Why We Do What We Do (or How To Be Present)


Have you ever stopped to think why we do the things we do?

Why do we wake up at a certain time every morning?

Why do we go to bed at a certain time?

Why do we have to watch a certain TV show?

Why do we eat what we eat?

Why do we drink what we drink?

I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately because of being socially unacceptable and quitting the beast.

A little while after I stopped drinking I went out to karaoke. If you’re anything like me, or most people for that matter, you can’t sing exceptionally well. :)

To get up in front of people and not sing well isn’t an easy task. So a few beers to “calm the nerves” is industry standard in these cases.

I hate the industry. And I don’t like their standards.

I didn’t fully realize how influenced I was in social situations until I couldn’t fall back on that crutch.

This particular karaoke night, because of The Iron Mind, it was a breeze. I got up on stage, did Stray Cat Strut by the Stray Cats, and it was all good. I was nervous and didn’t have any stage presence, but that’s OK.

(Remind me to post the video of me absolutely bombing on Jump by Kris Kross at karaoke in Sydney.)

A lot of our damaging actions are the result of following the crowd.

I was probably the lone participant to get on stage without liquid courage and that made me happy.

Being Present

It’s not always particularly easy to take control in these situations. But you can begin by being present. That is, be conscious of why you’re doing what you’re doing.

A trap a lot of us get caught in is sitting down to watch TV because “there’s nothing else to do.” Nothing’s on so we flip through the channels. It’s basically sleeping with our eyes open and our fingers moving. If that’s the goal, cool. But if not, why not actively decide to do something productive?

That something productive can be anything. Personally, I feel most productive when I do something that absolutely enthralls me to the core.

The very reason I canceled cable TV in 2006 was because when I felt I had nothing to do I’d sit on the couch, turn on the TV, and burn through an hour or two (or more!) without even realizing it.

When I stopped to think about it I came to the conclusion that there was absolutely nothing on TV that enriched my life in any way.

– The news is absolutely useless.

– I’d rather visit a place than watch it on Discovery Channel.

– I’d rather cook food myself than watch shows about cooking food.

I called up Brighthouse Networks, canceled my cable, and haven’t missed it since.

My wallet’s pretty happy with the extra $80/month that magically appeared. $80/month x 12 months = $960! That’s a plane ticket to almost anywhere. :)

These days I have a standing goal of writing at least 1,000 words/day. All of my articles start from these 1,000+ words.

But sometimes I just don’t feel like writing.

I’d rather watch YouTube videos or something that takes no actual brain function. Can you relate?

Not there isn’t a time and place for being unproductive (there is), but if there’s work to be done there’s work to be done!

Instead of wasting time on YouTube I actively decide to write…anything. I usually have quite a few topic ideas saved. If I don’t have any coherent thoughts on those ideas I’ll open a blank document and write about whatever comes to mind.

It usually starts horribly, but after a few minutes of painful stressing and straining the words start flowing, I start enjoying myself, 2 hours fly by and I have 1,753 words written.

The first few hundred words will probably have to be deleted, but if I didn’t have those incoherent ramblings I’d never have a finished article.

It would be a lot easier to watch YouTube than have to write useless drivel. It also wouldn’t lead to anything I could be proud of.

Even if I never release the article to the public I can be proud of the fact that I took control and did something productive.

3 Simple Steps To Take Control and Be Present:

1) Pay attention to when you’re going through the motions and why you’re going through those motions. It will take some practice to actually catch yourself going through the motions.

2) Think about if going through that motion is what you want to do. Do you have a compelling reason to do what you’re doing?

3) If you have a compelling reason keep at it. You’re on the right track. If you don’t have a compelling reason what productive activity can you do immediately that will take you away from the unproductive activity?

When you break things down to small steps it makes it easier.

Our social conditioning may influence what we do, but we can condition ourselves to do something bad ass no matter the outside forces at play.


