Practice detachment

Esther is a confused human being
4 min readFeb 24, 2024

As a natural problem solver, I’m obsessed with all kinds of problems in my life, from math, engineering, business, relationships, to myself. I’ve noticed that when the problem is scary, like some dark shadow deep inside you, most people procrastinate. Yet, I’m the person who would be so scared but jump straight inside it. Sometimes, you will see I make a big analysis for my relationship problems. Sometimes, you will see me doing many experiments to test out different ideas. I cannot see a problem on the table but not solving it.

However, as I learn that not solving problems at the moment is a great practice to solve problems, I realize I need to switch gears. As much as I cannot stand problems, I need to practice detachment if I genuinely want to become a better problem solver.

My inspiration comes from my learning of pain after Work Vipassana.

Pain shouldn’t be a reward system for hard work.

I learned that the amount of pain does not equate to the amount of effort. I implicitly reward myself for pain during problem-solving because that’s emotional labor. But it doesn’t contribute to output. In fact, it negatively correlates with it. It’s like hearing someone proudly say that they stayed up overnight working, while you know overwork results in a stupid mind, not more output.

If I really care about something, I should spend more time rethinking about how to approach it intelligently, not how much pain I feel. This unlocks lots of new problem-solving ideas. For instance, I learned that I need to put more emphasis on my practice of detachment from problems. I haven’t allowed myself to do that often because I think it’s procrastinating. However, the incubation period from detachment actually allows us to solve problems creatively.

So now, I tried practicing detachment.

Detachment vs Avoidance

I wanted to note the difference between detachment and avoidance. An avoidant attitude towards your problems is similar to anxiously problem-solving. Both of them are an instant reaction to your attachment; it is just expressed in an opposite way. For instance, me trying to over-explain to people without really understanding what they need and what they want is the same as me being passive-aggressive or avoiding those who make me angry. Both of them say this problem is still inside me, and I’m either attached or affected by it. An anxious reaction is thinking about the problem 24–7 while avoiding behavior is trying hard not to think about it. Both fight and flight are instincts, not a careful choice for deciding how to approach the problem.

For me, what I’ve learned about detachment is to allow my mind to reset, so I can have a new and fresh look at the problem, giving me the possibility to come up with an intelligent approach. Detachment is, in fact, better for problem-solving because you let go of the uncomfortable emotions, so now you only need to solve the problem, not both your emotions and the problems.

Detachment from problem vs Detachment from people

Another distinction I want to draw is the detachment from problem vs detachment from people. I used to be afraid of detachment because I wondered if that means I don’t care about the people anymore. However, I learned the difference to carefully distinguish problems from people. Detaching from the problems means recharging myself to better solve them, which will actually help with the relationships with people. I can still love those who are important in my life, but recognize that I need a break from the problems we have.

How do I practice detachment?

I started with something super duper funny and simple. When I faced an engineering problem and noticed I started to feel frustrated, I would ask myself to walk to “detach from the problems for 3 blocks.” Basically, practicing detachment through walking from my house to the closest park nearby. During the walk, I focus on being completely present, but I’m free to worry or agitate on the problem when I reach the park. (Imagining me walk as fast as I can XD)

It is super funny to see that when I’m on the first block, so many thoughts and emotions are shooting in my mind.

Yet, when I am at the end of the second block, my mind starts to feel free. It starts saying, ”Oh…that tree is beautiful!” The moment I reached the park, I know that I could think about the problem, but it doesn’t need to be now. I detached.

My 3 block to the park & The beautiful tree

After I came home, I was in a much better mind space to come up with creative ideas to solve the problem. Every moment in my life, when my mind comes up with many problems, I no longer say yes to them immediately. I tell them, “I hear you, but I will get back to you later.”