I subscribe to the idea that if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. For me, this means that any goal or dream is just a great idea until I have begun to work out: what, how & when. All of this leading up to specific results and outcomes! In fact, I often go as far as using SMART goals:
How is it, then, that I sit here and tell you that clinging to a particular result is counter-productive?
There is no point in getting attached to specific outcomes. And yet my SMART goals point to specific, measurable results.
I am stuck in a paradox where I am learning to feel safe following a plan, aiming for specific results, while not getting attached to those results. It’s an educational process. One in which I am learning that I should not ascribe my identity to my results. And yet, I continually strive to be committed to executing the plan. Just don’t take it personally when things don’t work out as you envisioned.
Think of it this way: you are on a road trip (with a child in the back seat), and you know that “soon” you will finally reach your destination. It seems like you have been in the car forever, and the child is at that horrid stage of “Are we there yet?“.
The plan might have been that you would take two rest-stops, and each would be no more than 20 minutes. In the end, you had three stops, and one of those was over 40 minutes. You’re tired, and that child in the backseat no longer has faith in the plan that said you would get there at 4.00 p.m. It’s closer to 5.00 p.m. now, and you’re still 40 minutes out. “Are we there yet?”
That child is clinging to the outcome of “we’ll arrive before 4.00 p.m.” The reality is you will get there closer to 5.30 p.m. Can you tell them to stop getting obsessed with arriving and just enjoy the ride? All you have to do is keep driving. A little more patience, a few more hills and corners, and you will finally reach the destination as planned.
Where in your life are you the child in the back seat: “Are we there yet?”
Attachment to a specific outcome
Even scientists can get attached to one particular result when they are working on proving their hypothesis. Ideally, they use the scientific method, where they set out to verify whether or not their idea and conclusions are valid. Part of the process is called experimental reproducibility – that another scientist and reproduce their results by following their method in a different lab with different test subjects.
The steps of the scientific method go something like this:
Make an observation or observations.
Ask questions about the observations and gather information.
Form a hypothesis — a tentative description of what’s been observed, and make predictions based on that hypothesis.
Test the hypothesis and predictions in an experiment that can be reproduced.
Analyze the data and draw conclusions; accept or reject the hypothesis or modify the hypothesis if necessary.
Reproduce the experiment until there are no discrepancies between observations and theory.
Of course, when a scientist gets too caught up in his or her own hypothesis, rather than accepting the actual results and outcomes of the experiment, they interpret the data to corroborate the finding they expected. Ideally, the research should be able to prove (possibly) that they were wrong, and that the idea is incorrect. That would be a valid result and study.
But if their ego gets involved or they begin to identify too much with needing to control the outcome, they can affect the results, making the experiment irreproducible. They have ceased to be objective, taking poor decisions in the processing of the results.
Statistical flaws are a major cause of irreproducible results in all types of biomedical experimentation. These include errors in trial design, data analysis, and data interpretation.
In all of life, we are called to observe, rather than react. We have to distance ourselves enough that we don’t take the results and outcome personally.
The role of self-awareness in detachment
One of the challenges is to observe ourselves – to step back in our minds and watch how we respond and react to situations. Can you notice what you are clinging to: for example, where am I over-thinking this situation? Listen to what your inner critic is continually harping on about, and you will realise what you’re hung up on. Are you stressing over this and driving others mad with your constant obsessing? As my six-year-old would say “maybe you just need to chillax“.
Once you can see where you are directing all your energy, the challenge is to get honest. How is this clinging to a particular outcome impacting your attitude, actions and decision-making skills?
Which part of you is attached to this result?
- Heart – this is what I desire and want, and it can only be this;
- Ego – I said I would do this, and what will others say if I don’t get these particular results?
- Identity – I’ve invested so much of myself in this, who will I be if this doesn’t work out?
Many times, we get so caught up with these thoughts, that we fail to recognise that our desires and dreams could equally be satisfied with different results.
Like a scientific experiment, the results you have in life or business matter. Just not how you think they do.
When a scientist doesn’t get the results he expected from a trial, he begins to look at different aspects of the experiment. Was the hypothesis realistic or flawed? Did they follow procedures; were they rigorous in their execution? Could the results be contaminated? Was the research itself flawed? While a scientist might try to skew the results to say what they want the results to say, this is the exception, rather than the typical response!
Consider the development of the glue for post-it notes. An abject failure as a glue! Terrible results, if you look at what they were trying to create. But where would we be without post-its?
The results and outcome give us so much valuable information. They inform us about our energy, efforts and focus. What can you learn from looking at your achievements so far? Take this opportunity to look at the systems you use, the relationships you have, and your commitment and efforts. Take a step back: what do you see?
What could you improve?
The results from executing our plans and goals provide us with an opportunity:
- Does my idea need to be reviewed and revisited? Is it time to update it? How could I improve the planning?
- Is the problem one of implementation and consistency? Did I give up when it got difficult?
- What skills did I need that I failed to learn in time?
An “end result” is merely an opportunity to see clearly the fruits of our efforts. And often, we have the chance to see what we are committed to.
Getting things done: committed to action, not clinging to outcomes
There’s a stark difference between commitment and clinging.
“Be committed, not attached; but more importantly, know the difference.”
Consider how you respond to the word clingy as it relates to a relationship. Now, consider how you react to the word “commitment“. Just because you want to avoid a relationship in which you get clingy, doesn’t mean you should avoid commitment in a relationship. They are not synonymous. Clingy feels trapped, tied down, caught, imprisoned, and with a loss of personal freedom. Even attachment feels like you are missing a sense of self and identity!
Commitment, on the other hand, can be a beautiful thing. It’s a conscious choice to be there, an active decision. In a committed relationship, you choose each day to recommit wholeheartedly, rather than from neediness. You are dedicated because your choices align with your values, vision and goals for your life. It comes from a place of strength, rather than lack.
What if you change your focus from relationship to goals?
What does it look and feel like when you are clinging to outcomes in your life, versus when you are committed to your dreams? Are you open to success looking different to how you imagined it to be when you made your plans?
This or better
One of the lessons I have learned this year about releasing attachment and trusting the Divine is letting go of “it has to work out exactly this way” to be great. I have learned to trust:
- my commitment
- the plans I’ve made
- my ability to execute the plan
- my decision-making skills
- my resilience and ability to bounce back from mistakes and seeming failures
Can you say the same?
When your plans – and I intentionally say “when”, not “if” – turn out differently than you anticipated, are you grateful for the lessons learned? Do you take the time to consider how you grew? Can you trust the Divine for “this or better” when you revisit and rewrite your plans?
Part of our attachment thoughts is that we get caught up on a particular description of what success must look like. I was a RED Ferrari. What if life offers you a yellow one instead that is everything you wanted, except it’s yellow? Can you accept it?
If you are looking for a new love relationship, can you consider that “what I want” could be a list of qualities in the person and relationship, rather than a specific person? “This” or better!
When you are looking for a new job, do you make a list of the benefits, responsibilities, networking possibilities, and learning opportunities that it will provide you? Or are you hooked up on the title that you need to have?
Detaching from desire is not about settling for “good enough”. It’s a commitment to receiving the best! When you stop clinging, you open the possibilities. It starts when you have faith and trust in yourself. Build on that by developing a great plan, with consistent effort in executing it. Be willing to learn from the mistakes you might make on the journey, knowing that you will ultimately reach your goal. And be open to receiving success in different packaging than you first envisioned.