• Being and Doing Modes of Functioning

    by James Strohl, Ed.D.



    There are two main modes in which the human mind operates. These are the “being” mode and the “doing” mode. Both modes are necessary for effective living. However, most people tend to de-emphasize the being mode while overinvesting in the doing mode. Immense benefits can be received by increasing our proficiency at entering a state of being versus habitually attaching to various states of action and doing.

    Our “being” mode of functioning is characterized by direct, immediate, intimate experience of the present moment. Being fully attentive to that which is currently happening reveals a reality that is endlessly unique, dynamic, complex, rich, and creative. Furthermore, we always find that we are absolutely okay in the present moment and that our upsets, fears, doubts, and worries are simply negative beliefs and expectations that our mind projects into a future that has not yet occurred.

    This present-centered, being mode of consciousness is experienced in our bodies and associated with responding to life from our whole being. This state includes a holistic, bodily felt sense of situations which involves the use of all of our senses. It is less goal-oriented than the “doing” mode and it encourages trusting the processes of change and discovery.

    When in being mode we allow ourselves and others to be exactly as we are and do not defend against the truth by resisting, denying, distorting, or manipulating our perceptions of reality. We respond honestly and opening to the reality of the moment, availing ourselves to a more direct, fresh, broad, and deep experience of the details of life. Entering the being mode generally requires intentionally slowing down and pausing so that our mind relinquishes its unconscious habit of racing from one thought to another.

    Our “doing” mode of functioning is experienced more in our minds than in our bodies and is usually past and future focused. When in doing mode, we frequently are preoccupied with thoughts about situations and things, as well as how to act on them, versus having a direct experience of them. This mode is associated with evaluating, planning, comparing, managing, controlling, and changing whatever is currently present in our awareness. Over investment in doing mode tends to remove us from direct experiencing of the immediate moment. That is, we can become so absorbed in pondering the past and future that the reality of the present is not fully apprehended. We are also more inclined to perform in an automatic, habitual, unconscious manner when functioning in doing mode than when we are accessing being mode.

    In doing mode we are usually doing something to something, whereas in being mode we are being with whatever is occupying our awareness. This “being with” experience involves a gentle, friendly attitude of openness, curiosity, and receptivity toward the objects in our awareness. It involves letting go of judgments and fear while surrendering to the natural flow of experience, thus allowing the objects of our attention to be whatever they are and to reveal themselves in any manner they wish.

    In being mode we have experiences whereas in doing mode we commonly become lost in our experiences. In being mode we experience a broadening of our awareness and tend to experience internal and external events more clearly and realistically. In doing mode we tend to narrow our perceptual field so that specific thoughts, emotions, and sensations become the totality of our identity. Functioning in doing mode oftentimes involves feelings of discomfort because of the tendency to readily become lost in the objects of our perception including our thoughts and feelings. When this happens our consciousness is dominated by the objects of our perception rather than remaining grounded in ourselves and maintaining an awareness of that part of us that is the perceiver of objects. Therefore, in doing mode, when the objects of our perception are not pleasant we find ourselves totally absorbed in the unpleasantness.

    In doing mode we sometimes fluctuate to the other extreme by becoming overly identified with a desire to distance ourselves from distressing thoughts and feelings. By avoiding and ignoring uncomfortable experiences we become “detached from” the reality of our experiences and, to one degree or another, lose our ability to perceive reality clearly and accurately. In fact, we can dissociate from direct experiencing to the extent that we lose most or all direct contact with reality. The vast majority of people do not detach from reality to these extreme degrees. Most people only distort reality minimally or moderately which is commonly considered to be rather healthy and normal.

    Clearly, it is more efficient and productive to be with the objects of our perceptions versus lost in or completely out of relationship with the objects of our perceptions. Maintaining a relationship with our constantly present, observing, perceiving Self is enhanced in the “being” mode. When occupying this mode we actually become more aware of constantly being aware. This promotes a sense of being grounded in a secure, always present, never changing “home base” while also being more conscious and mindful of the objects that enter and pass through our perceptual field.

    Our ongoing awareness or observing Self is often referred to as our deeper identity and true Self. It is always present and never changing. Recognizing and embracing the ongoing integrity of the observing Self facilitates the establishment of a direct, clear, and dynamic relationship with the objects of our perceptions as they pass through our awareness.

    In doing mode our consciousness tends to leave our personal space and become absorbed in the object of our perception. Subsequently, our sense of identity becomes lost in the object. In being mode we invite and allow an object to pass into and through our personal space where it is perceived as one of many potential items in our broad, stable perceptual field. In this mode we can regulate our relational distance to an object thus influencing the amount of volume it occupies and level of intensity it asserts in our overall perceptual field. Indeed, in being mode we are able to be with the object versus lost in it or detached from it. Understandably, when our awareness of our observing self remains in tack, we negotiate our relationship with the objects of perception with increased intentionality and effectiveness, and therefore respond more efficiently to the form, content, relevance, and meaning of the objects we experience.

    In summary, our behavior in doing mode tends to be more reactive while our being mode supports more intentional, broadly informed responding. When in being mode we are cognizant that we are having thoughts and feelings versus being lost in them or being detached and dissociated from them. By perceiving an object as an event passing through our awareness and as only one of many possible elements in our total perceptual field, we are better able to appreciate the broad range and extraordinary richness of each moment-to-moment life experience. Above all, highly effective living requires the proficient utilization of both doing and being modes of functioning. De-emphasizing either mode will result in inefficient performance. Ideal human functioning occurs when doing behaviors naturally emerge and spontaneously flow from a state of being.