Being Not Doing: #14 of 28 Big Ideas from the World of Coaching

This article is fifteenth in a multi-part series that adapts and excerpts my entire book, The Coach Within: 28 Big Ideas for Engaging the Power of Your Own Wisdom, Creativity, and Choices* (Everything Goes Media, 2017).


14. Being Not Doing

“I am a human being, not a human doing.”

— Kurt Vonnegut

“If you want to be happy, be.”

— Leo Tolstoy

The magic and possibilities of being not doing start becoming more accessible with slowing it down (big idea 13). Being with yourself and not your problems (big idea 10) also gives us an opening into the power of being. Next, we’ll amplify the notion of making being someone primary over doing something.

The simplest version of this lesson is just as it says: be, not do. Be present. Be in the moment. Don’t do anything. Don’t perform. Don’t try to accomplish something. Be with what is now — accept and acknowledge it; don’t rate, review, or judge it. Be mindful of what is and aware of its perfection. Perfection in this case doesn’t necessarily mean ideal, rather whole and exquisitely real.

We sometimes define who we are by what we do. We do something (an activity, a job, a role) and then we are that thing. Another understanding of being not doing turns that around, putting the being first and letting the doing follow from that.


The being can take on various forms and be interpreted differently…

  • Being as in being yourself. Be more of yourself, be more human, revel in who you are.

  • Being as in being who you want to be. This is more aspirational, an idealization, your highest self, who you may be becoming.

  • Being as in who you want to be in a relationship, at work, when “x” happens…These are the conditional and circumstantial applications.

In all of those senses, however, the doing comes after the being is known, established, decided. Feel, embody, the being in any of the examples above, show up with heart, give it your all, and the doing takes care of itself. What does that mean? When you know who you are or who you want to be or who you want to be in a situation, then you will know what to do. The being inspires and determines, precedes, the doing.

Here’s an example. Let’s say you have always felt that you had leadership potential and have resolved to do something about it this year, maybe go for a management position at work or become your condo board president. Instead of focusing on what you need to do to be a leader, try being a leader first and then doing what springs from that.

So, you see yourself as a leader, you feel yourself as a leader, you know yourself to be a leader. You focus on the experience of being a leader and leading how you can from where you are. You are leading, so you’re a leader. Let the details, the right actions, and the specifics of leadership positions arise from that being.

[Just to prepare you…being not doing is a tool, an option, one of many in the coaching arsenal. There’s also the tool of action — just doing something first (big idea to come later in this series), that is: Do the things you need to do first to be the person you want to be.]


Your Coaching To-Do’s

⎕ Practice the simplest type of just being by spending 15 minutes in silent meditation, being with yourself and aware of the quality of being. Alternately or in addition, make a point of simply being when with a friend, family member, or co-worker today. Don’t judge, advise, or perform with them…be with them.

⎕ Next, find an instance in which being before doing can help you accomplish a narrow or a broad goal (examples: “being an artist,” “being a calm parent,” “being happy”). Use your journal to capture some thoughts on who you want to be and how you will be. Then, take a walk to give yourself some time to be that way or that person. Start now, without doing. What is this being like? How does it feel? Appreciate the being and stay in this new state of being the best you can for as long as possible. Later, see if and how this being changes your doing…what you want to do, what you do do.

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