The Power of Detachment

Posted on June 7, 2017 by Robert Ringer


Detachment is an incredibly powerful tool that I wish I had understood much earlier in life. There are many things from which you can detach yourself, and one of the most important is the habit of judging people, actions, and circumstances as being right or wrong, good or bad.

When you are constantly classifying, labeling, and evaluating, you create a great deal of internal bickering. That, in turn, leaves less time and room in your mind for constructive thinking.

Worry, irrelevant and extraneous thoughts, and fears only add to this internal bickering. All these are abstracts from which you can make a conscious effort to detach yourself. Even more important is the necessity to detach yourself from needing the approval of others. When you are attached to peer approval, you tend to make bad decisions.

Then there’s the pain and discomfort of your present situation. The more you struggle against the unpleasant circumstances of the moment, the more time and energy you waste. It’s okay to want things to get better down the road, but it’s a mistake to waste time and energy wishing things were different than they are right now. It’s much more productive to learn to focus on the present and enjoy the moment.

Accepting your current situation means detaching yourself from the pain it is causing you. Philosophically, you should learn to accept pain as a normal aspect of life. Which means, paradoxically, that the best way to eliminate pain is to not try to eliminate it at all. The more you fight pain, the more likely it is to persist.

Above all, learn to detach yourself from specific results. Understand that circumstances constantly change and that things rarely work out precisely as planned. The results you end up with may be much different from the results you were after, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they will be less satisfying. If you are too attached to a specific result, it shuts down your creativity.

The ideal mind-set is: “I won’t die if things don’t work out as planned, so I’ll just step back and let the Universe sort things out.” As with peer approval, when you are too attached to a specific result, you have a tendency to force decisions, and forced decisions are almost always bad decisions.

As strange as it may sound, in order to attract success, you must let go of your attachment to it. You have to be careful not to become addicted to your desire; i.e., don’t think that you absolutely must have this or that specific thing or result.

This philosophy is very much in line with Viktor Frankl’s theory of “paradoxical intention,” which he wrote about in his book The Unheard Cry for Meaning. In laymen’s terms, paradoxical intention is the belief that the more we make something a target, the more likely we are to miss it.

This is tricky, but the quickest and most certain way to achieve a goal is to mentally focus on what you want and attach very strong feelings to wanting it. If you picture a result without attaching strong feelings to it, it’s no more than a thought. And that’s where the subtle connection between desire and letting go comes in.

Having strong feelings about wanting to attract something into your life is a good thing — the stronger your feelings, the better. But, at the same time, you have to “let go” and allow the Universe to deliver it to you.

If your objective becomes an obsession — if you believe that you can’t be happy without achieving it — your feelings pass the point of diminishing returns and your focus becomes counterproductive. It’s sort of like what happens when you press too hard to close a deal. In other words, if you want something very badly, but you don’t have to have it in order to be happy, you’re much more likely to get it.

All this does not mean that you should permanently resign yourself to a bad situation. Nor does it mean you should give up your desire for a specific result. What you should give up is your attachment to that result.

When you become adept at detachment — from pain, from evaluating and classifying everything that crosses your path, from precise results — it gives you the time, energy, and mental clarity to focus on the single most important activity for overcoming an impossibly bad situation: exploiting opportunities.

What opportunities? The opportunities that are part and parcel to every “impossible” situation. Based on personal experience, I am convinced that the greatest opportunities lie in the eye of the storm — at the very center of your worst problems.

Use your will to detach yourself from impossible situations and instead spend your time cultivating the opportunities they bring into your life. And always keep in mind that such opportunities may be heavily camouflaged.

Lastly, achieving sainthood is not the motivation for becoming detached. The only sound motivation for becoming detached is rational self-interest — the realization that if you keep your mind as clear as possible, you will have more time and clarity to concentrate on exploiting new and better opportunities.

Robert Ringer

Robert Ringer is an American icon whose unique insights into life have helped millions of readers worldwide. He is also the author of two New York Times #1 bestselling books, both of which have been listed by The New York Times among the 15 best-selling motivational books of all time.

43 responses to “The Power of Detachment”

  1. Stefani Woodams says:

    As usual Robert you are right on! My life improved dramatically when I finally realized I needed to stop grappling and obsessing over issues that were not to my liking. Now I step back and visualize myself tossing the "problem" into my subconscious tar pit. The problem stews unnoticed for however long it takes and then the solution always bubbles to the top or the issue I thought was a problem completely disappears.

