A Coaching Power Tool Created by Peter Tavernise
(Leadership Coach, UNITED STATES)
This power tool explores the dynamic between Attachment vs. Acceptance. Coaches putting this power tool into practice can use the vocabulary and approaches provided herein to enable their clients to identify and overcome limiting beliefs around their abilities, their circumstances, and their goals. Once resistance is named, it can be transformed through the power of acceptance and intention, to enable effective action.
Attachment is not always a bad thing – parents and children form vital attachments as part of nurturance and growth. We can become fond of and attached to friends, or our pets. However, when we get too attached to particular views, to the point they become limiting beliefs, then that attachment no longer serves us.
Attachment comes from the Old French: to fasten or fix, specifically to be arrested for contempt of court.
The meaning of Attachment for the purposes of this power tool is that version of the word which evokes images of stickiness, like spider webs, glue, or stepping in old chewing gum… Many of our clients come to us mired in attachments to old views, doubts, conditioned responses, habits, and limiting beliefs, which have them stuck fast and struggling.
To name a few of these Attachment factors:
Fear–of messiness, of making mistakes, of failure, fear of the future, fear of the unknown. It is the Avoid portion of approach-avoid dynamics.
Control issues – wanting to determine outcomes before situations have had a chance to evolve naturally. Wanting to control others when fundamentally we are the only ones we can actually control.
Perfectionism – a sibling to the above-mentioned Control issues – holding ourselves and those around us to impossibly high standards, and judging ourselves, our family and friends against those when we inevitably fall short. We can easily see how perfectionism along these lines can harm us, and affect the quality of our relationships.
One of the classic manifestations this type of attachment is writer’s block: the form of stuckness that is staring at a blank page with nothing but the pressure to produce some Great Work, rather than rolling up our sleeves and exploring what happens through disciplined application and trusting the process. How can we begin if we are already attached to an abstracted outcome, that must somehow be perfect on the first try?
Ironically, perfectionism can even manifest as dissatisfaction with success (not the exactly right kind of success, in the right way). “I got what I want, but it’s not good enough…”
This sort of fixed mindset can even lead to self-sabotage: “I’m not good enough; what I do won’t be perfect, therefore I shouldn’t even try…”
Resistance to change– We step outside, and realize the weather is nothing like what we had checked the night before, and we rail against the situation rather than calmly going back inside to change into more appropriate clothing. The boss calls to tell us there has been another reorganization, which means our work about to change, as will the team members we need to collaborate with. And from a fixed/scarcity-based mindset, we vociferously complain to our co-workers rather than consider how this might improve our work and the entire team’s ability to deliver. Our first impulse, when presented with change, is resistance born of attachment to how things were yesterday.
Limiting Belief of Scarcity – our entire economy and worldview is predominantly structured on the basis that life is a competition for scarce resources. This leads to all sorts of distorted behavior including stockpiling, speculation, and adversarial (us vs. them) thinking. At an individual level, this belief in fundamental Scarcity can also mean that people believe they may have only been given certain attributes or talents and that they can in no way develop or grow outside of specific boundaries – so they don’t ever make the attempt (see Carol Dweck, Mindset).
There are many other Limiting Beliefs, you may wish to add to this list others that you have encountered in yourself or your clients.
To summarize, if we are Attached to limiting beliefs, we face any new situation from a closed mindset, and can’t see all the possibilities. How can our clients brainstorm, ideate, and work a design-thinking process around their goals thinking if they are still mired in fear, perfectionism, or control issues? This is not effective, which is why we want to introduce the concept of Acceptance as an antidote to Attachment.
The Oxford Dictionary offers several meanings of the word Acceptance, ranging from consenting to receive something offered, to tolerating or making peace with a difficult or unpleasant situation. For the purposes of this power tool, we will be using the latter end of the definitional spectrum – accepting our situation, this moment, as it is and without judgment.
