The Subtle Power of Detachment

Superhuman means to have skills and abilities that are not common to the majority of the population. Early in our shared history, these were warriors who had an uncanny fighting ability who seemed to win every battle. Today, we find this characteristic in athletics at the top of their sport.

What sets apart the ‘human’ and the ‘superhuman’ isn’t some physical or genetic characteristics and its certainly not some radioactive spider that transforms you into Spider-Man. To be superhuman is a capacity that requires commitment, conviction, dedication, practice, faith, endurance, and resilience. You may notice that these aren’t uncommon traits. They are all capacities, meaning that they are available to anyone who seeks to exercise the development of the needed capacity.

A dear friend of mine shared with me a great reminder that echos the characteristics of being superhuman:

In recent months, we’ve covered a few superhuman capacities like adaptation, transformation, grit, and resilience.  Many of these have the flavor of charging ahead and being on the offensive of change. Today, I want to share with you a defensive characteristic to safeguard your heart and pursuits. 

Detachment

Let’s immediately clear the air. Detachment is not a fancy word for indifference, passivity, or carelessness. In fact, detachment, in its purest sense, supports the connection to positive growth, resilience, integrity, and grace (self and others).


I’ll tell no lie
Detachment is riddled with complexities and paradoxes. For example, the word detach means disconnect yet detachment involves great involvement. The difference is detachment is liberated from the outcome or the paralyzing emotions preventing the pursuit.


Ron W. Rathbun wrote, “True detachment isn’t a separation from life but the absolute freedom within your mind to explore living.”

It is hard to recognize the benefits of detachment when our lives are going well and full of inspiration. Yet, life as it is has its ups and downs. When we are faced with loss, grief, and failure, it becomes difficult to not associate these paralyzing emotions with ourselves. Yet through the practice of detachment, we can learn to not identify ourselves by our emotions and move from suffering to peace.


Detachment is the act of maximum pursuit of life (and the pressures that arise) AND maximum grace.  


Roughly 37 million people have filed
 for unemployment in the United States as a result of the COVID-19. This means that there are 37 million people in the United States alone who are suffering from the stress and anxiety of losing their jobs and its financial implications. Yet, there is a hidden emotional and mental tole of job loss. For many, jobs aren’t just a means of making a living, they influence how we see ourselvesWe associate ourselves with roles and the skills those roles require. As a result, we begin to question our identity. “Who am I if I am not [job role]?”

Attachment and self-identity are deeply intertwined. We associate ourselves with the things that we hold dear, like our jobs or the status they give us, and emotions that we do not know how to process through. In the case of our jobs, it is the identity that these jobs give us. Detachment here looks like separating our identity from the job we once had. This means that we move to a perspective that does not rely on our job/career alone to give us a feeling of fulfillment, purpose, and meaning in life.


A powerful element of a detachment practice is learning to be objective. 
We see this with the best actors who become deeply involved in their role yet they recognize the role as a separate identity than the one they hold when they are not in character. They become fully immersed in the emotions and mindset of the character while able to be objective and detached from the role.

Like many other things, there isn’t some single achievement point where you obtain your Detachment Mastery Badge. Instead, detachment is a moment-by-moment, day-by-day, exercise of accepting what is and doing our best to pivot our next steps towards doing what we think is right…while not being attached to the outcome.

Here are 7 ways to develop your practice of detachment:

  1. Become an Observer – What would it look like if someone else was experiencing your situation? The goal here is to get an objective view of the situation. Attachment, even the slightest, comes with an emotional charge. Observe how your emotions are shifting and determine what is causing the shift. That may be the very thing that you are attached to. The next step would be to determine how to grow into detachment.
  2. Storytime vs Reality – We can create and resonate a negative narrative in our minds when things are not going our way. We must recognize the story we are telling ourselves and compare it to facts of the situation at hand. Going back to the job example, we might tell ourselves that if we don’t get this next job it is going to ruin our career. The reality is there is no loss here. This future outcome is not today’s truth. Focus on the present.
  3. Embrace uncertainty – Certainty is a fleeting concept the more time we spend on this earth. Embracing uncertainty allows us to be flexible and put emerging challenges into a perspective that allows us not to get caught up in the fright of not-knowing.
  4. Embrace Impermanence – Attachment causes us to be fearful of change. When we come to grips with the constancy of change, then we are better able to practice detachment. For example, the person you knew when you were a child is a different person as an adult. To hold on to the notion of who they were means you are unwilling to accept the impermanence of life.
  5. Change what you speak – What we speak shapes who we are. A subtle change in speech can help support your detachment practice. Here is what I mean. Change from “I need to” to “I want to” or “I have to” to “I get to”.
  6. Pause. Meditate. Take action. (PMT) – We can easily get caught up in the circumstances of life and make reaction decisions. Instead, we have the opportunity to pause to gather our composure, use a meditative practice to get grounded, and then respond with the next best action.
  7. Embrace the Journey – Change takes time and it takes work. You will likely fall into old habits and that’s ok. You are right in line with the rest of the world. But to become superhuman you must embrace the journey and continue to pursue of improvements.