  1. This is your official reminder to post the video of you absolutely bombing on Jump by Kris Kross at karaoke in Sydney!

    Oh and this is by far the best thing I’ve read of yours. I loved it. The sign of a good read these days for me is when I read every single word start to finish, without even realize I’m reading.

    It’s sort of a half dream, half reading state that only stuff I really relate to puts me in.

    That’s what happened with this one. Thanks for that 120 seconds! I owe ya.

    • Thanks Baker! Good to know it resonated with you. :) I know what you mean about the half dream/half reading state. I love when that happens.

      As far as Jump: it’s so bad…and the camera person only caught about 1 minute. But I WILL post it. :)

  2. You are not wrong. I tend to get cuahgt up on Google reader, which feels productive because I’m absorbing information and learning, right? Except I don’t need to know or act on half of the things I read, so it’s just like watching teevee. Entertaining, but time-draining. Except, of course, your blog.

    • Hi Amelia,

      I think we all get caught into that trap with RSS feeds. That’s why I regularly pare down my RSS to just the few blogs that consistently captivate me. I can read Sivers.org or Seth Godin’s blogs forever and learn so much.

      And thank you! I’m glad my blog is worth your time. :)


      P.S. Have you ever heard the band Amelia? I love them. http://www.ameliaband.com

  3. Karol I follow your blog for a couple of weeks, and I really love it. I’ve never heard before about couchsurfing thanks for the info, I will make some courage to begin to use it!!!! :D If you happen to come someday to Cordoba, Argentina, please it’ll be an honour to “couchsurf” you.


    • Hi Ricardo,

      Thank you! Awesome that you’re thinking about getting into couchsurfing. It doesn’t take much courage. It’s fun and addictive. :)


  4. I ABSOLUTELY love this blog! i think exactly like you- consciously and sensibly ( if thts at all possible!! :-) ) but i am just not getting anywhere where i am!! wish i could have had alot more people like you around in my life!! :-) Hope we can meet up some time in this life!!

    • Hi tc,

      Thank you!

      “wish i could have had alot more people like you around in my life” – This hits home because I used to feel the same way. One of the reasons I started this blog was to connect with Ridiculously Extraordinary People. I learned a few years ago that if we want more like-minded people in our lives we have to actively seek them out.

      Thanks again!

  5. “Why We Do What We Do?”
    Would I sound naive to answer, because we enjoy it?
    but wait I don’t exactly wake up at dawn and go to job cause I’d enjoy it…actually I enjoy the purchasing power that comes afterward…
    So that in the end I can afford Internet to enjoy reading your great blog and listening to music.

    I also follow my instincts: waking up with the sun, eating when I’m hungry, not drinking alcohol cause it makes me feel dizzy, and…. avoiding the crowds, cause there’s nothing more dangerous! (except H bomb)
    basically there are 2 reasons to do what we do: like and instinct.

    • Hi Paris,

      Thank you for adding your thoughts. Yes, a lot of what we do is because we enjoy it. A lot of what we do is also following the crowd or going through the motions.

      You make a great point with instinct. I’ve found that, for the most part, when I don’t follow my instinct I’ll go down the wrong path. Thank you for mentioning that!


      P.S. I love crowds. Depending. :)

  6. Live in the NOW. Something we all struggle with and try to work on.

    Great point on the $80×12 for the extra ~$1k. A “free” flight anywhere in the world. These days, we can watch practically everything for free online so might as well take that flight and live it up!

  7. Nice post. Being present is actually really hard for me. Hard to turn off the never ending buzz of internal conversation that seems to go through my mind. I think that’s why I’ve never been able to meditate – it’s really hard to slow my mind down to only one thing.

  8. Being present is incredibly difficult, but incredibly worthwhile. I think you hit the nail on the head when you were describing why you got rid of television: a lot of people literally come home, sit down in front of television and watch it until it’s time to go to bed. (There’s some interesting research out there on the fact that the big push for radio / TV adoption came at the same point when the average worker was actually starting to have time to spend on his own pursuits. I think there’s a connection between the average worker not actually wanting to spend that spare time on anything ambitious.)

  9. I couldn’t agree more with getting rid of that damn TV. I too got rid of mine about a year ago now and never looked back. The probably is then you can get addicted to the internet and the constant flow of information coming at you 24/7. I love to learn and grow, but I think it’s really important just to have down time where you go outside and quiet your thoughts. I find I can get addicted to information and not actually living in the real tangible world. I’m with you though! I’d rather learn a second language or workout during those other wise wasted hours in the evening :D

  10. Hi Karol,

    I know exactly what you mean. I haven’t had a TV since 2005. I do miss it sometimes, because I loved to watch some BBC series and here in the Netherlands we have some really good documentaries, but nowadays I use the internet to stay up to date on world issues (take for example MetropolisTV http://www.metropolistv.nl/?lang=en ).

    Thank you so much for sharing this!

    I have been following your website and some others (The Art of Non-Comformity, Zenhabits, Getinthehotspot, The 4hourworkweek, Study Hack and http://www.flylady.net) for a couple of weeks now and think that you guys are very inspiring! I hope that many more people will be inspired to take a leap and start to live the life they want.
    I have just started with my annual review (like mentioned on The AONC) and have actually bought a Neti Pot like you used, and it actually helped! No more sinusitis for me :)

    Thanks again and keep up the good writing!

  11. I used to have a saying that I used when people made fun of me for not watching TV. “The problem with watching TV is you don’t get any better at it.” People would look at me as though I were speaking a foreign language, and go back to talking about last night’s reality program. So I have stopped saying it.

    An inspiring post, as always. Nice work.

  12. Another timely post my friend.

    I have recently made a conscious decision to quit, among other things, multitasking. I now get more done, I get more enjoyment out of getting those things done and I seem to have more time to do them in.

    I first noticed this when I stopped for lunch. I didn’t listen to the radio, I didnt read the news or surf the web I just sat at the dining table and ate my PB & J sandwich (this was before my decision to become a raw food vegan).

    It was the tastiest PB&J sandwich ever. It was the longest lunch (half) hour ever and it was the most fulfilling break in a working day ever.

    Being present for that lunch allowed me to appreciate the food like never before, to take the time to actually taste it rather than go through the motions. Time seemed to slow down during my break. And my break was an actual proper break from work, not just a work-from-somewhere-else-while-I-eat period.

    Being present means I now only have to do things once so I save time, it also means I’m more prepared and I’m not surrounded by half finished jobs the way I was when I multitasked 24×7.

    It’s not always easy and sometimes I catch myself trying to do two things at once but the rewards I get as soon as I unitask are enough to keep me on the straight and narrow for a while.

  13. Hey, Karol, yet another home run post.

    During my first year of grad school I couldn’t afford cable so went with out. I was also really worried about grades, etc. Well, I got a 3.84 GPA and scored in the 94th percentile of my national boards. No TV didn’t hurt.

    Of course when I got out of school I got cable as I think had nothing to pursue. When I became more conscious I again got rid of cable, about two years ago. I’ve never looked back.

    Further, I began to limit time on the net. I realized that the net had become my new TV. So now, I tend to spend some time each week reading some blogs I like (“Read things that remind you of who you are” David Deida) but other than that its mostly factual things, Email, etc. and devote the rest of my time to “that which enthralls me”

    So Ya, Good stuff.

    PS Hemingway used to write 500 words a day no matter how he felt. Good stuff.

  14. I am with you here. Turning off our brains to watch TV or to do some other mindless activity, is easy but it is not creating anything productive. It is great that you have the discipline to focus on something important like writing and do it every day. I think we all need a focus like that.

    My problem is that I am always trying to do too much. (Blogs, guitar, exercise, business, language learning, book, etc.) I really need to have one single focus that I do every day no matter what. The trouble is how do I choose?

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