“Attached to Outcome”

I received a comment asking for elaboration on what I mean by not being attached to an outcome. Now, Buddhist teachings have lots to say on the subject. But here are my thoughts.

There are two huge consequences to staying attached to outcome.
The first is that we feel intense frustration.
Frustration is caused by one thing: Wishing things were different than they are.
We tend to feel this frustration regardless of how much control we have over the situation. In situations where we have no control, the ridiculousness of attachment is easy to see.
Imagine a rainy day and you are stuck in traffic. (Just visualizing it makes my gut tense up.)

There are two places our thoughts can go: 1) Accept the reality of the situation. Or, 2) Wish it was different.
The physical situation does not change based on which place your thoughts go. Your commute is slowed, regardless. In both cases, you will have 45 minutes in your car. But the way you experience those 45 minutes can vary drastically.
And that experience is wholly dependent on your thoughts.
When we wish things we were different, it is because we are holding on to our expectations for the experience – even as Reality demonstrates something quite different.
We planned on being home 10 minutes ago. Now we will miss the beginning of our favorite TV show and our family will have to wait to start dinner. Our kids will get restless which will then cause our spouse more hardships.
It is easy to collect imaginary evidence of the injustice.
But it is important to recognize that these hardships are all imagined. You are comparing the Reality of the present moment to a fictional story you have in your head of how it “should” be. The fact that you are sitting and listening to your car stereo isn’t frustrating. What frustrates you is that you planned for something different. When we are unable to let go of our attachment to that outcome, all we can see is what went wrong.
One possible reaction to this awareness would be to stop making plans entirely. Someone recently told me that their mantra was “Expectation kills the joy.”
But the key is not to be without plans. The key is to have non-specific outcomes – and then be unattached to them working out exactly as you imagined them.

The second consequence to being attached to outcome is that we become blind to whatever gifts and experiences the world provides for us, because we are not looking for them.
Lets return to the traffic situation. Suppose instead of wanting to be home by 6:30, you shifted your goal to, “I want to have quality time with my family after work.” Because isn’t that really what you want? We create a specific plan to attain that goal, but when we stay overly attached to that plan, it is easy to fail.
The second, more vague, “plan” could work out in an infinite number of ways, whereas the “home by 6:30” plan was a frustrating failure the minute the roads got wet with rain.
With a less specific, unattached, goal, you can allow the present moment to be what it is AND allow the unknown future to still satisfy your aims.
Regardless of what time you get home, you can still have a wonderful experience with your family. In fact, I would argue that coming home frustrated from the drive and spending a full hour in a pissy mood would be much worse than coming home with a peaceful headspace and having a fraction of the time.
This is why it is important to seek things like, “a feeling of abundance” instead of “A Porche.”
It is ridiculous how confident we often are in our own plans – especially when life experience shows us time and time again that we are naïve.
How many times have you thought during transition, “Please God, don’t let them leave / help me keep this job / fix this situation for me!”
But when you look back years later have thought, “Thank GOD I’m not still with that person / at that job / down that path!”
“The Course in Miracles” teaches that we are in no position to know if we are in advance or retreat.
Reminding yourself that you often do not know what your best interests are can be a helpful tool in letting go of attachment.
There is an old saying that “When god shuts a door, he opens a window.” Unfortunately, if you exhaust yourself trying to pry open the closed door, you won’t ever see the window. Opportunity will be missed if your tunnel vision stays attached to an outcome no longer available.
So next time you are “stuck” in your car, try to be critical of your thoughts. With an unknown about of time to sit, listen to music and think, how will you spend those minutes?
You can stay stuck in a loop of “Things should be different!” Or you can look for the opportunities present in the reality. Maybe you focus on the music on your radio. Maybe you call an old friend. Maybe you spend some time thinking about and planning an outing for your family. Or maybe you just re-play happy memories in your head.

Will you fight the tide or ride the waves?
You will arrive home at the exact same time.
march 10, 2010

7 thoughts on ““Attached to Outcome””

  1. I’m going through a pretty big shift in my life right now and this is something I have been thinking about a lot. Breaking up is always hard even if you are still best friends. Just believing that there is a bright light on the other side gives me joy among all the feelings of loss and sadness. Excitement for the unknown and not having any expectations is so much fun and something to look forward to. After all it is spring and time for a new start!

  2. John, thanks for the “comment”! I thought the traffic jam was a great analogy to use to make it easy to understand. As I read, I thought, yes, I struggle with this. Sometimes it seems that the ways in which we can hurt ourselves, block ourselves and be our own worst enemy are many, and the ways in which we can help ourself, heal ourself are so few but so profound. This is one of them. It felt good to read this. Peace.

  3. I really appreciate you sharing this. I am going through a big transition time in my life and need to shift my thinking to allow more love and happiness into my life.

  4. Why is it always so hard for me to remember your wisdom
    I am in a totally differnt sit, but I still get pissed when things do not comply with my expectations.
    I “do” however hear your voice sometimes which says “You are angry becuase you are afraid”
    then I think of what it is I am afraid of
    So I guess, you are sinking in that darn heap of mud I call a brain
    thanks John

  5. Thanks for sharing this! It reminded me of a quote I love — “A truly happy person is one who can enjoy the scenery on a detour”

    A jillion years ago I used to work a regular job that had a vicious commute in the DC area (read: really, really, really, really horrible grumpy traffic), and would spend a lot of time in traffic, often running behind. I forget what day it happened, but I had this pleasant little internal shift and I found myself mesmerized by the tops of the trees in the wind. They were so exquisitely beautiful, and their movement was *so* soothing. That lead to actually watching clouds, and being delighted with how the edges of the clouds are in a constant state of transformation as they encountered the sky, and all the “oooo, deep!” kinds of thoughts that triggered, and vague thoughts about how so many people were sharing an experience but so few of us were probably realizing it, and so forth. Since then, unless I’m really out of whack about something, I’ve had a pretty easy time of just loosening up and staying in the flow (even if the flow is going on in molassas-like traffic.)

    Traffic is also a *superb* time to do breathwork and grounding exercises — especially if one happens to be occasionally forgetful, and forges a mental link between the two. 🙂

    Anyhoo — thanks again for the post, it was a treat to stumble back across your stuff!

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