How to Remain Detached

June 17, 2007  

Doug Busch, former Chief Information Officer at Intel once told me, “The best things I have ever done in my career came shortly after I decided that the best thing that could happen to me is that they fire me.” Doug is referring to the concept of detachment. Detachment is not indifference. It is about acting with a commitment to the future while focusing on the present. For example, if you are in a job interview, remaining detached would mean that you listen carefully and answer honestly, without concern about the outcome.

In the book I describe one approach for remaining detached: Attach yourself to something of higher value. If you are in sales, attached yourself to serving customers rather than focusing on the sale. If you want to stop a bad habit, replace it with a healthier habit.

I recently had a conversation with a woman who claimed to use the detachment concept to “stay sane.” She said that husband and kids drive her crazy and that the house is always in a frenzied state of affairs. Rather than getting stressed, she detaches from the mania by “attaching” herself to making her house a better place to live. Her approach? She spends hours every day on the internet researching lighting, fixtures, and other ways of improving her house for her family.

I question if this is a healthy attachment. It seems like an escape mechanism or a distraction. It enables her to avoid dealing with her situation. And given the amount of time she spends online, it might even be an obsession.

How can you tell if your attachments are healthy? Healthy attachments should:

  • be present moment focused and not about achieving a future objective
  • have you engage and interact with others (rather than sitting on your computer)
  • (potentially) be in the service of, or contributing to others
  • increase the level of honesty in your interaction with others

In the book I quoted David Wood the (then) Vice Present of Sales for the Americas for the Bose Corporation. He said, “I’m personally satisfied at the end of the day if I made a difference for someone personally; if someone’s efforts were furthered along with my help. I have this intense desire to feel like I have made an investment in someone else and the company. I am not driven by money or status. I’m not even comfortable partaking in privileged company benefits. Rather, I am driven by contribution, what I do, and the value I add.” This philosophy must be working. David is now Senior Vice President and General Manager of GN/Jabra’s US operations. He continues to live a passionate, creative, and successful life.

How are your “future” attachments preventing you from being present, being honest, and playing full out?  How can you attach to something of higher value such that you achieve greater success with less stress?

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One Response to “How to Remain Detached”

  1. david zinger on June 21st, 2007 6:14 pm

    I think there is a delicate balance between attachment and detachment.

    I think caring attaches me to something or someone. I care I engage.

    To detach or disengage I don’t stop caring, rather I move my caring in a different direction. For example I attach to my work as I care for my work and the people I work with. At the end of the day my caring changes focus to myself and my family — as I attach to that I don’t have to detach from work as it happens by default.

    I don’t “care’y” my work home mentally as I am focused on what is going on at home. The next day as I head to work my caring moves to that, I attach to my work, and by default I detach from home while I am at work.

    And they cycle keeps on repeating. In this way I am always attached to what I am involved in during the moment and detached from whatever is outside of the present moment. I am not perfect but I am pretty good with this.

    I have two statements that also help. I believe Gertrude Stein said, “when you get there, you find there is not there, there.” Why go to the future? And the other statement, I don’t have the author right now was, “if you make where you are going more important than where you are there may be no point in going.”

    I know, I know, a long comment but I got attached to it!