Acceptance is freedom from negativity. – Eckhart Tolle
Consider how Acceptance operates in these antidotes to the list of Attachments from the previous section:
Fear – Eckhart Tolle wrote in his book The Power of Now, that those who suffer from regret are suffering from too much focus on the past, and those who suffer from fear and anxiety are suffering from too much focus on the future (“what if’s”). The antidote to regret, fear and anxiety, therefore, is a focus on the present moment. and acceptance that – while we cannot control the future – we can do our best to handle any challenges as they arise. This does not mean we should not plan and take reasonable precautions around finances, etc. What it does mean is not getting stuck in the pattern of only regretting the past, and/or worrying about the future. Meditation practices from the references and resources section of this Power Tool may help clients develop more presence-focus and to gain distance from both regret and anxiety.
Another way to think about Attachment vs. Acceptance is far vs. Intimacy. With this dynamic in mind: consider how we attach to present circumstances, and our ideas about how the future should be, or our fears about how we worry it might turn out, rather than to just be intimate with this moment. Life is a series of present moments strung together like pearls on a necklace. If all we do is focus on what happened in the past, or what might happen in the future, we miss our lives because we are missing the only moment in which our life actually takes place – the present moment. See further below for practicing with the slogans “I accept this moment just as it is.” and “I trust this moment completely.”
Control Issues – “You’re not loading the dishwasher correctly!” That’s not how you fold a towel!”As if there is one true way for chores to be done. Fundamentally the habit or impulse to control our behavior, the behavior of others, and/or outcomes is a survival strategy based on a lack of trust in our circumstances and in other people in our lives. This trait may have been developed over time in response to old wounds or experiences, but it is an extremely limiting way to live, and it also causes those in our lives to wither in the heat of our judgments. The application of Acceptance in this instance has to do with working with trust and reducing or limiting our judgment.
Here we offer an ancient and highly effective Buddhist slogan from Atisa which was designed for working with judgment and control issues: “Lower your standards, and relax as it is.” Each time we catch ourselves being judgemental about how other people do things, we can repeat this slogan to ourselves. Establishing this practice, over time we begin to recognize just how judgemental we are on a given day, and we begin to let go of that tendency to judge as a habit of mind that doesn’t actually serve us well. Not having one true way to do things is immensely liberating, for ourselves and for those in our lives.
When we try to impose our pre-emptive standards or expectations on those around us, we are like an arborist who thinks the trees in their orchard will respond to threats and admonishments. Consider how futile it would be if we planted a tree, and then demanded it grow at a certain speed, sprout a certain number of leaves, and bear fruit by a certain time. Instead, our role is simply to provide the right conditions for that tree to thrive, to water it and make sure it gets plenty of light – the tree knows how to grow, and when to fruit in its own time. If we do the same with the people in our lives, with care and openness to who they are and how they do things, they no longer wither in the heat of our judgments and instead, we provide the kind of light they need to flourish.
Writer’s block as a manifestation of Perfectionism: a solution to writer’s block (or the painter, poet, and choreographer’s equivalent) is to recognize we cannot succeed at creativity without many drafts, prototypes, drawings, etc being accomplished. What art has ever sprung fully formed from the head of Zeus? No, we must first make a mess, refine, refine and refine again. We must trust the process and begin our effort, acknowledging we will revise, restart, and continuously grow the skills of our art throughout our entire lives. We must accept that we do not and cannot know what the end result may be, we can only discover it through the process of creation itself. See Steven Pressfield’s excellent book, The War of Art for more on this. Acceptance, in this case, means letting go of attachment to outcome, trusting the process, and moving forward knowing we can and will revise, redraft, refine until we reach a result that may satisfy.
