The Subtle Art of Detachment

Have you noticed how some people cope with life’s challenges better than others? 

No matter what setbacks, failures, or problems they face, they can keep a reasonably cheerful, balanced view of life and keep on going.

For many years, I wondered how some people had the mindfulness to keep going in life despite things falling apart.

Several years ago, I found the answer.

I met a public speaking mentor who taught me that the secret to mental health and inner peace came from simply letting go.

He was the first person to introduce me to the art of detachment. His guidance taught me that no matter what the situation in life, relationships, or business, there is immense power in just letting go.

In this article, I want to dive deeply into the art of detachment, and how learning to detach from the outcome in life and how it can help your awareness, happiness, and inner peace.

Detachment is a subtle art. Because very often, a person who is good at emoational detachment from an outcome doesn’t appear to be doing anything differently. Yet, in their mind, they have a completely different perspective about the situation.

What is Detachment?

The dictionary definition of detachment is the state of being objective or aloof. 

Detachment is the process of letting go or being flexible in achieving what you want. It allows you to find release from frustration and disappointment.

Emotional detachment enables you to reduce anxiety, experience less negative emotion, have better boundaries, and live more in the present moment.

It overrides the urge of human nature (i.e. the ego) to control which usually leads to pain, suffering, and the majority of our negative thoughts.

Being able to practice the art of detachment in your life means that you will have more fun, fulfillment, freedom, and inner peace. It’s a mental framework practiced by many successful and enlightened people from all walks of life. 

The Law of Detachment

There is a Law of Detachment in many faiths, which espouses letting go of the need to control outcomes in situations and attempting to control other people.

This Law of Detachment says that to the degree you release your mental and emotional attachments, you will find fulfillment and – as a result – attract what you want.

The concept of detachment and detaching from the outcome has been around for centuries. It is shared in many spiritual and philosophical texts.

In 500 B.C., the Buddha shared the profound idea that “The root of suffering is attachment.” 

In the 5th century, the monk Bodhidharma told us, “The essence of the Way is detachment.”

The 9th Century scholar Muhammad al-Bukhari said, “Be in the world as though you were a stranger or wayfarer.”

In the Hindu scripture Bhagavad Gita, detachment is described as the means through which a person can gain true knowledge, serenity of the mind, and enduring joyfulness.

And more recently, Jiu Jitsu black belt Chris Mataka shared his take “It was my letting go that gave me a better hold.”

Deepak Chopra, one of the most famous modern spiritual teachers, shared, “In detachment lies the wisdom of uncertainty. In our willingness to step into the unknown, we surrender ourselves to the creative mind that orchestrates the dance of the universe.”

Is Detachment a Good Thing?

It might seem that detachment is about not caring or becoming emotionally vacant. But the reality is that true detachment means you just put the focus back onto what matters.

You can still feel a sense of love, healing, kindness, support, and joy while practicing the art of detachment.

Healthy emotional detachment allows for changes to occur because we aren’t tied to a specific outcome. Practicing detachment can also help us to accept what is with more ease and allow peace to flow into our lives. 

Many people have discovered the power of healthy detachment on their own and used it to achieve their goals and more happiness. Letting go of emotional attachement is also very effective in relationships with a loved one when creating healthy boundaries.

While there are many benefits of emotional detachment, it’s not something that is intuitive to human beings.

As a result, we often fall into the trap of attaching too much to other people or to outcomes, try too hard to control circumstances, and causing ourselves more problems than we realize.

Attachment Vs. Detachment

To better understand how detachment works, it’s important to look at the opposite state. 

Attachment is a natural human emotion whereby we try our best to control the outcome of a situation, relationship, or result that we want.

It seems intuitive to try to control any situation or relationship we value. After all, if you want something to happen a certain way, shouldn’t you put all your focus and energy into making sure it does?

I have noticed that when we get too obsessed with how something ‘should’ happen, it often causes us to experience fear or anger. This obsession and attachment mostly related to past experiences where we have had emotional pain, or feel that things did not go as we would have liked.

We become an impediment to what we want happening simply by ‘wanting it’ too much.

For this reason, attachment to the desired outcome can start to cause failure and a lack of enjoyment in everyday life.

Three Ways We Attach to the Outcome

As a human being, it’s easy to become the cause of our pain and problems without realizing it. This is definitely the case with getting too attached to an outcome.

When we get too attached in our lives, it shows up in different ways of thinking and acting. So often, we don’t even notice that we are trapping ourselves through our desire for something until we start suffering.

I have discovered three ways people tend to get attached in business, relationships, and life.

Being Dependent on a Specific Outcome

Being dependent on the outcome means we want something to happen or succeed in a specific way. We have a vision of how things ‘should’ be, and we won’t accept that it might not work out exactly as we plan or hope. This way of thinking causes a lot of anxiety, and stifles our creativity.

Idealizing or Fantasizing

When we focus on things being perfect or ideal, such as in a romantic relationship, we can fall into fantasizing. Of course, nothing happens exactly as we hope or plan, yet getting too attached to an ideal can become a mental and emotional trap. This is often a mistake we make when we have a lot of passion for something or misguided beliefs that we will only be happy if we achieve something specific.

