I remember the incident vividly — as if it occurred yesterday, though it occurred more than 7 years ago.
I was put in charge of a team as an ‘acting team leader’. Then came the announcement that I was made ‘acting floor supervisor’, and my team was handed over to someone else. It was not a promotion really; just a move to accommodate a team leader from another process.
My (ex) team was shuffled. Some good people had been moved to other teams and some not-so-good ones had been added. I was enraged! This wasn’t fair! I walked up to Chandan, the person responsible, intent on giving him a piece of my mind. Thankfully, I started off by questioning his intentions rather than plunging into allegations right away.
“Why do you worry, my friend?”, he asked. “It isn’t your team anymore.”
“Yes, but I have managed it for over three months now. So it is effectively my team, right?”
“No. It WAS your team. And you did a commendable job. For that, we will move you to a better process. What happens with this team now will reflect on the new team leader. He is known to be the reason many good employees have quit. Can we afford that?”
I hated Chandan, not for what he had done, but because he was right. Again. He had the ability to look at the bigger picture better than me. Often, his insights proved not just that he was right but how stubborn and pig-headed I was. What made me feel even worse was that he never rubbed it in. Chandan had the ability to look at events from a distance while I involved myself in them. He could analyze something dispassionately while I almost always let emotions get in the way.
Chandan gave me my first ever lesson in detachment.
Because of the hype surrounding spirituality today, detachment is often misunderstood as giving up what we possess and living like paupers. In reality, it is the state of distancing ourselves from an event or action and looking at it from a dispassionate perspective.
Detaching yourself is tough. It takes practice, conditioning and will power. But the results are remarkable. Some of them are:
- It empowers you to pursue what you want
- It strengthens you to persevere for longer and pay less attention to haters
- It stops negative emotions from clouding your understanding of things
- It reduces your dependence on others and makes you respect yourself
- It calms you down. As a result, others feel calm in your presence.
Being detached is an art. And like all arts, it takes time to master. Below are some ways that you can start developing this ability in you:
“Does it tie in with my goal?”
Before asking yourself whether an action syncs with you goal, ask yourself — “Do I have a goal?” If the answer is “No”, you almost certainly will fail to develop the ability to detach. Why? Because you will chase everything, not knowing what is important and what isn’t. If you are working towards a goal however, then analyze every situation and action from it’s perspective. Does it fit in with what you eventually want to achieve? If yes, dive deeper. If no, cut away. This, my friend, frees up time to do what you should, rather than multitasking and being unproductive.
Not everything we want comes packaged the way we want it. Sometimes the best results come from some pretty sour experiences. Looking at these experiences objectively will help you peel the layers and find the good in them.
“Constantly observe all that comes through change, and habituate yourself to the thought that the nature of the Whole loves nothing so much as to change one form of existence into another, similar but new. All that exists is in a sense the seed of its successor.” — Marcus Aurelius.
Marcus Aurelius wrote this rule in around AD 175, but two centuries, later it still holds true. It also is most difficult for us to digest. We try to hold on to what we have through the skin of our teeth. We kick and scream helplessly like toddlers when it is taken away. No matter what you do, you cannot control the forces of Nature.
Instead of desperately holding on to what you have, develop the mental strength to accept change, and control how you respond to it. This will enhance your ability to detach from emotions which cause unhappiness.
You cannot control anything
Persistence and the ability to handle uncertainty are two traits which dictate how successful a person is. As mentioned in point #2, change is inherent in the functioning of Nature. And change brings uncertainty in droves. Life is ten percent what happens to us and 90 percent how we respond to it. So if you think about it, nothing that you are trying to control is actually in your control. And what you feel is not in your control — your behavior, your reactions — actually is. We justify our negative reactions by saying “He started it”, or “How could they do this to me!” We want to control how life treats us, and not how we respond. But it actually works in the exact opposite way.
Marcus Aurelius also wrote, “Remove the judgement and you have removed the thought ‘I am hurt”: remove the thought ‘I am hurt’ and the hurt itself is removed.”
Is this difficult to practice? You bet. Judgement comes easily to us, whether something impacts us or not. This is why we live from outrage to outrage today. Combat this judgement by looking at everything as it is — the plain truth, and subtract your interpretation of it.
Rarely, if ever, does the Indian cricket captain MS Dhoni let judgement or emotion cloud his understanding of a situation. “He goes into a match very blank, and then operates on instinct”, says R. Ashwin. Dhoni has mastered detachment primarily because of his subtraction of judgement from a situation. He doesn’t rue over a bad umpiring decision or a spilled catch. Instead, he focuses on what to do at that moment to turn the tide in his favor. His ‘gambles’ pay off because he can see the plain truth in situations. And the results are there for us to see.
Fight to reduce
“What gets freedom? Decluttering. Not just your house. But your body: make sure you’re healthy every day. Your emotions: spend time with people you love and who inspire you. Your mind: attempt to be creative every day. Creativity takes the mind away from anxieties. And spirituality: leave room each day for thoughts about the people you are grateful for, and thank whoever or whatever you hold dear, for the luck and fortune that you have”, writes renowned author and investor James Altucher.
FOMO (fear of missing out) makes us do things that add to the clutter in life. Being online 24/7, trying to please everyone, buying things that you will not use… if you want mental peace, you need to throw these out of the window of your life.
Until a few years ago, I was the same. I did more than I could to please people, worked tirelessly to gain approval from those who were never happy, and just wanted more of everything. And you know what? I failed. Every single time. Then I got rid of the inessential — negative people, extra gadgets, an elaborate wardrobe, checking email every hour, and doing things to please others. Life is better now. I experience the FOMO lesser. It’s easier to go into switch-off mode and ignore things that would have impacted me deeply a few years ago.
“It’s not the daily increase but the daily decrease. Hack away at the inessential.” — Bruce Lee
Live in the present
Many people want to forget the past. And many worry about the future. Will I forever be alone? Will I get the promotion or pay increment? Will I bag that lucrative client? Will I be welcome where I am going? Will others find out about an embarrassing incident that occurred in my life twenty years ago?
The fleeting second that just passed you by? It’s gone. And the future does not exist yet. You can do nothing about either. All you can do to stop worrying about them is to live in the present. This not only helps you give your current task your best, but also frees your mind from doubt and worry, leaving you happier.
“Perform each action as if it were the last of your life, with unaffected dignity and precise analysis” — Marcus Aurelius.
Meditation is an effective way to train your mind to live in the present. Meditation is not about chanting or taking God’s name a thousand times. It’s about getting in touch with yourself and learning to focus on the moment. Try apps like Calm and Omvana and witness the difference in yourself after 21 days. Whatever ability I have developed to live in the moment, I’ve attained through mediation.
Detachment is an ongoing process. No matter how strong we are emotionally, our minds get sucked into the trap of negativity. We must keep training to look at the bright side and focus on what is important. I would like to believe that I have learned this art, but negativity drowns the voices of reason and common sense in my head many times even now. The secret is to not get discouraged, not give up, but pull yourself back to the present. Train yourself to master your mind rather than be mastered by it, and detachment becomes easier.
Why is detachment important according to you? And how do you try to imbibe this quality in yourself? I would love to hear from you.