All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist… It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child. – Picasso
Resistance to Change – Life is a constant state of change – the seasons, the hours of the day, our inevitable aging. And yet out of a desire for a sense of stability, security, we want tomorrow to be pretty much the same as today (paraphrasing Terry Pratchett) and we get upset when that is not the case. The fact is, we must embrace change in order to learn, grow, and be successful. Parents who insist their children never learn to walk, grow taller, or gain new skills would hardly be fulfilling their responsibilities, so why do we impose such a standard on ourselves once we are “grown-up?” As though nothing about us should or could change after age 21?
Acceptance in the face of Change means investigating recognizing where we are Attached, where our resistance is coming from, and moving toward a recognition that without change, life would quickly constrict and stagnate. That recognition can lead to Acceptance. As we breathe in and breathe out, as the seasons change, as the weather changes, all these things provide us with the variations that make life possible. In fact, these changes are what help us become strong. Consider the following anecdote:
Years ago, when I visited Biosphere 2 in Arizona, I asked the scientist taking me around why there were wires tied to the trees and attached to the Biosphere’s frame high above us. He explained that since there was no wind in the Biosphere, the trees had nothing to resist. As a result, they had grown weak and needed to be held up. Like our bodies and bones, we need something to resist to make us stronger. – Roshi Joan Halifax
Limiting Belief of Scarcity – As James P. Carse wrote in Finite and Infinite Games when we were small children, the play was wide open. We played games with constantly shifting rules, based on mutual agreement, and the point was simply to play. If there was any goal, it was to have fun, to keep extending the play, and to involve as many children as there were available to play with until sunset. The next day, the game would begin again…what Carse calls the Infinite Game.
However, Carse writes, at a certain point in our youth we all are introduced to the idea of a “winning game,” or a Finite Game, that has rules, a fixed playing field, a limited period of play, and only one winner (or winning team). His argument is that our entire global economy is based on this archetype of competition and scarcity when ultimately the universe is one of abundance and infinite possibilities.
Applying this Infinite Game lens to any set of circumstances can help “open up” the situation so that one can consider how “playing” or “coloring” outside the lines might help to arrive at solutions that are not zero-sum. What does it mean when there doesn’t have to be just one winner? What does it mean if design our solutions in a way that we all have a role in the play, and that we all can win?
In terms of Attachment vs. Acceptance, consider these questions:
When in your life have you felt stagnated or stuck?
- Describe a specific situation along those lines.
- What did it take to shake yourself loose from being stuck?
- How did that relate to Attachment vs. Acceptance?
When in your life do you most feel a sense of play and openness to possibilities?
- What mindset can you model from that situation for your clients?
What is your relationship with perfectionism -- in your work life and your personal life?
- How has that served you?
- Practice with one of the suggested approaches and notice how that changes your relationship to perfectionism.
Thinking back to your childhood, when in your life did you first begin to feel limitations on your own creativity?
- What work have you done to overcome those limiting beliefs?
- If the limiting beliefs still exist, what practices can you adopt that can help you restore that sense of endless creativity?
What happens when you find yourself gasping, attached to the outcome?
- What happens when you let go and “trust the process?”
What tools in the following Coaching Application section can you practice with yourself to begin to open up to messiness, creativity, and infinite potential?
Several approaches may work with our clients to create awareness about the dynamic between Attachment vs. Acceptance, and how to move from that feeling of constriction and limitation to one of openness and limitless potential.
Through any one of these approaches, we can provide our clients with a metaphorical can-opener to help them open up to their circumstances and to create space within their situation so they can move past limiting beliefs and perceptions into release and resolution. To help the clients recognize Attachment, to see how it is not serving them, and offer the alternative of Acceptance.
Visualization: Working Backwards from Resolution
“With your permission, shall we do a visualization exercise?” Assuming the client is open to this exercise, follow an appropriately customized version of the below.
“Close your eyes and bring your current situation/challenge into your mind, including any feelings you may have about being blocked, frustrated, stalled in terms of progress or resolving the issue at hand.”