Putting All Your Eggs in One Basket

This behavior occurs when we don’t consider any other options or possibilities except for the one we’ve set in our minds. The downside of only having one way something can work is that we see any other approaches as a bad thing. In reality, life is full of options and different approaches, but if we are too attached, we can become limited in our ability to use them.

What Does it Mean to Detach From an Outcome?

True detachment means that even though you want something, you can live happily without it.

To detach from the outcome, you must accept that what you want might not happen exactly as planned. You are aware there are elements outside your control and know that you will be okay no matter what comes to pass.

We all have things in our lives that we really want or want to happen. We might have goals, aspirations, a romantic interest in someone, or something we want to become for ourselves.

A strong desire is very common among people who set goals or plans, but it also means we get attached to things happening in a very specific way.

We will often become obsessive, controlling, frustrated, or disappointed if we don’t get exactly what we desire. These negative thoughts make us want to attach even stronger and try to control the situation, when in reality we need to do the opposite and focus on detaching.

Goal Setting and Detachment

When I first observed this ability to detach from the outcome in others, it didn’t make sense. 

How can you set a specific goal and also be detached from achieving it?

Logically it seems like these two mindsets of goal setting and detachment are counter-productive. One would seem to cancel out the other.

Yet, the more you practice them both simultaneously, you will see how they work together harmoniously.

You can control the work you do, your consistency, and your mindset. But no matter what you do, you can’t control the specific outcome you get in a situation.

  • Sometimes they work out exactly like you planned and worked for. 
  • Sometimes things will not work out, no matter how much effort you put in. 
  • Sometimes they work out when you don’t expect them to. 
  • Sometimes things work out in a way that is better than you can have planned.

I’ve observed that those who work consistently and persistently at their craft and treat others well tend to accrue the wins needed to achieve their ultimate goals.

It might not happen exactly on schedule or in the precise way they planned, but over the long term, the bigger results they desire to arrive.

Three Ways to Detach From the Outcome

So you might be asking, ‘how do you train yourself to detach?’ 

When you first are learning to practice the art of detachment, it can be hard to break the old habit, especially if you have a lot of past conditioning that caused you to try to control everything. 

But there are simple ways that you can start to practice detachment and be more in control of your thoughts and feelings and start letting go.

Realize You Need Very Little

The first way to detach is to go back to basics in your life and realize that you need very little. When it comes right down to it, you don’t really need much more than air, water, food, and sleep. Everything else in your life is ‘nice to have.

Sometimes it can be good to remind yourself that you don’t need many of the things you desire in your life. When we have a desired outcome, we tend to think or feel that we need it to be happy or fulfilled.

Next time you start to feel yourself attaching to a goal or ideal, try reminding yourself that you have all the basics covered and that life will be okay whether you achieve it or not.

Focus on The Process and Skills

As ambitious, driven people, we can get very focused on results. Yet, we often forget that the process of achieving something is the reward. We also neglect to notice that we are developing skills as we go for the goals we want.

If you want to detach from a specific outcome, then look at the journey you are on as enjoyable. Look at the skills you have built, and realize how you have come in your personal growth.

Focusing on the process and skills gives you a better sense of perspective and lets you let go of the expectation in the short term.

Don’t Wait For Results To Be Happy

This mindset is crucially important in any part of life. If you are waiting on a particular outcome or situation to happen before you are happy, you’re never going to reach a state of happiness.

No matter how many goals you achieve, you will always find something else that you think you need to do, be, or have before you can be happy. With social media and the availability of endless information today, we are never really completely satisfied if we keep looking outwards for fulfillment.

Realize that you are about as happy as you make up your mind to be in the moment, and let go of any desired outcome as the cause of your happiness or inner peace.

Detachment is a Practice

The art of detachment can take time, patience, and focus. It is similar to meditation in that the rewards don’t always appear immediately but show up when you need them.

When you stay detached from a specific outcome, you also don’t get as swayed by the highs of achievement or the lows of failures. You remove the experience of feeling like a failure in your life.

In fact, you don’t even tend to worry about what happens day to day, and instead, you enjoy the journey of developing yourself.

As founder of the Keelee Foundation, Ron W. Rathbun eloquently explained: “True detachment isn’t a separation from life, but the absolute freedom within your mind to explore living.”

There will be moments when your mind drifts back into attachment mode, and this is why detachment is a practice. It is something you have to come back and revisit time and again if you want to make it a part of your approach to life.

The time you spend learning to detach from the outcome will give you profound rewards. In awareness, focus, personal power, and enjoyment.

As the Tibetan Buddhist Saraha so eloquently observed: “Detachment is the ultimate pleasure.”

Enjoy the journey, let go of the destination, and you will feel what it means to be alive. 

7 thoughts on “The Subtle Art of Detachment

  1. Never thought about outcomes or goals in this manner. I love the concept and will carry it into my life. It makes so much sense… leaves way more energy for focus on completing the work/projects each day. I would think this helps living more in the moment as well!

  2. Bhagavat Gita says the same thing, but you have said it in a way that I can relate to. Thank you. Swami chinmayananda calls it attachment in detachment.

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