What We Care About, Not What We Believe, Drives What We Do


my meditation place, in the forest beside my new home on Bowen Island

Tuesday is meditation day for me, and I have been thinking about something my meditation partner Melanie told me a couple of weeks ago. We had been discussing what we really care about, and it occurred to me as a result of our conversation that:

  1. Most of what the media, politicians and other people who want to bring about change (or prevent change) are focused on is trying to affect our beliefs — what we think is true and what we thinks needs to be done.
  2. For most of us, there is a vast “knowing-doing disconnect” — what we do and what we think/know we should do are very different.
  3. The reason for this stems from Pollard’s Law: We do what we must, then we do what’s easy, and then we do what’s fun. There is simply no time in our artificially busy lives to do what we think is “merely” important. We watch TV, surf the net, chat with friends, and that important project gets perpetually put off. That’s human nature. We can’t be other than who we are.
  4. What we “must” do, are the urgent things that get done because the pain or fear of not doing them exceeds the pain or fear of doing them. Most of those things are done “for” other people — bosses, loved ones, regulators. Much of this activity is coerced: We don’t want to get fired, we don’t want our loved ones to hate us, we don’t want to go to jail. But a few of the “must-do” things, and many of the “easy” and “fun” things we do, are not coercive. What determines which of these non-coercive things we elect to do? They’re things we care about. That course we’re taking. That show we never miss. The exercise or practice (e.g. blogging) we always find time for, no matter what, even though the sky won’t fall if it isn’t done.
  5. In short, what drives what we do (voluntarily, after the stuff we believe we have no choice about) is not affected at all by what we believe. It is driven by what we care about.

So what? I think this is hugely important, because if we want to change what we do (or what others do), we should stop trying to change people’s minds, and instead try to change our/their hearts — what we/they care about. Of course, this is easier said than done. What we care about is not especially logical. Why do we care about some things more than others? Why do we not (hard as we try) really care about climate change, peak oil, and the impending economic collapse? I used to think it was because they were too abstract, too impersonal, or too far outside what we think we have any control over.

What we care about is visceral. It can drive us to kill someone who harms or threatens a loved one. It can drive us to suicide. It can make us love, or hate (ourselves or another) insensibly. Until we care enough about something, or someone, or ourselves, we will not do many of the things that we tell ourselves we want to do, hope to do, ought to do. And then when we care there is no stopping us.

What drives us to care about something, or someone? Maybe we have no control over it. Maybe our bodies, our genes, the land speaking to us, and the insidious and lifelong effect of our culture — what we are shown, what is reinforced or punished, combine to make us care, or not care. Certainly the chemistry of love is subconscious, irrational, and largely outside our control. There is, deep within us, a biophilia, a love for all-life-on-Earth that prevails beyond hope. The organisms that make us up also make us care about ourselves, our own preservation and well-being. All together, what makes us care is something that is within us, our raw selves.

Despite all the consumerist propaganda, I think we care about people, ourselves, all-life-on-Earth far more than we care about stuff. But maybe that’s just me. I intend to leave this life with nothing, and I recently managed to move across the country with all the ‘stuff’ I cared about in two suitcases.

If what we care about is internal, intrinsic to ourselves, then how can we change what we, and others, care about? Is it even possible? When we fall in and out of love, when we experience or learn something that makes us love ourselves, or others, more or less, when we find the place we’re meant to live or the work we’re meant to do or one of those once-a-decade acquisitions that just works, what we care about changes. But mostly these events are accidental, and the best we can do is to open ourselves to them, and encourage others to do likewise.

I recently retired, and thanks mostly to good fortune rather than anything I did, or was born with, I now have a lot of choice in my life, and almost nothing that “has” to be done. I indicated that these choices are guided by three First Principles — generosity, valuing time, and living naturally. But in observing what I am actually doing, versus what I intended to do, I’ve come to realize that I’m trying unsuccessfully to flout Pollard’s Law. With fewer things that “must” be done, I am spending much of my time doing things that are easy and/or fun — various forms of play, and not much of the reconnecting, activism, and reflecting work I expected to be doing.

Since I’m not into material “stuff”, who and what I care about basically breaks down into three categories:

  1. I care about myself (how I use my time, my health, happiness, learning, imagining/creativity, love, freedom, presence, integrity, ‘natural’ adaptability, ‘nobody-but-myself’ authenticity, and the beauty of my ‘place’).
  2. I care about the inner and outer circles of my gravitational community (finding the people I’m meant to love and work with, and then being generous with them).
  3. I care about all-life-on-Earth (being a part of Gaia, and reducing its suffering).

What I’m actually doing is all driven by these three categories of what I love. If I map that against the five categories of what I intended to do with my time once I’d retired (reconnecting, capacity-building, activism, model-creation, and taking time for personal joyful activities), it basically reiterates Pollard’s Law — Since there is no longer anything I “must” do, what I’m doing is what’s easy and what’s fun. I’m not practicing reconnecting, building capacities, involved in activism or new model-creation. I’m talking about these things because the ideation is easy and fun. Actually doing them is hard work. I’m not blogging (much), working on my film/novel, learning anything new, or accepting any new obligations, commitments, scheduled activities or responsibilities.

What I’m actually doing is: exploring my new home, spending time with those I love, talking about things that I find interesting, participating in live local entertainment, enjoying the passage of time and not having anything that “must” be done, and enjoying meeting new people and seeing if they might be people I could love. Lazy, easy, fun stuff. Those who know me tell me that I owe this to myself for awhile, but I’m not so sure I’ll ever get restless with this simple, easy life. I agree with John Gray that humans are (and have always been) preoccupied with the needs of the moment, and I’m delighted having no needs of the moment, so I can just do (or not do) what I want. Very selfish. Very human. Very natural.

