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Not being attached doesn’t mean you don’t care

It took me a long time to learn the difference between attachment and commitment.

In fact, I had no idea I was confusing the two until about ten years ago, when a metaphorical bolt of lightning hit me right in the middle of marketing one of my programs.

I’d spent over a year developing and testing the materials. And I knew, all the way down to the tips of my toes, that it would be life-changing for the people who participated.

Eight people signed up for the first program, and their feedback reinforced my belief that getting this out into the world was important. I had a vision and I was committed to making it happen.

A few months later, I offered the program again. With enthusiasm and diligence I worked my marketing plan … and worked it … and worked it. After all, I was committed and this was important work.

I went through this process two more times.  I always filled the program, but each time it was with more effort, more stress, and more frustration.

But no way was I giving up!

This was my vision, I’m not a quitter, and I really cared about the work.

And then, smack in the middle of marketing the fifth go-round, the lightning-bolt struck and the shift happened.

I was in my office at 11 p.m., feverishly writing follow-up emails. And I suddenly had an image of my hand clutching the program so tightly that my knuckles were ready to pop out.

Ugh. I had a serious case of attachment.

In that moment, I shifted.

Yes, I still cared about the essence of the program. But maybe, just maybe, there were other ways to bring the material into the world. (The obvious comment at this point is, “Ya think?!” ;-))

The minute I let go of my attachment to it has to look exactly like this, I stopped struggling and suffering.

Letting go of attachments comes up a lot in the work I do with my clients. It’s often at the root of their experiences of stress, frustration, and stuck.

We all get attached, often without even realizing it’s happened. Those attachments range from a favorite sweater (such as the one my husband accidently put in the dryer), to your team winning the Super Bowl, to a promotion you’ve been working towards for years, to your most meaningful relationships, and everything in between.

When life isn’t playing out the way you wanted or expected, letting go isn’t always quick or easy. (And that may rank as the 2013 Understatement of the Year!)

You’ve probably been told – or told yourself – “Oh well, just let it go.”

But even if you’re the one dispensing the advice, it usually just incites a rant.

LET IT GO? Are you kidding?! I don’t WANT to let it go. I CARE about this and I’ve WORKED HARD for this. I’m not going to STOP CARING and JUST LET IT GO!

But hanging on with a death grip doesn’t make anything easier or more likely to happen.

Just the opposite: it makes you feel worse.

Yet this is where it seems tricky. After all, how can you let go when you still care?

The answer is not to shift into a flippant, oh-well, whatever energy.

Instead, try these five steps to shift from attachment to caring … and letting go.

  1. Recognize you’re attached. Don’t beat yourself up. It happens to everyone.
  2. Acknowledge that you care. Trying to convince yourself that you don’t care when you really do will only leave you feeling more stuck and frustrated.
  3. Decide you want to loosen your grip. It’s not usually a conscious choice to become attached. But once you recognize you’re attached, you get to choose whether to stay there or not.
  4. Find a new perspective. There’s an accompanying mindset to every attachment.

    My ridiculous reaction to my husband’s inadvertently shrinking my sweater came from a perspective of I love that sweater and I’m not going to find another one that perfect.

    Shifting to a perspective of I don’t want to hold Warren (my husband) to a mistake-free standard because I don’t want to be held to that standard made the difference.

  5. Practice daily until you’ve truly let go. Letting go doesn’t usually happen in an instant. Remind yourself at least once a day (or 20 times, if that’s what it takes) that you’ve chosen a new perspective.  Each day it’ll get a little easier, until one day you’ll realize you really aren’t attached any more.

And the coolest part is … when you consistently practice non-attachment, life is easier and flows much more smoothly.

“Attachment is the origin, the root of suffering; hence it is the cause of suffering.” ~ The Dalai Lama

 

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