Letting Go of Attachments to Outcomes

Here’s another fun conundrum that showed up in a coaching session with a client.  Tell me if this seems familiar to you:

You recognize that you’re not fully satisfied with what’s going on in your career, your relationships, your life.  You hire a coach (that’s me by the way).  Together, you start to unveil a few habits in your thinking that have been limiting you.  comic-book-swearing[1]You have a full on “ah-hah!” moment. You and your coach (still me) co-create practices that you commit to.  And you do them.  Or you try really hard.  And you’re on your way to transformation.  But you expected this particular result and it’s just not coming and you become frustrated and then I (as your coach of course) say to you “you need to let go of your attachments to outcomes.”  This is when one of my clients actually started swearing at me.

And I totally get it.  I am consciously practicing at letting go of attachment to outcomes all the time because it is hard!  One reason is because it’s culturally counter-intuitive.  We have been receiving messages like this “work hard, you will succeed” all our lives.  As children, work hard, you’ll make good grades.  Make good grades, you’ll go to a good college.  Go to a good college, you’ll get a good job.  Get a good job, you’ll make a lot of money.  Make a lot of money, you’ll be happy. We take these lessons and we begin to shortcut it and the inner monologue goes like this – you won’t be happy until you make a lot of money and if you aren’t making a lot of money it must be because you aren’t working hard enough. In our culture, we value being results-oriented.  We measure those results and then we decide our value based on the delivery of those results.  We call this performance management. But what if you put in the work and the promotion doesn’t come?  What is the point in putting in going to all that effort if we aren’t going to get the results?

There – there it is – the naughty little truth. Secretly, we are only willing to put in the work in the expectation of the outcome.  This is NOT transforming.  This is NOT integrating into our being. This is a transaction.

Here are a few issues that come with attachment to an outcome:

  • It hijacks our ability to be present and in our higher selves. The changed behavior, actions, practices we take are in the present.  Outcomes are in the future.  When we tie ourselves to an outcome, we aren’t really living in the present and aren’t fully emerging into the practice. It’s somewhat disingenuous. When we authentically commit to a practice, we’re committing to a new way of being – we are committing to transforming into our higher selves. Example: A client tells me that her family’s morning routine is frantic and rushed and the kids never finish breakfast and everyone ends up screaming at each other so she shows up to work, late, exhausted and frustrated.  She realizes that she’s gotten into a habit of being rushed and as a result she and her family are fighting over the little things and sacrificing the big things along the way. She decides that she’s going to pick her battles and wants to practice being more flexible.  She adopts this as a way of being because that’s the sort of parent she wants to be – not because she thinks that her flexibility will make her kids dress faster.
  • 1779[1]It gives away our power. When we take actions towards our higher selves we are taking control of our situation. This is a very empowering feeling. However, outcomes are often outside of our sphere of control.  Outcomes very often involve the actions and or assessments of others or are subject to environmental conditions.  If we withhold personal satisfaction until a particular result happens, we are handing that power we created in the beginning over. Example: a client has been experiencing guilt over actions she had taken in her last marriage.  She decides that she wants to make a sincere apology to her ex-husband and she wants him to forgive her.  He refuses to forgive her.  (As I like to say, perhaps he is not enjoying the benefit of coaching….).  If her personal growth is dependent upon his forgiveness, he holds that power.  HOWEVER, if she comes to decide that making the authentic apology is an act of courage and that she has offered to make the past right and he has declined that offer, her work is complete and she can enjoy releasing her own guilt so that she can move forward.
    This scenario comes up often in relationships when there is guilt or resentment, especially where there is a history of injustice. It isn’t always possible to confront the other person in the relationship, and especially if that relationship comes with a history of feelings of powerlessness, it is even more important to exercise practices that encourage maintaining empowered.
  • It narrows our perspective You might recall from the Observer Action Result model, second order learning is all about shifting who we ARE and expanding our view of available possibilities. When we are so focused on a particular outcome we can’t see of the other possibilities unfolding.  Why?  Well, because we didn’t REALLY shift, we’re still seeing the same thing and we’re assessing it from a binary perspective.  It either did or didn’t happen – you either did or didn’t get the promotion you were hoping for. But what if, as a result of my new actions and practices you uncover more of your leadership gifts and a role that makes better use of those gifts becomes available.  It isn’t the promotion you were hoping for but if that’s the only thing you’re looking to see, you won’t see the new role that showed up.
  • premeditated-resentments[1]It sets us up for resentment. Someone recently shared this quote that “expectations are pre-meditated resentments.” When we set up a set of expected outcomes we are really setting ourselves up for resentment.  Nothing creative happens from resentment.  Resentment leads to resignation – the desire to simply give up.  So letting go of attachments to outcomes breaks out of resentment/resignation paradigm and positions us for new possibilities.  That, my friend, is where growth flourishes.


So how do we get out of this attachment? Be mindful of times when you are holding on to an outside force.  Notice the language you use:  “I’ll be happy when I lose 15 pounds” and work on rephrasing it with a focus on things you can control – your own behaviors and attitudes “I am going to feed my body well and exercise for joy.” Connect to your higher intention – how do you want to be? “…because I deserve to be healthy and joyful.”


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