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Practicing Detached Involvement

"You can’t always control what happens around you, but you can control how you respond.” ~ Unknown

Sometime around April of last year, my daughter signed up for a summer University course that offered between 2 and 5 credits depending on the level of work put in. Her intention was to complete this course over the month of June. As mothers do, I asked her several times during the first half of the month how things were going with the course and if she was getting the work done. Each time, she’d reply with, “Yup, just fine.”

On the afternoon of June 23rd she came to me with the following confession: That she had not been doing the work. Her assessment was that 2 credits would be the most she could hope to complete because there was only one week left to the end of the term. Did I mention that we’d prepaid in April for the 5 credits?

At this point, I was faced with the choice of how to react to this news.

Option One: Get angry (check, already there!), chastise her for the wasted money and time, demand she pay us back, mandate that she will work day and night until all 5 credits are completed or else, etc.

My internal evaluation of Option One went something like this: How motivated do I think she will be to complete even just the 2 credits after a conversation such as this one? What message am I sending, and what message is she thus creating for herself, in this scenario?

Option Two: Tell her I am disappointed that she has decided she will not follow through on her commitment, challenge her where the idea that only 2 credits are possible came from, ask her what she might need to do if she WERE going to try for more, gain her buy in to consider going for 3 credits if she does reach 2 in good time, and go for 4 if she manages to hit 3, etc.

My thoughts when considering this alternative approach went something like: How is this message different, and does it change what she tells herself? How do I think that approaching with curiosity rather than judgment will impact her motivation to push herself?

These were important questions for me to consider when looking at this situation because our reactions absolutely have the ability to empower or inhibit others. Unfortunately, our reactions are one of the most difficult things to get a handle on, especially when we care SO MUCH about the outcome. Practicing Detached Involvement can be a great tool for achieving positive results.

To be clear, “detached” in this case does not mean disinterested or disengaged. When we use detached involvement we are shifting our interest. In the above example, I shifted my interest away from the outcome of the achievement of 5 credits to the opportunity of empowering my daughter to be more than she thought she could. I let go of how many credits that would end with.

This is an interesting process that may not intuitively seem as though it should work, but it does:

  • Our ability to disengage ourselves from being emotionally tied up in the outcome allows us to…

  • Explore opportunities for shifting our perspective on what could be achieved. This creates the ability within us to…

  • Realize choices for responding that we may never have noticed otherwise. When the empowering choice is selected, we then…

  • Increase the odds that the desired outcome will happen.

When you think about it, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to be chained to the outcome anyway. Most of the time, we can’t control it. I certainly had no real control over how many credits my daughter was or wasn’t going to complete. Instead, it makes much more sense to think about what opportunities are present in the situation and tie yourself to something you can control, such as how you respond and the impact you leave on others.

You can try it out the next time you find yourself faced with a difficult situation. Ask yourself what you want out of the situation, and why you want it. Ask yourself if you have full control over making that happen. If the answer is no, then challenge yourself to think about other possible opportunities in the situation. It will free you up to make a conscious choice in how you respond, rather than being nudged into a potentially negative reaction.

PS. Just to close the loop, at about noon on the Friday of that same week my daughter came whooping into my office to announce that she’d done it; all 5 credits! Her self-confidence and sense of achievement was through the roof. With both outcomes met, the celebration in our house was one to remember!

Trish Cody is a speaker and coach whose work is focused on raising awareness of how our default tendencies and beliefs predict our capacity for success, and how those defaults can be adjusted to create more positive results. As a Certified Professional Coach and Energy Leadership Master Practitioner, Trish works with clients to uncover their core values and beliefs, and learn a process of leading energy to attract positivity and success naturally.

All rights reserved; Trish Cody Coaching LLC; 2015

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