I offer to you these 7 detachment practices to support your growth of self-grace and maximum pursuit of your goals. When we can come to a more mature place of detachment, we gain freedom. In this freedom, we gain peace and in this peace we are able to live life more fully, embracing all of its ups and downs assured in its rich and rewarding experience.

Adapting to the Times

Adaptation is one of the great human superpowers.  Everything else on this planet survives off of instinct by design.

Humans, on the other hand, have the fortunate circumstance to leverage three distinct features of our development –  instinct, intuition, and ingenuity. Because of this powerful combination, we have the ability to adapt to situations and circumstances like no other creature on the planet. What’s more, as we build up our experience goldmine we improve in our adaptation capability.

This is why I say that adaptation is a human superpower. There are two types of adaptation that are keen in these times. The first being grit and the second being resilience. Let’s take a look at each:

Grit:

Grit is a powerful adaptation. It allows us to persevere in the midst of a challenge. You’ve heard before that to grit means to be mentally tough in the face of adversity. And as true as that may be, it is not about simply turning on a light switch. It is more about:

  1. Determining what is important and keeping that goal in front of you. It becomes the light at the end of the tunnel that you strive towards.
  2. Establishing daily wins toward the realization of that goal
  3. And building the habits, inspirations, and motivations to keep you going no matter what.

Grit is about driving towards the realization of a passion that you hold dear. In this case, passion serves two functions – it is the goal and the fuel to realize the goal.

Grit is the adaptation to survive the challenges on the road to realizing your goals. In this time of global response to a pandemic, we can all use the characteristic of grit to courageously overcome the challenge on our path so that we can realize our goals.

Yet, as you can imagine, this can only be done for a period of time. Grit isn’t, in my humble opinion, a sustainable psychological state. It is great and useful when we understand what the end goal looks like however in these times where the end goal is so fluid, and the complexity that we must deal with is overwhelming, we must rely on a different adaptation.

Resilience:

Resilience is purpose-built for times like these and frankly every other adversity that we undergo as part of the human experience. Resilience is the capacity for a successful adaptation in the face of stress, challenge, and adversity. In this distinction of successful, we come to understand that there are unsuccessful ways to deal with the challenges of life. If we accomplish the goal while tearing down our relationships and destroying our physical health and mental wellbeing, the goal will be met but the life around it will be in shambles.

Resilience is the adaptation built for thriving through and well beyond the challenging circumstances that we find ourselves in. To accomplish this we must understand the 5 parts of resilience.

  1. Positive Emotions: This isn’t an unrealistic, falsely joyful view of emotions. Rather this is a grounding of the emotions that result in a positive mood, recall of positive memories, and embodiment of positive feelings. Positive emotions are a choice chosen in the moment of difficulty where the emotions provide the grounding to the next response. If you’ve lost someone to COVID-19 or you feel isolated as a result of social distancing, know that it is okay and healthy to deal with the emotion that is coming up for you. Allow it to rise and process through it. Once you’ve successfully dealt with that emotion, realign to the emotions that ground you and helps you move forward such joy, gratitude, serenity, hope, pride, laughter, inspiration, and love.
  2. Social Support: We are social creatures. In these times it is even more important to rely on your support system to speak about the difficulty you are facing. This support system is essential in providing encouragement, guidance, and comfort.
  3. Meaning: Sometimes it is difficult to make sense of the crazy things in this world. Yet, this is an outsider looking in perspective. The opposite, an inside looking out, establishes that our lives are purposeful and seeks to determine how our purpose can be applied to the world.
  4. Coping: We all have our unique makeup of how we cope with distressing situations. In a resilience construct, we must employ productive and empowering coping mechanisms to manage our emotions, thoughts, and behaviors.
  5. Physical well-being: This plays a significant part in our mental well-being. Consistent physical exercise, healthy eating habits, and sufficient sleep shape our mood, ability to handle stress, motivations, and overall mental well-being.

As we seek to adapt to the times, we must employ attributes that we may not have relied on before. Grit and resilience are such attributes that are fit for these days. Grit enables us to adapt to survive the challenge while resilience empowers us to thrive through and beyond the challenges we face.

None of the adversity, stress, or challenges we face in life comes easy yet we have a choice in how we deal with it. In that choice, we are either liberated or encaged. We are either empowered by our exploration into the difficult and unknown or disempowered by negative coping mechanisms and limiting beliefs of what is possible. All choice is ours. What will you choose today?

Coaches and Educators:

Grit and Resilience are essential instructional points for your clients and students. This provides the foundation for them to build on. Utilize this article or others to engage with your clients and students in building their grit and resilience capacities and understanding the difference between the two.