  2. Well said. Perfect timing…thanks

  3. Dave Squires says:

    Classic Ringer writing! Thanks, as always, for the great insights. I have long held the belief that it is best to manage the peaks and troughs, never letting them get too high or go too low. Congruent with this article, the key word has always been "maybe". When things are going well or worse you ask; "is this a good or bad thing?". The answer; "Maybe" applies to both and tempers your excitement or depression. Sometimes what seems like a lucky break turns out badly in the longer run. Sometimes a devastating loss opens a new door to opportunity that never would have otherwise opened. Active, intentioned detachment is one of the great secrets of life.

    • Richard Lee Van Der says:

      Yes, the "Silver Lining" effect has been amazing, and fortunate, during my life. Conditions had stopped me from attaining to what I considered the top of my profession! I felt devastated. The later, evolving conditions gave me the choice, to continue toward my original career goal, or, follow the new embryonic one. I took the chance on the new, and what followed transcended by far my original path. I'd heard the folk speak of the silver lining even when I was a kid in a non-intellectual environment. Certain folk ideas are more enlightened than they originally seem. So many times I later found that blocks led me, eventually, to the Right Way (for me).

  4. Bruce says:

    Excellent, Robert! I really think this post could be expanded into an awesome book.

  5. Wayne says:

    Thanks, I surely agree.
    But I find myself obsessing over the many legal entanglements I find in my life.
    If one just lets them go to the universe, who or how will they get corrected? My mind goes to, 'if not now when, if not me who?'
    If there is not a price to be paid by our wrong intentioned legal guardians, why should we not expect it to continue again tomorrow. Either the bad actor does not understand or he fully understands, his the error.
    Of course it could be me. From those times I am grateful to have learned by the experience. Again, but, the hundreds of others?!?
    I leave confused, Is it best to leave them to the universe or kill them all and let GOD sort them out?

  6. Bill Laux says:

    Maybe related, maybe not… I am a senior citizen…VERY senior. There are things I can no longer do. So, I just ignore them and focus on what I can do. It is very satisfying; I enjoy life as much as ever, maybe more. And I do have physical pain; I find that I just tend to ignore it, and keep on keepin' on.

  7. Richard Lee Van Der says:

    Yes, if only we could live the truths we know more completely! When I started getting into my Eastern Studies, I was very attracted to reading about the Original (and True?) Buddha, Gotama (sp? variable?) The one who become "enlightened" while sitting under the Bo tree. His Big Idea was the notion of NON-ATTACHMENT, similar to Mr. Ringer's excellent discussion. After Gotama, there came the "other" interpreters of Buddhism, much of it CRAP in my opinion. Or, focusing on other aspects or dimensions of Buddhism.EG, the Lotus Sutra of the teachings of Nichierin Sho Sho? Japanese, and widely practiced (chanting))to change one for the better. 12th C.? And others I find non-sensical that address issues that The Buddha, Gotama, didn't address. Eg No God concept. No discussion of "after-life". But much HOW TO LIVE RIGHT/WELL psychology. So if someone wants to delve farther further? into Buddhist thought & Non-attachment, i suggest the original, the thought of Gotama. Mr. Ringer here brought up one of my favorite subjects! Nice!

    • Jim Hallett says:

      I was thinking the same thing when I read this article – it was Practical Buddhism 101 from the Gautama (the spelling I always thought was right) to Ringer. It could be expanded into a book, indeed, and with Robert's great writing skills and wisdom, a sure best-seller, too! I try to incorporate the very best of the Eastern thought into my life, though I am not a practicing Buddhist or any other specific religion or Eastern discipline.

      • Phil says:

        Eastern thought has a lot to offer. As a nondenominational Christian, I find similar concepts present in Christianity as well. Jesus was pretty big on letting go and not getting too hung up on transient things.

        • Jim Hallett says:

          When one sticks to the true translations of what Jesus said and did, it is completely aligned with Eastern thought, since he spent many of his years traveling amongst them. The real divide comes when the teachings of the religious authorities have their influence and teach things that are NOT aligned with what Jesus actually said or add on other rules, practices, etc. -e.g, "original sin" which did not originate with Jesus at all, but rather was introduced by St. Augustine in the 4th Century. There are MANY others as well.

        • Charles Kelly says:

          True Phil. Jesus always spoke of forgiveness and letting the day's trouble be sufficient for the day. He advises us not the fret and worry and to look at the birds etc. He also said: "let the dead bury their dead". All in alignment with eastern philosophies.

