It’s Not What, But How



Have you ever wondered what that saying means: It’s not what you do, but how you do it? What does this actually look like in everyday life, for example when you are really pissed off about something? Or how about this one? I learned it in therapy: It’s not what you do, but who you are that I love. That one was pretty powerful as I slowly stripped away all the things I thought I had to do to be loved. To get love. Ninety-nine percent of my actions were about getting love. Ninety-nine percent of my actions rarely got me love. In fact, they mostly pushed it away.

It took years of mindfulness practice (and therapy) for me to understand the what (what = content/story) vs. the how (how/who = process). I still get tripped up. The stories we tell can be very convincing. The stories are the what.

They look like this:

“The only way I can get ahead at this company is if I work 80 hours a week.”

“The only way I can heal my body is to have access to the best doctors, and the best doctors are out of my budget.”

“I can’t find love, because…[fill in the blank with your story].”

All stories are content and all content is limiting. In fact, in mindfulness practice, that’s what we call them, “limiting stories.” And dang, do they feel true when we are caught up in them.

In mindfulness practice, it’s about the process—the how and the who—or more accurately, about separating the story from the process, because the story is what keeps us separate from ourselves, Source, love, all that we desire.

It’s not about denying our story, but about seeing it for what it is.

It’s getting curious about the how and the who. Who is here and how are they being received? Process embraces everything, not as something to fix or change, but as an expression of the thing we need to grow. To find happiness (or bliss).

“It’s not what you do, but who you are that I love.”

-Integrative Body Psychotherapy

I’m continually in the process of noticing the what and the how. It’s what my love letter projects are all about. This week I’ve been a little grumpy. I told my sweetie he really needs to get a life. Get some hobbies. Go out and do some fun things without me. The wise man that he is, he asked, “What part of you is asking me this question?”


I paused, hesitated. I’d been dancing around this. It’s a boundary I’ve had a hard time claiming. It was easier for me to have a boundary about what he should do, is doing, or is not doing vs. what I am needing. In therapy that first one is a pushing away boundary (it pushes love away). The second is an inclusive boundary (it invites love in). It’s much scarier. It requires me to say what I need. What I want. What I desire. It requires vulnerability. It’s about me, not you.

The part of me asking that question was the part who was deeply craving time alone. Not time away from him, but time FOR me. And I couldn’t really say how much time. More than a day I knew. Maybe a whole week. I couldn’t explain more than that and I couldn’t say what I was going to do with that time. Usually if I need time, there is a reason. Something I need to do. It’s logical. This was beyond logic. I was following my gut, or maybe my pussy (more about following your pussy here and here are wise words from Mama Gena on starting the New Year. I always love Mama Gena’s take on life).  


Ok, back to the what and the how. Tuesday night, exhausted and finally alone (my guys are with their dad this week) I pulled out my laptop and started watching “Grace and Frankie” (a Netflix series). I watched for three and a half hours. I don’t watch TV often. I don’t even have a working one. Splayed out on my couch, I laughed, and I cried. I heard voices telling me what I should be doing, that I was wasting my precious alone time, etc. I felt a twinge of tightening in my shoulders, neck, hips, as those voices spoke. Tightening. Tension. Shrinking. I didn’t listen to the voices. I listened to my body (which refused to get off the couch). Then something amazing happened. I was done. Done. I allowed myself to fully sink into this experience until I felt satiated. I’d had enough. I cleaned the kitchen and went to bed. Yep the kitchen got cleaned. Some towels got washed and dried too.

The fearful voices of doom and falling into a void of sitcom nothingness did not come to fruition. What I learned (for probably the millionth time) is a woman’s just gotta do what a woman’s gotta do. Sometimes that’s nothing more than binge watching a TV show.


I set logic aside to follow some other part of me. I witnessed listening to myself. I knew then it was exactly what I was needing in that moment and that my alone time would too run its course. I needn’t understand it, or figure it out, or make sense of it. I needn’t know what it’s going to look like. I simply need to follow my desire of the moment.

I kinda wish my example was more dramatic than binge watching TV AND it’s the perfect, mundane kind of everyday choice we make. If I’m gonna watch 3 ½ hours of TV, it can be with joy and relaxation or it can be full of “shoulds” and guilt and leave me feeling like I’ve completely wasted my time. I’ll feel crappy instead of relaxed.

I’m not advocating TV watching here! I am suggesting: pay attention to how you feel doing what you are doing. What are the stories you are telling yourself about what you are doing? How do they make you feel? If you always believe it’s going to be bad news, when so-and-so is showing on Caller ID, then that’s the way you’ve conditioned your mind and expectations before answering the call (or not answering it). This is the process. The how. It applies to everything you “do”.

note-im-not-talking-about-addiction-habits-of-self-destruction-drugs-alcohol-what-have-you-if-youve-gone-there-in-your-head-yeah-what-about-addictionsurely-ySo, how do you do what you do? Leave a comment below. Start a discussion. Miracles happen when you show up and participate.


P.S. In writing this, I have become aware of how terrible I try to make my kids feel when they are zoning out in front of their screens! I don’t like their excessive screen time AND I’m pretty sure making them feel crappy about it (lots of “shoulds”) is not the way to get them to make different choices. Nope, probably they double down, because the guilt trip I am laying on them keeps them from reaching the point of feeling satiated. Hmmmm, interesting.  

P.S.S. It was different when my kids were young. We had lots of limits about screen time. Now they are teenagers and learning how to make these choices for themselves, and I’m passing on my stories to them. My guilt trip about wasting time and always needing to be “productive.” ’Cause that’s how this contitioning thing works: it passes down from generation to generation. It’s part the collective story. Damn.

Glad I’m paying attention. 

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