“Together let’s just sit with that for a few moments. Now when you feel ready, say one word at a time that represents for you the hurdles or blocks; what you feel may be in the way of progress. Try for at least three words so you can feel you have a handle on this aspect of the situation.”
“Take another deep breath. Then say “I Accept that these factors are part of the current situation. Naming them is the first step in dealing with them.”
“Now, put yourself into a future moment, when you are relieved and celebrating because the situation is resolved/ challenge is overcome. Sit for a moment with the feeling of accomplishment. How does that feel? With your eyes still closed say out loud up to three words that describe this feeling.”
“Consider what steps you might have taken to reach this moment of accomplishment. Work backward and slowly speak out loud one step at a time that you may imagine taking to reach that accomplishment.”
“Now visualize yourself taking each of those steps in turn, as though you are actually doing them.”
“Finally, take three slow deep breaths and release them. Then open your eyes. How do you feel now about the possibility of resolving this situation/ overcoming your current challenge now that you have explored the possible outcome and the steps?”
If the client still feels stuck, take a break to discuss, and apply another methodology in the toolkit. Note that some of us will find issues or patterns of attachment vs. acceptance come up over and over again. We can work with that persistence, and as mentioned, use other tools or approaches (compassion, curiosity) to understand it, rather than blaming ourselves that we haven’t released attachment into acceptance.
Invite the client to practice non-attachment to outcome about smaller, less important aspects of their day. By strengthening this muscle, over time we become able to use it in situations where otherwise our conditioned responses would cause us to close down into our habitual limiting beliefs and fixed mindset.
- As relevant to their goal or issue, offer your clients any of the questions from the Self-Application section above.
- Attachment to the weather: instead of looking outside or at the weather report and judging it “Too hot! Too cold! Too rainy!” Consider adopting the attitude “this is simply the weather today/ right now, how shall I adapt (take an umbrella; dress in layers, etc.)?”
- Household Chores: notice when you run into resentment around how someone else in the house has loaded the dishwasher or done some other task around the house. Does it really matter how the dishes are stacked as long as they are all getting clean? Work with the slogan “Lower your standards, and relax as it is.”
- Practicing acceptance through food choices: next time someone asks you, for instance, “chocolate or vanilla?” simply say, “surprise me.” Then sit with your reactions to what you have received. It’s still ice cream!
- Countering Perfectionism: recognizing that making a mess is the first step in creativity. Whether you start with the roughest outline for a story idea, or simply sketch some scribbles onto a blank sheet of paper. Notice how the simple act of starting something opens you to possibilities of where to go next with your creation. This is why the process of writing Morning Pages is so important –whether you follow Natalie Goldberg or Julia Cameron’s approach (see resources in the references and resources section). Simply writing (or drawing) once a day without objective or judgment sharpens your tools so when you do have a specific inspiration, you’re ready with a non-judgemental attitude to just dive in and make a mess. You know you can make sense later in the editor the overpainting.
- Intimacy with this moment: a practice. If you have a daily affirmation or meditation practice, consider working with the slogans “I accept this moment just as it is” and “I trust this moment completely.” Notice over time how this practice shifts your openness to circumstances, how it reduces Attachment to outcomes, perfectionism to how things “should go” or “should be.” By becoming intimate with this moment, we also gain acceptance of what has occurred and spent less time concerned with what may happen in the future.
- When you are running late, or if someone is late for a meeting with you, rather than judging yourself or others, take that time to center yourself and breathe, consider that everyone is doing their best within their daily constraints. Give yourself and others sympathy and understanding. Notice how this practice changes the energy of your encounter – lateness without a sense of crisis, or judgment means once you do meet you can proceed with a fresh and open perspective.
