Nonattachment: Letting Go of Control May Be Key to Your Success
Why should you be practicing non-attachment?
Nonattachment is not an apathetic or passive quality; it does not demand the renunciation of life or relocating to a cave in the Himalayas. Nonattachment entails doing whatever it is that would normally motivate you, but without the obsession and accompanying anxiety and rumination about getting everything right, or living up to self-imposed or societal expectation about how your life SHOULD be.
Nonattachment, far from being a detached state, happens when we are fully present and not caught up in the automatic process of fixating on things being better or worse than they are at any given moment. Nonattachment is associated with psychological maturity and an understanding of the ever-changing nature of experience and the futility of wanting to control it.
What is attachment then?
Have you ever spent time in misery about not getting a job, obsessed on an upcoming decision, evaded facing the fact that you're getting older, or worried that you're not as successful as you should be?
All of these things are considered attachments in Buddhism. Attachments are our fixated attempts to control our experience, either through clinging to what we view as desirable or aversion to what we consider undesirable.
Our attachments and our problems with the present moment are so pervasive that practically all self-focused thinking revolves around wishing things to be better or worrying about what has happened or will happen. They rarely focus on appreciating the present moment.
The thing is, life typically unfolds in its own way, independent of our efforts to control it –no matter how fierce or well-intentioned our attempts may be. Nonattachment, therefore, happens when we are able to let go of the need to be in complete control of what is happening and minimize our demands on the present moment to be any way in particular.
Fixated, anxious thoughts are often automatic and elicit feelings associated with the worst possible outcomes. Although these thoughts and feelings naturally occur, we have the choice to not engage with them. This predisposition to ruminate and worry about something that's already happened, or imagine something that may happen, can lead to poor mental health and hinder us from living with a sense of lightness, ease, and flow. Just imagine the freedom you will enjoy by letting go of your demands on controlling your experiences or having them a certain way!
At the heart of attachment is the problem of you becoming inflexible. So, what are you attached to? Is it preventing you from living flexibly?
We can become emotionally attached in a variety of things. You may become attached to particular outcomes, such as the amount of money you make, social media followers, or earning someone's approval.
Or, you can also develop attachments to your body, such as wanting to stay young, having the ideal hair, or be a certain weight.
And you form attachments to your convictions or beliefs, whether they are political views, being "right," or even self-limiting ideas about yourself.
Ultimately, what you are really attached to is not the outcome or the material thing itself, but your sense of self (your ego) in respect to that thing. You may, for instance, feel like you have value if you have a certain job title, or you may believe you're loveable if your body looks a certain way.
What's problematic about forming attachment to ego is that we often don't notice the consequences of it until the ground gives way beneath us. As Joseph Ciarrochi shared in a podcast on non-attachment, “The thing about ego is, you don't know you have it until it gets crushed; until somebody treats you as if you are really nothing special.”
Attachment can take the form of:
- Being stuck in rigid beliefs
- Wishing things always stayed the same
- Putting so much focus on future outcomes
- Defining your worth by your relationship, your job, your body, or material objects
The value of non-attachment
Nonattachment enables you to recognize that you are more than your accomplishments or material possessions.
You are constantly evolving and growing, and interdependent with the world around you. When you practice nonattachment you can better adjust to unexpected changes, feel a deeper sense of self-worth, and build stronger relationships.
Nonattachment can also help you achieve greater success at what you do. With nonattachment, you can better roll with the punches of life, connect with your purpose and meaning, and develop further by taking in feedback.
Self-as-context VS Self-as-content
Non-attachment is a central concept in many spiritual traditions. The 4 Noble Truths of Buddhism regard attachment to be a source of suffering. Aparigraha, which means "non-greed" and "non-attachment" in Sanskrit, is one of the ethical principles in Patanjali's 8 Limbs of Yoga. In Christianity, the Gospel of Luke contains teachings on non-attachment.
In Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), the concept of attachment is incorporated in psychological flexibility.
When you're able to observe your thoughts, beliefs, and feelings rather than rigidly cling to your mind's rules, outdated schemas, or “shoulds,” you are better able to adapt effectively to the demands of the moment.
ACT distinguishes between "self-as-content" and "self-as-context." When you're stuck in self-as-content, you believe the tales your mind tells you about who you are to be true and disregard context. For instance, you may be convinced that you’re "good at writing and bad at math" or that you’re a "great Mom." This type of ego attachment, however, can send you off-track when you don't live up to your own expectations or when circumstances change. Well, how about those times when you weren't so great with your kids? Or that article or essay you wrote which needed a lot of editing? When you're caught up in self-as-content, you may dismiss helpful feedback that will enable you to learn.
How can you develop non-attachment with self-as-context?
1. Practice "sometimes" thinking. When you start believing statements like "I am," "I am not," or "I can't," you've fallen prey to ego. The next time you have that thought, add the caveat "sometimes." I am good at writing, sometimes. I am a great Mom, sometimes. I am anxious, sometimes. Notice the gap you have from this attachment to ego after recognizing context and impermanence. Don't get caught up in inflexible self-narratives like "I am" or "I can't" and notice you won't feel the need to support those beliefs with actions. You become freer to explore options and take risks to be different.
2. View yourself as interdependent. Humans are extremely social creatures who rely on others to thrive, no matter how much we claim to believe the notion that we are self-sufficient and independent.
When you perceive yourself as interdependent, you'll recognize that your well-being interacts with the well-being of others. Instead of competing with siblings, co-workers, or friends, choose collaborating with them and see if you are more satisfied with a win-win lifestyle than a win-lose one.
3. Be open to feedback. You are less likely to grow and adapt over time if you have rigid opinions about yourself and shut out other people's ideas.
Learning and maturity rely heavily on feedback. Practicing nonattachment means changing your behavior when it's harmful to another, is ineffective, or doesn't align with your beliefs and purpose. Allow yourself to let go of your need to be right and instead seek feedback on how you may improve and grow.
4. Let go of normal. Steven Hayes, in his book “I’m Normal and Other Lies We Tell Ourselves,” says there's no average IQ score or average mental health. Our concept of normal is relatively new, and it discounts people's unique differences.
Instead of comparing yourself to a "normal" person, compare yourself to yourself as a unique person. Are you a better tennis player this year than you were last year? Are you getting better at establishing boundaries with your mom? Let go of your attachment to the "ideal" and, as Joseph Ciarrochi recommends, "live your life, your way."
5. Narrow down your timeframe. When working on a project, example writing a book, Joseph Ciarrochi suggests narrowing your time frame to just today and tomorrow. For one hour, focus purely on writing that book, not on the book's potential outcome, not on how much you've written or how much you still have to write, solely on the process of writing.
When we are so absorbed in attachment, we're also not in the present moment. Step out of the ego and go into the process.
6. Hold multiple perspectives. When you're attached to your ego, you only perceive the world through the prism of your ego's narrative. Try looking at your experience from a variety of angles. What is the perspective of your coworkers, your children, strangers, someone you disagree with, or even your pet?
Welcoming multiple perspectives enables you to see beyond your ego and recognize that there are many different points of view.
Do you wish to cultivate nonattachment and develop skills to create nonattached, thriving relationships? Help is available for you at JarvisHypnotherapy.