When we cling too tightly to a desired outcome, a measurement of success, or a lofty idea, we are unable to see a bigger, or maybe different, picture altogether - and that can limit our potential for success and happiness.
We will be touching on Agile Leadership in the next retreat, and for good reason. Now, more than ever, it is incredibly clear that flexibility is the one thing that everyone must possess in order to be successful. Things change at break-neck pace - whether it’s the economy, politics, public health, climate - and if you aren’t prepared for it, prepare to be left behind.
This is why striving for non-attachment is so important. It allows us to be more flexible in our ideas, our perceptions, and also reduces our stress. Take a person that runs, for example. Let’s say they are injured in a race, and it’s bad enough to need surgery that would prevent them from running ever again. This person’s identity is inextricably linked to running. They are “a runner.” And because they have attached themselves so tightly to that identity, this injury threatens to seriously impact their mental state. Without running, who are they? Everything revolved around running and now that option is no longer on the table.
So, I will ask you: what are you attached to? It can be all kinds of things - from beliefs around politics or religion, to careers or titles, to how much money we make or our status in the community, even our bodies in how we look or don’t look, for that matter. These are all attachments that we carry that really don’t have a lot to do with the actual thing we are attached to. It’s the feeling we have with respect to the things we are attached to. We are basically placing an expectation on the feeling we should have when we have that thing. “If I have a smaller nose, I will be prettier, and then I will be more liked.” “If I make a lot of money and have an important title, people will think highly of me.” We attach these feelings to our sense of worth, or our deservingness of love. It is a very inflexible way to see the world.
What does that sound like to you? Our EGO. And we all know by now that the ego really loves to take over if we slip out of awareness.
At work, attachment can come up in the form of obsessing over deadlines or future outcomes, defining our worth by our job or title, passing judgment on co-workers and employees, and being unable to see other perspectives. All of these attachments place unnecessary stress on us. However, when we can practice non-attachment, we can open ourselves up to new perspectives, place less pressure on ourselves, and become more self-compassionate. If we happen to not meet our own expectations, instead of berating ourselves, or even worse, deflecting that disappointment onto others, we can be flexible, or agile, and realize that we can make mistakes and still be “good” at something.
Non-attachment frees us from this burden of feeling like we can only BE (blank) IF (blank). We are in charge of our mind and emotions instead of them controlling us. And, with this freedom, we can completely experience all of the nuances of every event in our lives without the need to cling to the emotions involved, which also releases the fear of losing those feelings. Non-attachment is a state of mind. New attachments will always tempt us, so to live with the state of mind of non-attachment, to realize the importance of living in a way that we go with the natural flow of things and respect the impermanence of all life, is the basis of realizing non-attachment. An interesting side-effect of non-attachment is non-judgment. We become less judgmental as we release the emotions involved in observing life. It truly is what it is. All of this leads to feelings of increased peace and contentment, increased compassion for ourselves and others, and increased clarity about the difference between what we’re thinking and feeling versus what is actually occurring.
How can you practice non-attachment? Let go of “I am” “I can’t” “I’m not” type statements about yourself. There is such finality in those words. “I am a terrible listener.” Your brain listens to what you tell it! If you repeatedly say something in your head, chances are you will fulfill your own prophecy. This is because you are shutting yourself off from opportunities to prove yourself wrong. Or, take a positive statement: “I am a great mom.” What happens if you screw up? You’ve placed this pressure on yourself to BE that thing. And if you don’t meet that expectation, your ego is going to have a field day! Instead, try using “sometimes” or “usually” in your vocabulary. “I’m usually a great mom.” Or “I am a terrible listener, sometimes” This gives you room and freedom to improve, try something new, or see things from another perspective. Try to be open to feedback, let go of the outcome, and be present in the process.
Leading in an ever-changing workplace is much easier when you are grounded in the present moment and practicing non-attachment. You don’t have to cling to the “shoulds” and can then open yourself up to living in the present. This agility, if you will, allows you to enjoy the process much more than the outcome.