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Letting Go of the Outcome (The Power of Indifference)

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 1 3

The Most Powerful Force in the Universe

Indifference is truly powerful.

It allows us to be free and unattached to outcomes or results.

I was introduced to indifference by Vic Dorfman over at experiments in unconventional thought and living and have been fascinated by it ever since.

In fact, it's been known and practiced for millenia since the time of Lao Tzu, an ancient Chinese philosopher and one of the the fathers of taoism, famous for his writing of the Tao te Ching.

Lao Tzu wrote in the Tao Te Ching:

The best of man is like water,
Which benefits all things, and does not contend with them,
Which flows in places that others disdain,
Where it is in harmony with the Way.

You see, here in the Western world, we're brainwashed since childhood to CARE.

Care, strive, attain, achieve. These things are sacred to the Westerner because we're a culture of action.

There's good in this, no denying it, but there's a dark side as well.

If we're judged by what we do, and all of our actions define our worth, then we're not human beings.

We're human doings.

This means that we're taught to feel valuable as people based not upon the fact that we're alive and breathing but rather upon how well we do in our jobs or in school or in relationships.

And since our value is tied to how well we accomplish the prescribed goals of society, we begin to form attachments to the outcomes of our actions.

What if there's a different way?

What if we're simply valuable because we're alive?

You might say: "Then according to your logic, a filthy bum is as 'valuable' as a doctor."

When I first started studying and practicing indifference or non-attachment as Lao Tzu called it, I took it literally to mean "stop caring" about everything!

But the reality of a philosophy is always different than the theoretical aspect.

The truth is that we have certain evolutionary tendencies such as seeking a high-value mate, acquiring power, resources, etc.

To try to deny these and pretend like we're "indifferent" to something that we're HARD-WIRED to seek out and value is nonsensical and a misplacement of effort.

In fact, it's impossible to lie to yourself to that degree.

It's better to admit to yourself what it is that you want and like and go after it with all you have.


And here's the takeaway...be OK with any outcome.

The Rolling Stones must have been philosophers when they said: "You can't always get what you want."

And it's true. But you can always reframe it as a positive.

Next time you strive to attain something and don't get it simply tell yourself:

"That means nothing. If ANYTHING, it's an opportunity to take my life to the next level."

This helps reinforce the idea that a situation's result is only what it is - and nothing more.

You're programming yourself to be reslient rather than sulky when things turn out contrary to your expectations.

In fact, what if you dropped your expectations all together?

I've experimented with this and I have to say that letting go of your desire for results is hard...very hard!

But there are some immediately obvious benefits such as people responding more comfortably to you because they sense you have little or no agenda (or at least, less than the average person).

The whole idea of "letting go" has spawned whole self-help movements such as The Sedona Method (which I highly recommend) and much of the dating advice you can find online references this kind of philosophy regularly.

If you look at the whole thing from an objective point of view, these are just heuristics.

Meaning, they're just analytical frameworks or models of thinking that confer the greatest survival and replication advantage.

The man (or woman) who is genuinely indifferent is probably that way because they have no fear of loss.

Evolutionarily speaking, this is usually because they have a large supply of resources (connections, power, food, money, mates, etc.) at their disposal.

At least that's the default switch flipped in our minds when we encounter an indifferent individual.

We can see that indifference is a way of being that carries great value with it.

It implictly demonstrates our value to potential allies, mates, employers, etc., and gives us a fairly simple model to follow that covers a lot of bases simultaneously.

It is, in effect, a useful lie we can tell ourselves.

As is everything.


As with any model of reality you must remember that the map is not the territory.

This is a popular NLP (neuro linguistic programming) saying.

It means that we can never fully know reality because there's always a filter between it and us: our perception.

But we can learn to navigate reality effectively through the most effective models and our own experiments.

My experiments with being indifferent have shown me that just like any thing else that we do or believe, it needs to be used appropriately.

You can't expect to pick a belief and expect the world to conform to it.

Your greatest asset is your plasticity and the ability to determine when something is appropriate and not.

Kind of like finding the right tool for the job.

Indifference is a powerful technique in many cases but in others, being earnest and eager is more powerful still.

An expression I've heard thrown around in dating and negotiation is: "The one who cares least always wins."

This is only partially true some of the time.

As with any model of reality, it's just a model!

It's not the gospel and if you adhere to it religiously you'll find that it fails you at certain points.

Don't stick to it and try to bend reality to conform to your model even if it's a beautiful model.

Instead, observe reality and notice when things work and when things fail and develop what I call "Meta-game."

This is the ability to determine the most prudent course of action at all times based on the information available and the tools in your toolbox.

If all you know about is screwdrivers and hammers and your job calls for a wrench, don't try to use a hammer to solve the problem.

Think on your feet and whatever happens, don't worry about the outcome.

That's when indifference is your friend.



Jan 19, 2011 9:27pm
I liked many things about this article.
Aug 6, 2011 4:16pm
Not living in the outcome is great advice I have practiced and given to others for many years, but I really like the way this article gets around to it. Much food for thought and action.
Sep 8, 2011 6:56pm
Thank you for your valuable insights. You have given me much to think about.
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