      • Nor do I subscribe to any one "religion" or philosophy. I like the saying, "Take truth/Truths wherever you find it/them." The Way of the Eclectic. (No not the electric. LOL) Or, one could say, "Labels are limiting!"


  8. Rick G says:

    If, again, a newly revised edition of Looking Out for Number One were ever to be issued, it would be great to incorporate this article into it.

    • Phil says:

      Agreed. Note that the present edition references these same concepts if not in the particulars.

  9. Diane Young says:

    I urge my friends who are struggling with their lives to work on detaching themselves from the time-wasting, daily
    BS distractions, the emotional part of problems and obsessing over minutia so they can focus clearly and concentrate on what's really important and unforeseen opportunities. But all I hear back is, "Yeah, but…" The only thing we can really control are our thoughts, yet so few people realize this and practice it. I find few people can sit alone in a quiet room and think. In fact, too many people will do anything to avoid thinking! One friend says she gets more confused when she thinks. It would help if she turned off the radio and TV. I guess it's a hopeless case of the old adage, "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink." Sad.

  10. John Van Epps says:

    I always come back to something RR said many years ago – "So What?" As I explore all the potential pitfalls and consequences, I ask that question as I drill down to the absolute worse-case scenario. Having survived some of those 'worst-case' situations, I didn't end up with insurmountable obstacles – just different paths around them. "Woe is me" is not a strategy; "there oughta be a law" is not a strategy – thinking and being open is however, pretty effective. Thanks RR for another great post!

  11. TheLookOut says:

    Again Robert, another very insightful article. Thanks

  12. Peter Guske says:

    I sure wish I could contribute a wonderful success story of my own with regard to this excellent article. Alas, I can not. I'm still working on trying to master this "skill of detachment". Give me a few more years…

    • Tommyd says:

      This is practiced at every moment in your life…if you need years you missed the point. Say you went through an experience as simple as missing the bus or the next train; detach yourself from the event, don't delve in what it means to miss that ride and rather think of the possiblities of what that event might avoid or bring to your life and go on with an attitude of discovery.

  13. Scott theczech says:

    Man, oh man do I need this article right now! Thank you.

  14. Som says:

    "Above all, learn to detach yourself from specific results."

    Indeed! I go by the motto "Liberate, and you will be liberated!" I see so much misery and stress from people trying to control outcomes they can never control. It's just better to accept and deal with the consequences of an outcome you didn't want to happen. In fact, this could be the very heart and soul of why the country has been losing it's freedom…

    How many people are so stressed over losing their job? Why not accept and permit the freedom of the employer to fire you as he sees fit?

    How many people are so stressed over their marriages and relationships? Why not accept and permit the freedom for anyone to leave you, reject you, and desert you as they see fit?

    How many people are so worried about the sins and of others, or the "cultural influence" of cultures they deem backwards? Why not give others the freedom to decide who or what to believe and what to put in their body?

    How many "social justice warriors" make themselves miserable getting offended by even the most minor of utterances of "hate speech"? Why not give others the freedom to insult you, disrespect you, mock you, and even hate you just because you belong to a different race, gender, or lifestyle?

    How many business owners are terrified of competition, and burn out lobbying to the state for regulations that suppress competition and "secure" their profits? Why not give consumers and entrepreneurs the freedom to take your profits away if they get a better deal elsewhere?

    Is it not clear that we are not free, because we are unwilling to liberate?

    It's a shame, but I will say, the day I decided to liberate others to reject me and the outcomes I want, I gained so much relief and inner peace that it really was its own reward. Oh and I got much better new outcomes soon enough.

  15. Reality Seeker says:

    Excellent advice. Brilliantly written!

    • Teri says:

      This is excellent advice for the 50% of the people that carry the load for the other 50%.

  16. larajf says:

    I wish I could keep this in mind all the time. Money and Success run when you run after them. But if you sit quietly, they come to you. It helps to just be happy where you are with what you have. I hear it gets easier as you practice.

  17. Common Sense says:

    This is going to sound very trite…years ago while trying to go to sleep, I (laying on my back) had an annoying case of hiccups. Being a practicing Catholic, I decided to do the only positive thing I could think of, and that was to "offer up my suffering" to Jesus on the cross. This means embracing your suffering and joining it to Jesus. I started to say some prayers, and the hiccups stopped almost immediately. Same thing happened about ten years ago, but this time it was with a little heartburn as I lay on my back. I was almost disappointed as I was sincerely hoping to gain some merit with God.

