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The Fine Line Between Striving and Nonattachment to Outcomes


When living with a chronic debilitating medical condition, it is essential to do everything possible in terms of diet, exercise and rest. It is also essential to do everything possible to find meaning and purpose, to increase social support, and to do whatever it takes to develop environmental mastery—the sense of being in control of our lives. 

Research psychologist Ellen Langer

Research psychologist Ellen Langer, PhD

(author of Mindfulness and Counterclockwise) has found that the idea of battling and fighting illness—the determination to conquer it completely—can have a paradoxical effect, resulting in a state of mind wherein we give the illness even greater power over us.

Although it is important to strive to do everything within our power to improve health, a high degree of striving carries its own risks. Being too invested in the outcome of our striving can lead to despair if and when our health worsens–it is important to be at peace with the outcome of our hard work. When we are ill, we need to strike a balance between non-attachment to specific health outcomes and actively doing everything possible to improve our health. 

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2 Responses to The Fine Line Between Striving and Nonattachment to Outcomes

  1. Molly March 3, 2012 at 8:42 am #

    Larry, I agree with you that this balance is so delicate. Because it’s often extremely difficult to make and stick to a health plan when you have a chronic illness, it is important to gather that sense of control and agency. But how one detaches from that and allows the illness to also take its course seems hard. I wish there were an easier way to live this and help us help others do this!

    • Larry Berkelhammer March 3, 2012 at 3:26 pm #

      Molly, thanks for your thoughtful comment. The phrase “allow the illness to also take its course” sounds passive, and could be, except when we are doing everything possible. And there are many times when despite proactively and aggressively doing everything we can, we still don’t recover; at those times the best approach is to make peace with the illness.

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