the symbiotic relationship between doing and desire


“You’re more likely to act yourself into feeling than feeling yourself into action.”

Jerome Bruner, Psychologist



Achievement provides proof.

Proof provides affirmation.

Affirmation provides actualization.

Actualization provides emotion.

Emotion provides behavior motivation.

Behavior motivation is desire.


I don’t understand how when people talk about purpose or meaning they do not talk about doing.

I don’t understand how people talk about a world without work where people can do what they want.

I don’t understand how people don’t understand the value of doing and, specifically, work doing.

I don’t understand why people diminish doing (or, at minimum, constantly separate thinking/dreaming/desire and doing into some binary way of living life).


I do understand that because if most work, and work environments, are shit, people will want to talk about not doing shit (or diddleysquat) but in doing so misses the point.

The point? it may be a shitty working world, but people still love doing good shit. So maybe we should be seeking to create work, and working environments, in which people can actually do good shit.

** note: the definition of good shit is where what one does actually achieves what one desires


But let me discuss the relationship between doing and desire.


Let me begin with the unfortunate truth that the world relentlessly demands answers – the tangible. Without an answer, without a tangible thing to point to, far too many of us decide there was no value. Ok. Maybe we, as in ‘the self’, are hesitant to accept there is no value because the rest of the world relentlessly hammers away at our belief of value saying “if you cannot pinpoint what offered the value then it was just one of those ‘feel good’ non practical exercises (or ‘just a hobby’)”. Yet. Value is created in so many ways our heads will spin and the majority of the world is nonlinear, non-cause & effect, where causation & correlation is a slippery concept. Yeah. None of that last longish sentence doesn’t mean the world will be any less relentless in demanding you pinpoint value in everything you do. I think the connection between doing and desire and value is grounded in this Victor Frankl quote:

“What man actually needs is not a tensionless state, but rather the striving and struggling for some goal worthy of him. What he needs is not the discharge of tension at any cost, but the call of a potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled by him.”

Look. The world will never stop demanding some fairly absurd things and the self will demand something else in the search for meaning. I’d suggest within that tension lies an uncomfortable, but fulfilling, existence.

This leads me to doing.

Doing is not just doing. What I mean by that is context, and desire, matters.

Moral responsibility of business and your role in it (doing things).

Community of doing.

Doing makes strategy meaningful.

Doing that aims to “make the world a little bit better.”


I bring up the multiple aspects to suggest there is a symbiotic relationship between tangible & intangible. The psychological and reality.

If I were cynical, I would suggest this is a halo effect in a formula world.

The ‘formula’ in the world suggests you need to choose a plan, or an objective, or a specific motivation. In fact. You get rewarded in life for what you do (this can be creation or simply action) based on how your plan has been framed.  In other words. You get encouraged to conduct life in a finite, linear, fashion. I would also suggest this means you inevitably get rewarded for your body of work not the work you do to create the ‘body.’ Yeah. You get defined by doing. Now. The halo effect is that it becomes a doom loop of belief, attitude and actions. You are encouraged to compartmentalize. Now. This can be rewarding. It certainly can meet a portion of your desire (completion), but it’s like using one desire muscle and ignoring all the other muscles.

This also means that your work life will become a reflection of the past and not the future and today will look quite similar to tomorrow. 2019 will look similar to 2018, 2022 to 2021. Yeah. A doom loop.

** note: Gapingvoid on predictability- Most people’s lives are highly predictable. And there’s a very good reason. Your brain is quite literally a “prediction machine” designed to keep you from situations and scenarios filled with uncertainty and possibility of failure. According to several psychologists, the foundation of all fears is the “unknown.” We want our lives to be predictable. We don’t want to deal with the intense emotions involved in doing something new and different. Trying something new and attempting to change your life will, without a doubt, cause anxiety. But according to the philosopher, Søren Kierkegaard, “To venture causes anxiety, but not to venture is to lose one’s self. Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom.”


“When the situation is obscure, attack.”

General Heinz Guderian

So how do you cross the space between doing and desire? Well. I hesitate to use the word uncertainty so I will instead use “obscure.” Doing is stepping into the obscure and making something happen. That, in its essence, is doing.  It creates what Kierkegaard called the “dizziness” of freedom – some anxiety coupled with some satisfaction. In other words. You design a less obscure world and situation by doing and that doing provides value in that it contributes to reasons why people work.

** note: in the 1980s where professors Edward Deci and Richard Ryan from the University of Rochester distinguished the six main reasons why people work: play, purpose, potential, emotional pressure, economic pressure, and inertia.

        • Play is when you are motivated by the work itself. You work because you enjoy it. A teacher at play enjoys the core activities of teaching — creating lesson plans, grading tests, or problem solving how to break through to each student. Play is our learning instinct, and it’s tied to curiosity, experimentation, and exploring challenging problems.

        • Purpose is when the direct outcome of the work fits your identity. You work because you value the work’s impact. For example, a teacher driven by purpose values or identifies with the goal of educating and empowering children.

        • Potential is when the outcome of the work benefits your identity. In other words, the work enhances your potential. For example, a teacher with potential may be doing his job because he eventually wants to become a principal.


They called the three listed above as motives, but I call them desires directly connected to work. Completing the halo effect thought, these improve performance to different degrees and improve ‘attained desire’ to different degrees. This happens because all performance is grounded in making the obscure more tangible – the nebulous turns concrete.


I read somewhere once that when you write down your dreams in vivid detail, you begin to engage both your conscious and subconscious minds. That writing down your dreams and visualizing them will create the engagement internally and externally more concrete. It’s kind of like visualizing doing and desire.

They also suggested that as you write down dreams you start thinking about what people may be part of those dreams (people who can help you ‘do’ the dream). People who can help your doing be better. I actually believe we don’t think about that enough when we speak of doing. Doing is too often discussed in an individualistic way but, as I noted earlier in this piece, the best doing makes the world a little better and ripples out into the community – your tribe, your department, your organization, your family, your neighborhood, your world.

Look. People are complex, their desires & wants are complex and the world they live within is not only complex, but demands some alternatively contradictory things of people. Maslow was never intended to be used as a ‘pyramid’ nor did he ever suggest a simplistic linear relationship between needs & desires, but he clearly pointed out that doing has a role in reaching desires (and the relationship between the two in creating meaning). I imagine my point in ending with Maslow is that at some point I wish we could just accept that people are an imperfect collection of ideas, attitudes, needs & desires and that coherence in Life is most likely attained not through success, but meaning. And that meaning, and coherence, is actually grounded in some version of doing. Ponder.


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Written by Bruce