Don’t you just hate it when things don’t turn out the way you planned? We get upset when the goals we work towards don’t materialise, or people don’t behave as we want them to. Why are we so attached to desired outcomes?
Why we get attached to desired outcomes
1. Need for structure
Some of us need more structure in our lives than others. You like things to happen at scheduled times, and to happen exactly the way you planned. When this doesn’t happen, you feel like things are getting out of your control. In order to regain the feeling of control, you try to force others to behave as you desire.
2. Illusion of possession
We may think that we own our lives, and even partially own the lives of people close to us. The feeling of ownership makes us feel that we can control what we own. So we try to control our own lives and the lives of people close to use.
Try monitoring your self-talk for a day. Count how many times the words “should”, “ought” and “must” come into play. These words programm your mind into thinking there is an ideal scenario. When this scenario does not happen in reality, the disconnect upsets us.
How to be less attached to desired outcomes
Pinpoint which of the above is causing your attachment to certain outcomes. Then try one or more of the corresponding coping mechanisms:
1. Build unstructured moments into your life
Start with just 15 minutes a day. Pencil in a 15-minute slot into your daily routine as a “Nothing” time. Allow yourself to do anything or nothing during this time. Get used to letting things just happen (or not) during this slot. You can eventually extend 15 minutes into longer periods. Over time, you will find it easier to not try to control every single outcome in your day.
2. Start a gratitude journal
Write down five things or people you are grateful for everyday. Gratitude reminds you that all these blessings are a gift, and we have no inherent right to them. Life does not owe us anything, not does it belong to us. When we realise we don’t truly own our life or anyone else’s, we will stop trying to control everything around us.
3. Monitor your self-talk
Whenever you catch yourself using words like “should” or “must”, substitute these with more useful thoughts. Instead of thinking, “She is late again, she should be on time!”, tell yourself “Great, 15 minutes to catch up on my reading while I wait.” Or change “This job must work out, or I’m in trouble,” to “I’m blessed to have a job, and will give it my best effort.”
Let go of attachment to desired outcomes
These 3 strategies can help us to manage our desire for certain outcomes to materialise. An even better approach is to let go of your expectations entirely. That is a lesson for another day.
For a more in-depth look at your attachments and how to reclaim your freedom, read The 5 Levels of Attachment.