Note: This is the final post in a series on freedom from outcome. You can find the first two posts here:
In my last two posts I discussed what freedom from outcome is and how it can benefit our lives. Now I want to talk about a few of the best strategies I’ve found for cultivating it.
This is something I touched on in Part 2. Selfless service – Seva in Sanskrit – is the underlying theme of the Bhagavad Gita, though it is encouraged in most religions as well. It means acting to benefit other people or society as a whole.
What fascinates me most about selfless service is the idea that it can be performed in every part of our lives. Pretty much any action can be done in the spirit of selfless service, even if it’s something that appears to be done for our own gain.
This idea is emphasized in the line, “Strive constantly to serve the welfare of the world; by devotion to selfless work one attains the supreme goal of life. Do your work with the welfare of others always in your mind.” (Chapter 3, Verse 19)
How exactly would this look?
In my previous post I gave the example of how I tried to act selflessly in my job as a recreation leader. With every action I took, I did my best to focus on how it could benefit the children I worked with or society at large. I applied this from everything from planning summer camp activities to setting up tables and chairs. Having a job that dealt directly with helping people, this ended up being easy to do.
Of course, there are plenty of actions that don’t seem related to serving others at all. How can we brush our teeth or read a book selflessly? I try and solve this conundrum with some mental yoga. I think about how, by brushing my teeth consistently, I will have a smile that can help brighten someone’s day. Or I imagine how reading a book will give me a little more knowledge that I can pass on to others. It probably sounds like a stretch (hence the mental yoga), but so far it’s worked pretty well for me.
What makes selfless service so effective at cultivating freedom from outcome? The Bhagavad Gita explains it best: “They are forever free who renounce all selfish desires and break away from the ego cage of “I,” “me,” and “mine” to be united with the Lord.” (Chapter 2, Verse 71)
Attachment to outcome often stems from the ego’s habit of making everything about “me.” Selfless service helps get us out of our heads and away from our egos. When we are working for the sake of others, our concern is no longer “me, me, me!”
I know it’s not a perfect strategy. It’s possible to still be attached to outcome when doing things for others. There’s even the risk of building an ego around selflessness. But I look at selfless service, not as the almighty solution to attachment to outcome, but as a useful tool to hammer away at it.
Accomplishing anything in life, no matter how small, requires that we go through certain processes. To clean our cars we have to hose them down, scrub them with soap, and then dry them off. In order to write a great essay we must sit down, draw up an outline, create a first draft, and then make edits from there. Skipping steps in any process may work on occasion, but it won’t produce consistent results.
Process orientation means focusing on the processes instead of the results they produce. It’s a concept I was first exposed to in the book “Mastery” by George Leonard, though I don’t think it ever uses that exact term (I actually don’t remember where I heard it). The main premise of “Mastery” is that, in order to master anything in life, we must embark on the “master’s journey.” This journey is full of ups, downs, and plenty of plateaus, and it’s only by learning to enjoy the process that we can make it through.
This illustrated in the line, “How do you best move toward mastery? To put it simply, you practice diligently, but you practice primarily for the sake of the practice itself.”
The parallels between this concept and the advice given in the Bhagavad Gita are pretty remarkable. In fact, I like to think of process orientation as the mindset of freedom from outcome manifested in action.
I’ll use the process of creating a blog post as an example. Starting out, I know I want to write a great post. So I stop and consider what steps (to the best of my knowledge) will allow me to do that. Usually it starts with me coming up with an idea and getting a basic outline on paper. Then I have to type out a couple of pages, trying out different ideas, structures, and tones. Only after I’ve done that for an hour or so will my writing start to flow. Once I feel I’ve written enough, then comes the slow process of editing and restructuring my post until it’s ready to publish.
If I had the choice, I would happily skip the first two or three steps of that process and go straight to the part where my writing is flowing. But that’s not possible. It’s only by going through those initial steps that getting into a flow is even possible.
The only logical thing to do in this case is surrender to the process. So I go about creating my outline, writing a rough draft, and so on. I’m not thinking about the end result or how much I can’t wait to get to the next step. This is because I fully accept that completing the current step is the only way to move on to the next.
This probably doesn’t seem like an attractive concept, let alone an easy way to cultivate freedom from outcome. It takes a lot of discipline to be consistently process oriented. But I think it pays off.
I’ve found that looking at life from the perspective of processes takes a lot of pressure off myself. I no longer have to worry about being “good enough” to accomplish something and I stop attributing my failures to weaknesses in my character. Instead, when looking at any goal or task, I ask myself what steps are necessary to accomplish it and then surrender to them.
Much of our attachment to outcome is a result of too much thinking and not enough action. We think about the results we want, who we want to see them, and all the things that could go wrong along the way. Then we think some more. We become paralyzed by this endless cycle of thinking.
The simplest way I’ve found to stop all this thinking, and thus gain freedom from outcome, is to take massive action towards what I want. This is something I’ve really tried to implement in my life recently. Whenever I find myself procrastinating, worrying about how things will turn out, I just start taking action.
This applies to big and small anxieties. If I’m worried about how a blog post will turn out then I simply go and write more. If I’m concerned about my future financial situation then I start learning how to budget and invest my money. So far this strategy has been very effective for me.
Massive action serves the dual purpose of getting us out of our thinking minds while also bringing us closer to the results we want. It’s as if we are so busy taking action that we simply don’t have to think, let alone worry about outcomes. And more often than not, taking massive action leads to the outcome we want. If it doesn’t, then we learned a valuable lesson that only taking action could have taught us.
To sum up, selfless service, process orientation, and massive action are three strategies that have helped me cultivate more freedom from outcome in my life. I sincerely hope they can do the same for you.
If you give any of them of try, I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments.