Which is more Important: What we do or How we do it?

It amazes me how simple questions cause havoc with different opinions and thoughts. One example is which is more important how we do something or what we do?

What triggered the idea of this post is a comment by Laura Donnelly in which she wrote “I’m back to my recurring theme… it isn’t what we do but it is how we do it.”

The first example that crossed my mind is eating junk food. What we eat is junk and no matter how we chew it slowly or fast it is chewing harmful food. Is what in this case more important than the how?

Take another example. If you do harm to others then what you do is wrong no matter how you do it. Again, it sounds that what is more important than how.

A company wins a bid through bribery. The “how it won” is wrong and “what it did” is wrong. In this case both how and what point in the same direction. They are aligned.

You are the honorary guest of a dinner party. The display of food on the table is great. You take the first mouthful and horrible it was being too salty and undercooked. Your facial expressions showed your inner feelings. It is how the food was cooked that was wrong. Your reaction might be wrong as well. Two how wrongs do not make a right. The how seems more important than what food was served.

What made the difference, in this case, is the how and not the what.

Another example is what we say versus how we say it.

The quote from Maya Angelou comes to my mind:

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

This is an example of how having the upper hand over what.

Again, this is challenged by many authors such as that by Dana Bristol-Smith. In her article “How You Say It Is NOT More Important than What You Say” she busted the myth of the how is more important than the what. She concluded in her article “Please remember that what you say is more important than how you say it! And, what you do – the actions that you take, are more important than the words you say.”

You can see dear readers how simple questions lads to opposing opinions and contradicting conclusions.

What is your say? 


Ali Anani
Ali Anani
My name is Ali Anani. I hold a Ph.D. from the University of East Anglia (UK, 1972) Since the early nineties I switched my interests to publish posts and presentations and e-books on different social media platforms.

DO YOU HAVE THE "WRITE" STUFF? If you’re ready to share your wisdom of experience, we’re ready to share it with our massive global audience – by giving you the opportunity to become a published Contributor on our award-winning Site with (your own byline). And who knows? – it may be your first step in discovering your “hidden Hemmingway”. LEARN MORE HERE


    • Excellent thinking Aldo,

      You are so right. We need to alternat thinking between what and how to get a better perspective and be able to make the right decisions.

  1. What you do and how you do it are both important. What you say and how you say it are also very important. Speaking, doing that comes from the essential being you have cultivated inside yourself will allow for the fullest, most honest expression of your humanity/divinity. The energy vibe you are can speak volumes even when you say nothing. Presence alone can be the energy which shifts an entire roomful of people. Can you anchor in the essence of your True Self-then allow love-inspired actions of great courage to come from this anchored, deep place within yourself? I would offer go deeper that the what you do/how you do it-and enter into the depths of being, the conscious awareness, the passions and values from inside-all else becomes distraction from the deeper places. I would also offer I actually remember vividly the words that have been spoken to me, how these words were spoken, and how they made me feel-and I often remember vividly the clothes the person was wearing, what song was playing in the background, the clothes I was wearing…. I may be an outlier to Maya Angelou’s observation of other human beings.

    Thank you for this amazing, meaningful and thoughtful topic and for receiving these reflections, Ari.

    With gratitude,

    • “I would offer go deeper that the what you do/how you do it-and enter into the depths of being, the conscious awareness, the passions and values from inside-all else becomes distraction from the deeper places”.

      Crytal-clear you are with yourself, Laura.

      You positon yourself in a super-giving situation and you can see what many others fail to see.

      I wonder if there is why you do or say what you say?!
      This is because you say it from the depth of your conscious awareness.

      You are amazing.

  2. So fun – the evolving conversation. Also, your examples, are good Ali, they show me that I’m thinking of the what and how in a specific context of “how” I use my thoughts that come before the action (the what). I’ll start with your first scenario and clarify my meaning with each one.

