to balance the yin and yang of being and doing:

1) Just Be It

You may need to explore where the need to do is coming from. Who or what are you trying to 'be' when you're overdoing, over-giving, over-talking, over-eating or over-sleeping? For example, you might be over-giving to prove that you are a kind and generous person. What if you allowed yourself to know that you already are a kind and generous person, without doing anything, would you need to keep giving until you were exhausted? Kindness and generosity don't 'leave the building' once you've finished your kind and generous act, they are part of your being.

2) Adjust Your Expectations and Stop the Commentary of Self-Appraisal

You may need to revisit the expectations and rules that are enforcing the overdoing. What beliefs are driving you to overdo? In the over-giving example, perhaps you have the beliefs “I must help others” or “I must not be selfish.” These beliefs are operating on auto-pilot most of the time and will be the main reason you keep saying “yes” when what you want to say is “no”.

Your expectations determine the incessant stream of self-judgemental thoughts that accompany your decisions and actions. Your ‘Inner Commentator’ loves to measure, evaluate and compare what you are doing against your expectations. Once you enter into a commentary of what you are doing, you have left the experience and gone into thinking about the experience. You, as a being, are no longer present. Once you stop constant self-appraisal, you’re more likely to be. Start by practicing letting go of the need for a particular outcome and enjoy the process of doing without the need to measure, evaluate and commentate on it.

3) Do and Be (at the Same Time!)

Doing and Being are different sides of the same coin, you cannot have one form of energy without the other. A great way to achieve balance is to focus on being and doing at the same time. In an effort to rest more (note the paradox!), I once found myself focusing so much on making a concerted effort to ‘do’ more restful activities that I wasn’t resting at all. My mind chatter went something like this: “Hmm…is this activity restful? Is this the best time to rest? What if I just checked my email first? Am I feeling rested?...blah blah…Perhaps I would have a chance to feel rested if my mind would just bloody SHUT UP and LET ME REST!!!”

Actually, it’s probably never the doing that is the problem, it is the absence of being that is. Like my Forrest Gump friend, there is nothing wrong with running to feel peaceful and centred, it’s the extent to which you cannot stop yourself from running because you fear you will no longer feel peaceful and centred that is the problem. I could walk my dog in the park and be lost in anxiety and worrisome thoughts. I could also sit at the computer and pay my bills and be relaxed. Releasing the dependency to do something to achieve a particular state of being will not only bring you more balance, it will bring you the freedom to do what you want, when you want and the ability to stop before you overdo it.

Mindfulness is actually all about balancing being and doing. Bring your attention to ‘being in the moment’ by focusing on your body and the way it is feeling while you are doing something. Don’t try to change the feeling, allow it to be and enjoy the sensation of not searching for a way to ‘do’ something else. 

Well, I could keep writing, but that would be overdoing it! Enjoy :-)