Result Detachment

Written on September 22, 2008. Written by .

Sweet Release
“They don’t grow unless you let them go…” Photo courtesy of darkmatter

Trying really hard to accomplish your goals has one unfortunate side effect – it naturally makes you concerned with the outcome. It makes sense. If you invest a lot of effort in something, you now have something to lose if you don’t succeed, namely the time and effort that you invested. Being attached to results in this way can cause a lot of emotional stress if you end up blaming yourself whenever things don’t go according to plan. One solution is to just stop trying. If you don’t try, it is much easier to not care. But isn’t it possible to have the pleasure of success when it arrives while maintaining nonchalance in the face of failure?

I think it is possible to have the best of both worlds if you learn the method of result detachment. This takes a conscious effort – it won’t happen just because you thought of the concept once. First you need to identify the goal that you want to try for. Then you need to moderate the goal by replacing it with a goal that will lead to the final goal, but is not as difficult. The idea is to put yourself on the path to success and then try to minimize the amount of subsequent planning and scheming that you do.

Let’s say you have the goal of starting a business, but you need save up some money to get started. You will probably want to get a job for a while. Now if you were to spend that whole time planning out the business and trying to get it started as fast as possible, you probably wouldn’t enjoy your job very much. You would end up thinking of it as a necessary sacrifice on the way to your final goal. But this is a harsh way to live because there will never really be a final goal. Once you start that business you will have a whole new set of challenges and goals awaiting you. Instead you should set yourself up on a path where you can fully enjoy every step of the journey. You could mark your calendar for two years in the future to re-read your business plan and decide if it is the right time to resign from your job. But in the meantime, you should be thinking of your job as a legitimate part of the journey and not just scheme about the future the whole time. The reason is that this scheming is the source of the result attachment. Too much of it will make you disappointed if you end up needing more than the two years that you planned for or if the first business fails.

This doesn’t mean that you should stop thinking about the business entirely. It is probably still a good idea to continue working on projects that may spawn businesses and study topics that might be useful. But I think the key point is that it is easy to over-plan. From the success stories that I have heard, people don’t usually have to plan that much, things just happen. The reason is probably that planning is ineffectual on problems that are exceedingly complicated, and many everyday problems are. So you might even have to rely on a little bit of luck. And the extent to which you have to create your own opportunities probably doesn’t really require too much attention. Some of the best opportunities arise out of hobbies and unexpected events.

Of course these concepts are not just limited to entrepreneurship, that is just a good example. Perhaps an even better example is finding a date. If you go to a party hoping to find a date, there is a good chance you will be disappointed. But if you just get in the habit of going to parties to socialize with your friends and you also get in the habit of trying to involve others in your conversations, then you will probably find a date sooner or later. Result detachment is about forming the appropriate habits in advance so that you can stop trying, start living in the moment, and leave success on auto-pilot.

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