Apparently the product of independent invention, recent articles by two different writers have questioned the value and accuracy of the ubiquitous Nike mantra, “Just Do It.”
In a transcription of his Presidential Address at this year’s meeting of the Psychoanalysis (Division 39) chapter of the American Psychological Association, Frank Summers asserts that “just” doing something implies that the thing should be done without thought or feeling. As Summers puts it, “Feeling and thought then become devalued as ‘weakness’ as action becomes an end in itself.” He posits one crucial role of psychoanalysis in the modern era is to combat this “Nikeist” mentality by advocating for internal experience and helping others become aware of the dangers of just doing it, or what Summers calls “mindlessness.” If our priority lies solely in the pragmatism of getting things done, we risk losing core human values of dignity and empathy.
Then today, Barbara Gail Montero wrote an editorial in the Times about the myth of “Just Do It.” Her angle focuses on the commonly-held belief that experts in a given field act intuitively and automatically, “without thinking,” which she argues is an overblown or mythologized concept. Her piece, too, leads readers to consider the cultural aspiration towards “mindlessness,” i.e., our assumption that the “best” people (be they athletes, artists, or businessmen) don’t think or feel — they “just do it.” This less represents reality than a collective wish that success and mastery is equivalent to shedding off the burdens of our vast, complex, and often painful internal lives.