How To "Do" Less & "Be" More

Chronic stress can generate difficult emotions like anxiety and sadness. When these emotions are fleeting, they are not a problem. But if the emotions stay with you for long periods of time and with high levels of intensity, you can find getting on with your daily activities far more challenging.

So how can you let these emotions go? To answer this question, you need to understand two different modes of mind, studied by researchers over the last 10 years — doing and being mode.

Doing mode: is an important everyday mode of mind. Doing mode involves setting goals in your mind and taking action to achieve those goals. Working actively to finish the tasks on your to-do list is a classic example of doing mode.

Being mode: is not about goals or change, but about allowing and accepting your present-moment reality. Being mode involves a connection with your senses. If you're fully in being mode, you don't get any of your tasks done. Watching a sunset with your attention fully focused, even for a few moments, is an example of pure being mode.

Some activities in life require more doing mode, while others require more being mode. Mindfulness offers you the ability to see if you're in doing mode, being mode, or somewhere in between. You are then able to switch from one mode of mind to another. In this way, you are better able to handle the emotions that can arise from stress.

But don't think of doing as bad and being as good — they both have to be balanced for a full and satisfying life.

For example, let's say your stuck in doing mode:

You have the thought, My child is misbehaving, yet again. You feel anxious. You start to think, What can I do? What if she behaves badly for the next 10 years? How can I cope with that?

You get angry at your child and she starts crying. You grab her, telling her not to misbehave and get into a fight. You keep trying to think of the actions you can take to get rid of your anxiety.

Now let's explore moving between being and doing mode:

You feel anxiety about your relationship with your husband. Rather than ignoring the feeling or trying to fix anything, you notice the sensation in your belly. You feel the tingling. You can hear thoughts in your head, but you watch them like clouds passing through the sky, instead of engaging with them. You take a deep breath. You notice the sound of the tree in the breeze in your garden and a plane flying in the distance. Your shoulders start to relax, which makes you smile. The anxiety naturally lessens. You are living in the present with being mode.

You can then engage doing mode by thinking about how you can make things better between you and your husband tonight. You decide to treat yourselves to your favorite restaurant.

Doing mode is for getting things done. Being mode is for resting and dealing with emotions.

There is no such thing as a "bad" emotion. Emotions are just emotions. You're a human being, and human beings naturally have emotions. And emotions are not all pleasant — it's unrealistic to feel happy and stress-free all the time. You can cultivate a mind that is more likely to feel less stressed, but this comes through learning and accepting all emotions that can come and visit you.

Emotions are not problems to be solved. They are experiences to be felt.

Once you stop seeing emotions as bad, you're less judgmental and critical of yourself. Then, the emotions no longer need to be fixed. And so thoughts like, Why am I feeling so anxious? What's wrong with me? don't come up so much. And if they do, you don't take those thoughts so seriously. You live in the present moment with your feelings, accept the emotion for what it is, and move on.

Another way to enter being mode is by walking mindfully. I love teaching mindful walking in my classes, especially to people who have never tried it before. Most people either find it funny, or gasp with amazement at how little they knew about their own process of walking.

Normally, you walk for a reason — you want to get somewhere. You walk to get a glass of water from downstairs, or to pick up the milk from your local store. And so your attention is rarely on the process of walking itself — your focus is on the destination.

Mindful walking is different. When you practice mindful walking, your attention is in the present moment, not on what you're trying to do.

Here are the aspects of the present moment that you could notice when doing mindful walking:

  • Your breathing
  • The sensations in your feet
  • The sensations in your legs
  • The air against your skin
  • The sounds you hear
  • The colors that you see
  • The smells

Have you ever watched a young child walking? She is walking mindfully and fully connected with her senses. She sees the puddle, marvels at the color and usually jumps right in! She's curious, enchanted and not at all worried about how late she is. If she spots a beautiful flower, she will pluck it. If she hears a plane, she'll gaze and smile and say, "Wow" at it.

Imagine living like that? Well, you probably did as a child, at least some of the time, and so you actually do know how to live that way. Mindfulness is about rekindling that enthusiasm for the here and now. Exciting, isn't it?

Excerpted from The Mindful Way through Stress: The Proven 8-Week Path to Health, Happiness, and Well-Being, by Shamash Alidina. Published by The Guilford Press.

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