  18. Charles N Steele says:

    I've been dealing with some fairly serious adversity and setbacks recently, and feel that I'm doing it well. What seems to surprise people around me is how relaxed I am about it — maybe even surprises me a bit — and how little it's all thrown me off stride. Reading "Detachment" I see much of what I'm doing. The only thing I would add is that I simply do what's in *my* power to achieve my goals — I'm pretty dogged in this — I let the rest of the universe take care of everything else, and let that be good enough.

  19. "Much OF our pain," etc.

  20. Ivan says:

    Seems to me that detachment is similar to freedom. I mean who is responsible for one's happiness, health and wealth. We are. If we know excessive sugar leads to diabetes, then we have the freedom to detach from it. If exercise helps in a positive way then we have the freedom to attach a schedule to it. We decide through personal freedom what works for us in a good way. Simple, but unfortunately not practiced.

  21. Mike Combe says:

    I agree. I came across this a few years ago. I called it "Letting go". I was astonished how quickly peace came. I grew to let go of as many things as I could. Frustration comes from those things we hold on to and expect certain results. I know that the few things I continue to hold on to will eventually bite me.

  22. James says:

    Many, many years ago I remember reading "All unhappiness is caused by attachment" in one of your books, but I never fully absorbed it until much later in life.

    I can confirm that a lot of time and energy is wasted when you obsess on a specific outcome – when pursuing relationships or whether or not a certain business will succeed or not, where you live, etc.

    I'd say right now many Democrats would benefit from this advice. They need to let go of that old bat Hillary and accept the fact that they lost… they are attached to thinking they should have won the election they have made themselves miserable beyond belief. Sad!

  23. Angeder says:

    No lack of knuckle heads and chowder headed chumps that just dont or wont get it. All you can do is laugh and sing songs and put the absurdity right back on their lap. Ran into someone engaged in tom foolery towards me and gave them not a tit for tat helping in return, but a much bigger crapload if it to her in mulriple ways and means. She opens up all my creative channels and whenever it gets blocked, I chill out for a while and the flow and rhymes become effortless. Started a song that was going nowhere, set aside for a while. and looked upon a river lake, and later completed that song in 20 minutes, that had started months before and was stuck. Funny how when all the elements pull together and you just relax. Some people dont like my songs, but, living for other peoples approval or validation is being neurotic and narcissitic and the consummate in tomfoolery. And cause some idiots to show up at some peoples homes while their sleeping, I know nothing about these thingd.

  24. Angeder says:

    Seems in the UK Mays, soldiers calling election when in the majority, is an attachment issue that makes no sense. Are they drunk and smoking pot or just plain ignorant? Of hourse, I would say all 3 combined along with a huge dose of stupidity. Or maybe they sleep around or used to and the HPV has infected their brain and causing them to not only be obese but moronic. Ronettes indeed Mays.

  25. Danz Social Blog says:

    Brilliant article that definitely requires mind training. It doesn't happen overnight, especially if the thoughts of success are overbearing. I heard that once you start running after your shadow (money), you can't keep up and will never catch up. However, if you position yourself where the shadow(money) is not behind you, that shadow will start running after you, and this is exactly what you want. Change things around for better and more successful results.

  26. Charles Kelly says:

    Great post Robert. Please help me on this.
    Is this concept not contradictory? E.g.
    Setting a goal and desiring and focusing on it intensely, yet..
    Detaching from the result and allowing the universe to "deliver the result", yet…
    Taking action to make it happen and not just sitting cross legged chanting?

  27. 2bits ♡haircut says:

    CK, it ls about the processing and chasing the goal, what happens along the way. Do that and if you getting smart about your goal and it benefits others and not just making more money for you, then you wont be cinsidered a hordur. Resting on your laurels after an achievement and creating a 20 year resume and saying look at me and my credentials is in poor taste, and bragging, conceited or just being some sort if credentialling bully and would not be surprised if these folks are drunks, drug addicts and obese.

    In short, move on to the next adventure after mission accomplished and purpose fulfilled. Dont be a all you got was yesterday, and now you just another day.

  28. When you become adept at detachment — from pain, from evaluating and classifying everything that crosses your path, from precise results — it gives you the time, energy, and mental clarity to focus on the single most important activity for overcoming an impossibly bad situation: exploiting opportunities….

  29. park-lane says:

    I was just looking for the last time. Thanks for the description!