Attachment to outcomes

Peter Munthe-Kaas
4 min readApr 28, 2023

Something that strikes me as deeply significant these days, and which is inherent in the Circling practice, is not being attached to outcomes.

There seems to be a belief in me that I am not going to get my needs met by asking for it. Rather I have a strategy of managing the people around me in various ways, trying to navigate after what will keep them happy (or at least not angry with me) in the hope that it might lead to my needs being met somehow*. The fear of “creating problems”, which basically means that someone will be upset with me (and that I will feel shame), is often bigger than the desire to have my own needs met.

It is difficult for me to ask for something that I am unsure if I can get. I don’t like taking chances and seem to instead have developed a heightened sensitivity of the “windows of opportunity” that presents themselves in my life. At one level I consider this to be a sensible way of being in the world. On the other hand it also feels like being ruled by fear of shame.

Attachment to outcomes means holding back my real experience and feelings, because I want to manage the reaction of others. What is coming online for me these days is how much I am getting in my own way when I do this. I create trouble for myself, because I subtly try to manage or manipulate the situation to get what I want, rather than asking for what I need. And I create trouble for myself when I get caught in the idea that someone else needs to change, rather than sharing the truth of my own experience. I am constantly at work as I need to manage, not only my own experience, but also the experience of others.

It is curious for me that this is such a challenge for me in important parts of my life, when the core practices I do so clearly are teaching me that investment in outcome is unhelpful.

When leading Circling it is very obvious for me that people do not respond well to someone trying to change them. Which makes sense since being attached to an interpersonal outcome is a subtle violation of the other — wanting them to not be as they are. When I instead own my own experience and bring more of my truth to the situation, people seem to respond with openness.

In Tai Chi, not being attached to outcomes points to something very concrete. When I am interacting with another body and get invested in an idea about pushing or throwing the other, I create tension in myself and move away from the relationship between our bodies and my own sensitivity to what is happening from moment to moment. I create a stiffness that comes from being invested in a particular future or outcome. If, on the other hand, I stay with the sensitivity and the relationship, in integrity (central equilibrium) and in connection, the opportunity to push or throw the other will show itself and I will be able to do it with far less effort.

Similarly. When giving Body Therapy it is clear for me that if I start being attached to the idea of my client going somewhere in particular, it creates less space for them to be with themselves and their experience and they can feel subtly left. This makes sense for me as I am really moving away from the relationship with the intention of changing or fixing them.

In my thinking around this I am inspired by the Daoist term “Wuwei”, which means something like “non-action” or “action through non-action” which points to a state of effortless being with what is there. It’s not trying to make something happen, but simply being in accordance with what is — with the fundamental knowing that what is changes in every moment.

So how do I work with being less invested in outcomes? Well. One way seems to be to presence myself. When I am more focused on and aware of what is going on in me in the moment and when I am moving and speaking from that place, it doesn’t feel like the attachment to outcomes can take as much space.

Another way, which is somewhat paradoxical, is to simply own that I am attached to a particular outcome, which often looks like simply expressing what I would like (or expressing a need) without putting a demand on the person I am talking to. And that is scary because I might not be received and might even be rejected.

The core capacity that I am practicing is the ability to be in full integrity with myself while allowing myself to be in the unknown.

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*Taking to one societal extreme this resembles what you could call “the resentful nice guy syndrome” where some men feel that they have a demand on the attention (or sexual favors even) of women, because they are not being jerks.

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Peter Munthe-Kaas

I am a Copenhagen based researcher of urban development, workshop facilitator and body therapist. In all my work I focus on sensitivity and relating.