I believe that we need to bring a quick end to industrial civilization, and specifically that we need to stop the Tar Sands and industrial agriculture. I believe we need new models, like the transition, permaculture, intentional community and unschooling movements, to help us cope with and replace dangerous and unsustainable systems. I believe we need to build personal and collective capacity to help us adapt to the inevitable catastrophes of the next generation, especially the collapse of the industrial economy, fossil fuel energy and ecological systems. But look at my behaviour, and it’s pretty clear I don’t, and won’t care enough about any of these things to act until I absolutely have to. What drives me right now is what (who) I really care about — the three categories in the list above.

That was what emerged from today’s meditation. I was striving to be present, in the moment. But instead, I found it easier and more fun thinking about why I’m not accomplishing what I had intended. And I’m not sure there’s a cure for that.

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6 Responses to What We Care About, Not What We Believe, Drives What We Do

  1. nathan maus says:

    In my mind, Pollard’s law is only partially applicable. It feels like it’s applicable to the old part of me, and not the new part of me. The new part of me is outgrowing it. I’m in the slow process of building a business for myself so that I can leave behind the life of hard work and enter the life of hard fun. The difference in ages (i’m 27) might be dramatic as I feel when I hit retirement age, I expect my ambition will drop and I’d rather pursue pure enjoyment.

    Your first bullet point about beliefs is extremely important. It’s because that’s exactly what they are doing. Beliefs are everything. You can’t force an entire nation to do what you want, you can only change their beliefs so that they do want you want and believe they are doing what they want. Beliefs keep people at their mindless jobs, mindless consumption, mindless caring for the one person on their tv reality show, but none for the millions dying of hunger, etc. All changes are merely changes in beliefs, which are then transferred to reality via our creative actions. Our primary job is as changers of beliefs.

    With regards to the rest of your bullet points. We are transitioning. Or perhaps returning. It depends on your point of view. Regardless, we our entering a new age. Collectively, we are leaving behind an age where we are all too busy not being ourselves, and we are entering an age where we are going to focus on becoming genuinely ourselves distilling off all the not-ourselves so that all that is left is us. We will find that we have lost nothing but gained so much in return.

    My recommendation for you, as someone who receives a lot from you, is to help other people (especially younger people) find what they love and help them make a living doing what they truly love and what they are best suited for and to help them learn how to love (which is surprisingly rare). There is no need to believe that what is lazy and fun cannot be productive towards what you care about and what is important. The very first step, I believe, lies in minimalism. There is a strong internet community around minimalism. The book your money or your life highlights this as well. Minimalism is about removing limiting beliefs and stripping all the life that you thing is important, but really isn’t, out of your life, leaving only the important stuff behind. The second step is in maximising your strengths (which is what’s left). The third step is sharing it with others (preferably on the internet, where it will reach the largest audience [of people who are looking for what you are giving] possible). Nothing “must” get done. You choose everything that gets done. Must is a limiting belief placed on you by society. It is not true. Take all the “musts” and throw away all of them that aren’t truly important. Do only the important ones. I’m not perfect at this, but I find the love I have for what is important to me, greatly overpowers the mere “musts” There’s nothing like ignoring what’s “important” (a “must”) and watching it all just disappear over time as the next “must” replaces it. Life is play. Work is play. Work without play isn’t life and it’s not truly work either it’s just the expenditure of energy.

    Perhaps you would find it enjoyable to mentor someone, and help them to strip away the unimportant from their lives to contribute with their gifts to the fullest. Start a mastermind group for young people. For me it’s a million times easier to do work, if I know someone else is receiving the benefit, rather than working for some invisible benefit to others. Sometimes, you just need the rest and relaxation. Sometimes, you start to get restless, and then you go back to work. Good Luck.

  2. vera says:

    Very cool.

    Dave, I wonder if… well, in my experience, when people spring the trap and get a reprieve from the coercive system, they are so recoiling from it that they don’t want to do any of the “musts.” Even if I care deeply, it’s a struggle because… I think I am so wounded by all the impositions I have suffered through my whole life. I feel sometimes like I need to go away for long periods of time and just be… the way people could in the old days… the fabulous book Seal Morning describes how life in the remote crofts in Scotland used to be in the winter… just hanging, nothing much to do, and it flowed, it did not make people crazy with boredom. Their urban visitors found it hard to understand.

    I am amazed that you brought up the whole belief disconnect. There seems some synchronicity afoot! :-) I just posted on my blog about the Perils of believism… hope readers here check it out. I argue that our focus on beliefs is way overblown, and leading us astray. (Click on my name to access it.)

    To Nathan: I think “beliefs are everything” is one of the intellectual fallacies. That’s what memes want us to think! I came across a funny quote recently. It said something like… ‘I believed that the brain is the most important organ in the body. Then I realized who was telling me this!’ :-)

  3. nathan maus says:


    That’s a funny quote and I really like it. I also left you a post regarding this topic on your blog. I think one could argue that the body as a whole pulls some strong strings within the brain, but it is undoubted that beliefs also have a very strong affect on our lives. In your own post you noted the damage that false beliefs inflicted. Having the right beliefs give you the right results. If you aren’t getting the right results, than you need to adjust your beliefs.

    Have a good one.

  4. vera says:

    Nathan, I’ve been focused not so much on false beliefs, as on overvaluing all beliefs. Back to you on da blog! :-)

  5. Dave, I totally feel what you are saying. We truly cannot be other than what we are, so your “laziness” of late is simply because there is nothing you must do. It’s hard to force yourself uphill when there is no pressure to do so. It’s easier and more rewarding in the moment to just do what’s easy/fun. At least you’re enjoying yourself.

  6. Pingback: What We Have To Do, What’s Easy, What’s Fun « Beyond Rivalry

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