The Ultimate Don’t Give A Shit Five Day Challenge

ultimate don't give shit 5 day challengeMy main obsession at the moment is how to be less attached to outcome. When I get attached to outcome, things turn to muck.

Even knowing this, it’s still hard not to do.

It’s hard to chat with someone and not be trying to make them like me.

It’s hard to run a business and not be trying to get people to buy from me.

It’s hard to attend a job interview and not be trying to get the job.

This week I’ve spent the entire time in the recording studio. I’ve been pulling 10 to 12 hour days.

It’s been bliss. I’ve created a piece of music. It didn’t exist before. Now it does.

I used to spend four days sending emails to people who I hoped might book me to play at music festivals.

I decided to stop doing that.

I remember the decision day. I was chasing up unanswered emails. It was mind numbing. I’d been doing this kind of admin stuff for days.

I hated it. But I told myself that if I did this, then I’d get that. Often I didn’t get that. Either way, it was a waste of four days.

I recall sitting there, miserable, with little to show for my efforts. Then it hit me. I could have spent that four days making music. That’s the point of being a musician, right? That’s the point of being a songwriter.

Whenever we look back at great musicians, when do we ever say “man, he sure sent a lot of  emails!”

So I decided to stop. I decided to spend my time creating instead – and lots of it.

Wouldn’t that be just as effective as an email begging for a gig? If I did enough great quality work, wouldn’t people be contacting me rather than the other way round?

And if they didn’t, I’d have done what songwriters are meant to do – write and share their music.

Not Cured

Even so, I’m still not cured. That old striving kicks in.

I need an audience for my podcast. These blogs. My music.

I need money. Life isn’t too kind to folks like me with not much money.

I need people to like me and think well of me.

But every time I need something so bad that I focus on it, my chances of getting it plummet.

I can’t even walk well if I focus on it. I found this out by accident.

I was out for a stroll one day when I passed a bus stop full of people. They were bored waiting for the bus. So when I appeared, they all looked at me for something to do.

The pressure I suddenly felt to do a “good” walk, whatever that is! I decided to stroll by all nonchalant and relaxed. Just like I always do.

Instead, I tensed up. Remember the tin man from The Wizard of Oz? Now imagine him getting electrocuted. That was my walk.

That’s what focusing on outcomes does.

An Expert In…

I am thinking a lot about how to disattach. I want to be an expert in not giving a shit.

Not in a callous, cold way. But in a way that has me focusing on the now without trying to control the later.

I want to understand why I get pulled towards outcomes, and learn how to resist the pull.

My first guess is that it’s often to do with fear. Control tends to be about fear. That control freak you used to work with who you just couldn’t bear? He was probably afraid.

I fear poverty. So I get twisted out of shape about money.

I fear disapproval and rejection. So the same goes for wanting to be liked.

I chatted about this to a friend of mine recently. He was saying how he doesn’t attach to outcome like I do. I see that. He’s laid back and takes life as it comes.

He then told a story about a draining day involving a camera crew and a reporter. Listening to his story, the demands of trying to influence the outcome is what drained him. He was fearful about whether his story would be told accurately.

Where there was fear, attachment to outcome snagged even him.

Dismantling Fear

So what is behind the fear? And can I dismantle it?

The therapist Marshall Rosenberg devised a way of understanding human emotions like fear. He called it Non Violent Communication. He said that behind every difficult emotion was an unmet need.

That makes sense. If I had a ton of money, I wouldn’t care whether my next project paid my bills. I’d be free to just do it. I would have already met my need for financial security.

This is a good starting point. My fear is informing me that I have unmet needs. And those unmet needs are the cause of my fear.

Useful, but it’s not the whole story.

One person in a social situation may feel anxious because they have a need for acceptance. Yet someone else may feel excited, also because they have the same need for acceptance.

People with exactly the same needs can react completely differently to the same stimulus. Our needs contribute to our feelings, but not solely. When we attach to outcome, there is something else at play – our own level of optimism.

Optimistic people think that things will turn out okay. Who gets into a panic about that?

If I believed that my financial security would work itself out, I’d be as carefree as the millionaire. If I expected people to like me, it wouldn’t cross my mind that they might not.

Our feelings are not just the result of unmet needs. They are also related to whether we think they will go unmet in the future.

The first person at the party was pessimistic. He believed he may suffer rejection so was anxious. He saw the occasion as a threat.

The second person was optimistic. She believed she would be accepted, so felt excitement. Her optimistic outlook helped her view it as an opportunity. No striving to be liked from her – she already expected to be.

The good news is that optimism is a skill that we can learn. Martin Seligman has written lots about what he calls learned optimism. As it’s something we can learn, let’s head onto the training pitch.

Try The 5 Day Challenge

Here’s a 5 day challenge for us to try together. It helps us become more optimistic, and so more able to surrender outcome. Try this every day for the next 5 days. I’ll be doing it too.

Part One

Think of just one thing that didn’t go so well today. It doesn’t have to be a big thing. Small stuff is fine too.

Now give an explanation which is optimistic. Here’s the three rules to follow. They will guarantee an optimistic explanation for what went wrong.

1. Keep it specific – not universal

Specific says “my car broke down.”

Universal says “nothing works.”

2. Keep it temporary – not permanent

Temporary says “my car broke down today.”

Permanent says “my car never bloody works.” Permanent is easy to spot because you’ll throw in words like “never” and “always.”

3. Keep it external, not personal

External means it’s not your doing.

External says “cars are just machines and machines are prone to breaking sometimes.”

Personal says “I was an idiot for picking that car. I should have known it was a dud.”

Practice this every day. You’ll become more skilled at thinking optimistically about life’s challenges.

Part Two

Now come up with five good things from today. We need five, because research shows that five positives cancel out a negative. Again, they needn’t be big things. Small is just as good.

This practice will make you happier in itself because you’ll reflect on life with gratitude. Countless studies show that gratitude increases happiness.

We can add rocket fuel to that by turning it into Optimistic Gratitude. How? By doing the exact opposite of how we deal with bad stuff.

For each good thing that happened, follow these 3 steps to explain it.

1. Make it universal – not specific

Specific says: “I am doing well at work.”

Universal says: “I am doing well in life.”

2. Make it permanent – not temporary

Specific says: “I did well today.”

Permanent says: “I am someone who generally does well.”

3. Make it personal – not external

External says: “It’s helpful that we have such up to date equipment at work.”

Personal says: “I made it happen!”

Your Turn

Take the 5 Day Challenge with me, and let’s see what happens. Post your daily reflections in the comments section below. Report what happens for you.

UPDATE: I’ve updated this exercise to a simpler one. Check it out here.

P.S. There’s still more to unpick about attachment to outcome. Getting optimistic will help lots. But there are guys like actor Bryan Cranston. When he stopped attaching to outcome, it wasn’t because he got optimistic. He didn’t start to believe that he would pass each audition. He just stopped paying any attention to the outcome. That’s a whole other skill set. More on that in a future post.

Alun Parry is Director of The Liverpool Psychotherapy Practice

1 thought on “The Ultimate Don’t Give A Shit Five Day Challenge”

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