Anytime someone is completely fixated on a specific outcome, they are doomed to fail. I recently found this to be true when a broken toe severely limited my ability to turn in ballet, but we see examples across the board – from special needs to athletic performance to business successes. When someone is fixated on things going a certain way they are much more likely to go in the opposite direction. This post picks up where we left off last week: on some solutions for being attached to the outcome.
Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. – Albert Einstein
Though we use the word failure, what we mean is more complicated. We have a stigma around failure. We believe that failure is bad, never mind how many times a child falls down before he learns to walk. Actually, failure is a fundamental part of learning. We are built to try and fail many times for each success. This didn’t help on the day I was determined to ride a “broken” motorcycle but embracing the concept of failure as part of any growth is the simplest pathway to overcome the limiting belief that failure is bad.
Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better. –Samuel Beckett
The most common situation I see is someone wanting a specific outcome, and thus getting committed to that outcome regardless of the path necessary to get there. One of my favorite shortcuts entails circumventing the attachment by reorienting the outcome. If I still want to train my ballet turns while recovering from a broken toe, I can strengthen my non-dominate side and visualize turns on my dominant side. Trying to force myself to turn on my broken/dominate foot doesn’t work. What happens if we come up with several more variations? Greater flexibility.
I have a challenge which I call the “5 New Routes” challenge. When I drive I usually have a systematic route that I take to my destination. To add some variety I visualize 4 other entirely new routes to the same destination. These might be routes that I will never actually drive (like from San Francisco to Mexico on my way to visit family in LA). The point isn’t the routes themselves, but to expand the current realm of possible options. When I began this exercise years ago I would map out routes on paper. These days, I just visualize the trajectories beforehand. Build the skill of flexible thinking before circumstances demand it.
Another exercise is to imagine what another person might do under similar circumstances. A friend of mine is much better at handling romantic ups-and-downs than I am. Though we want similar outcomes for ourselves, I find I am better able to handle my own emotional roller-coasters when I think about how he might behave under similar circumstances. This allow me to see that a different series of behaviors is possible and then model myself after those that I prefer.
Laughing at ones self is a very useful path to improved performance. As I wrote last week about trying to turn on a broken toe, I laughed at myself for how foolish it sounded. As soon as I was able to take my broken toe a bit less seriously – I realized it wouldn’t have a meaningful impact on my training over the next few months – I was no longer attached to practicing the right way.
A variation on laughter is play – finding joy in whatever you are doing. When I experience joy I will stop at nothing to continue exploring, learning and creating. Whatever you are doing, there is a reason you began with that objective. By tapping into the underlying reasons from the beginnings of the project, rather than getting caught up in the “shoulds” of the moment, it is easier to leave behind attachment and resume making progress.
The last two exercises for overcoming attachment to an outcome are what I use when I am the most hung-up. These are just lists, but like the “5 New Routes” challenge they allow the user to create more flexibility, which is often lacking in the face of attachment. They entail asking hypothetical “what if” questions and then listing options.
The first question is “What is one thing about what you are doing that you can change?” Even if I am speaking to myself, I ask this question is the second-person, because it is easier to hear coming from someone else. I list out 10 or more specific things about what I am currently doing that I could change. For overcoming my frustration with ballet turns I wrote:
Of course, many of these options weren’t things I wanted to do. Take a break? No. Pain killers? That’s not healthy. But buried among those were a couple of the options that did help overcome my inflexibility.
This is my second list-making exercise. There are certain things (like injury that impedes performance) that I believe are fundamentally bad. To practice flexible thinking I come up with 10 reasons for the opposite. Practice this flexible thinking for anything that you believe strongly about! Especially when there are inter-personal disputes over strongly held beliefs this tool can allow both parties to better understand where the other is coming from. In the case of the ballet turns, I realized that I had a lot of learn from the experience of a broken toe, increased the flexibility of my thinking, and am back on the ballet floor working on my triples.