- Gratitude practice. Many spiritual traditions have established practices centering our attention on gratitude, which points to how universally beneficial such a practice can be. To get started, sit down and make a list of ten things you are grateful for in your life. Then add ten people you are grateful for in your life. What you will likely find is once you get to ten, you have more to list and it grows to fifteen, twenty, or more. You can also spend a few minutes each morning or evening resting in gratitude and sending thanks to those in your life you are grateful to (teachers, relations, colleagues, friends). By centering on gratitude even a few times a week, we begin to understand that our human tendency to see only the negative, to be attached to that narrative of scarcity, is simply that, a habit of mind. When we spend time considering all the circumstances and people in our lives for which we are grateful, we begin to see how rich our lives really are. Strengthening the gratitude muscle allows us to transition more frequently from Attachment to Acceptance.
Use any of these as may be appropriate during a client session:
- What would you be without your fear (of failure, of being judged by others?)
- What would you do differently if you set aside self-judgment about your abilities; judgment of others; judgments or attachments about the outcome of any situation?
- How would you manage this situation/ pursue this goal differently if you knew there was enough for everyone? If you knew you had a 100% chance of success?
Case Study, A Life Example of Attachment vs. Acceptance:
Years ago, a colleague and I were assigned to a kind of rescue operation. It was a turnaround project for a local non-profit organization that had lost its Executive Director, and which had done no fundraising for the previous six months. With the organization in dire financial crisis, we embarked on a “listening tour” to survey the board members, community stakeholders, client agencies, and previous funders to ask these simple questions: “Should this organization continue to exist? If so, what value does it serve, what vital role does it fulfill for the community?”
During this period, we found that if we grew too attached to the outcome of a stakeholder meeting, or to the question of whether the non-profit lived or died, we brought a constricted energy to the discussions that put a severe damper on really hearing what each stakeholder was saying. If we embodied energy of crisis and scarcity, it leaked out into the meeting and affected the way the stakeholders responded.
We recognized we could not stay attached to the desire that the non-profit survived. We had to let go of the attachment to the outcome. We had to accept that whatever happened would be the will of the whole community. Our role was to steward the conversation and report back our findings. In order to remind us of this recognition, the two of us developed a hand signal of slowly opening a closed fist into an open palm facing up on the table, to tell each other “Hey, we’re grasping again. Let us let go of the outcome and just be here to witness what people are saying.” This became known as the “open hand” – which helped us remind ourselves not to waste energy on grasping for a specific outcome.
In the end, we received close to 100% stakeholder agreement — everyone strongly believed that the organization should exist. We were able to return to the funders and say: “This is what the community, including you, have said about the value of this organization – please will you fund it now that we have validated its vital role?” Because we had practiced bearing witness without judgment or attachment to outcome and presented that perspective in our sessions, we were trusted as the aggregators of the community voice. The non-profit was funded, and had the top-rated Federal proposal in the State for that year, and is still going strong almost two decades later.
As coaches, one of our key responsibilities is creating a space where our clients can become aware of – and work through– their limiting beliefs. This power tool is intended to assist coaches to enable that process by drawing a distinction between Attachment vs. Acceptance and provides a set of approaches, practices, and resources (below) to help you as coachwork on your own issues along these lines, and in turn, assist your clients.
References and Resources
Carol Dweck’s outstanding book Mindsetoutlines the dynamic between a fixed vs. growth mindset. The book is an essential resource for coaches interested in helping clients move from Attachment to Acceptance.
Artist’s block: trusting the process; opening to possibility; facing that blank sheet of paper; writing pages: see both Julia Cameron’s The Artist Way; and Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within
Also, Steven Pressfield’s book, The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles
Basic Meditation: Thich Nhat Hanh –The Miracle of Mindfulness
Gay Hendricks: The Big LeapConquer Your Hidden Fear and Take Life to the Next Level, overcoming our Upper Limit so we can enjoy greater happiness, love, and success.
Mindfulness and Presence: Ekhart Tolle – The Power of Now
The mind of scarcity vs. mind of possibilities: James P. Carse, Finite and Infinite Games
How working through challenges helps to “make our bones strong:” Joan Halifax Roshi, Article: The Lucky Dark