    Junk food. Often when we drop into a junk food binge, the “how” of the thinking has happened quite some time before we actually pick up the junk food and start to eat it. We may have let ourselves get too hungry and depleted so that when we realize we need some nourishment, our body is demanding a quick fix – sugar, salt, caffeine. Because we did not notice we were running out of fuel, we did not “fill up our tank” in a sensible way before we were on empty. (how were we thinking? what were we paying attention to that excluded the state of our body from our awareness?)

    Next, the actual consuming of the junk food: Are we tasting it? Are we noticing the texture of the food? Let’s use potatoe chips for our junk food. Are we just mindlessly pounding them down to fill up a need? If we slow down, and notice how we are eating the potatoe chips – feel them in our mouth we will realize that they are really just salty, greasy air. And, the most important thing about the how that I’m noticing is what happens to me… Am I eating mindlessly to push down emotions? Am I eating fast because I got out of balance and am Too hungry, angry, frustrated? Am I eating this junk food as a distraction.

    Eating junk food is a far down the path of having lost track of awareness and thinking a Long Time before the action happens. And when awareness comes back, and we slow down and taste the junk food, maybe we eat more slowly, maybe we stop and realize – oh shoot, I need protein, I’m dehydrated and need a little salt and a lot of good quality fluid.

    By the same token, if I eat a delicious meal as fast as I can, having second helpings, when I’m already full — this is the “how of eating” this is still mindless eating. And even thought the quality of the food (the what) is better than the junk food – how I’m eating it is still not with awareness and will not have good benefit to my body.

    I hope this clarifies this idea of how and the what intersect. The “what” can be approached mindlessly or mindfully. The what is fairly neutral (but not in all situations like abuse or murder). Possibly if someone was observing themselves before they committed abuse perhaps they would realize what was happening inside themselves and make some different choices before took the abusive action?

    • Fascinating comment Laura and I greatly appreciate HOW you think.

      The explanations for why we eat junk food and HOW mindlessly we do this are admirable. You have a valid point and I do agree with you.

      Yes, yes clarified your thinking admirably well and not only that as you offered a worthy explanation of how preceding what. Someties we tend to put the cart before the horse.

    • Wonderful comment, Laura.

      I want to throw motivation into the what and how.
      When our motivation is “pure” – it comes from the love of the other and a desire for what is best for them, not from our power positioning – we can get away with fairly stupid whats without damaging the relationship. It may still land wrong and we can get called out on it, but when ego is not part of the interaction, there is no need for defensiveness or rationalization – we just apologize and try to do better next time.

      And that is hard because ego almost always shows up and gets in the way.

      And as for the potato chip or what else we consume, we can at least pay attention. Nothing wrong with a little mindfully consumed junk. When we consume it mindfully, usually we don’t want very much, anyway.

  3. Ehat a brilliant comment yours is Tracey-Jane!

    Right from the first line “I think this circle-like conversations are fascinating Ali. The more we try and work things out, the tighter the hold our mind tries to have on working things out.”
    You reminded me that if we have our hand filled with sand grains and we hold the hands very tightly the grains slip out. However, if we hold the grains gently the grain sand stay within our hands.
    Does this mean that if we hold to our thoughts very tightly we let them slip out?
    What do you think?

    Yes, intentions count. Our intentions reflect who we are and are manifested in our deeds.

    • How interesting Ali. My initial response is that the tighter we hold our thoughts the more debilitated we become. We become those thoughts as that’s what we’re holding onto. Maybe there’s something here to explore about physical and mental (and probably emotional and spiritual) differences. They are all interlinked as part of who we are. You, as ever, are stretching my thoughts into new shapes and places! 😉

  4. I think this circle-like conversations are fascinating Ali. The more we try and work things out, the tighter the hold our mind tries to have on working things out.
    Like all parts of our lives, for me, everything is interconnected. Knowing and allowing the connectivity to create connections allows me to become a bit more detached from the questions that are spinning around my head.
    I don’t have any answers here to your question, simply an acknowledgement – as you’ve suggested – that the what and the how are both important.
    For me, our intention is key with everything we do. We may say words that hurt someone but our intention was to share our truth. We are not responsible for how someone else reacts to our words.