“He who cares less wins.”
Let me ask you a question. In the face of pressure, when you really, really want something, what do you do? How do you approach it? It could be an interview coming up, it could be a competition or an exam, or it could be some other life challenge you’re working on. And, if your current strategy isn’t working, what would be a more useful approach?
I imagine that even for most of you, your best guess won’t end up with this… a conversation between Tim Ferris and Shaun White which unveiled a rather novel approach to the art of dedication, commitment and success.
On the precipice of success… it’s now or never
They had been talking about the moment when Shaun was going headfirst into the final round of the Olympics – the moment that could make him a winner, or leave him amiss for another four long years.
Curious to know how he’d deal with this situation, and the pressure that accompanied it, Tim asked Shaun, “What did you say to yourself? What was your internal dialogue, in that final moment before the gate opened?” Much to the surprise of Tim, he told him ‘Who cares?’
Now, hang on. Just stop right there. There’s more to this seemingly blasé response than meets the ears. He followed on to say… “If I apply that incredible amount of personal weight to myself it’s going to do nothing but handicap me.”
And this really got me thinking. How different would our own lives be if we could apply this mentality to our own critical moments? And how different would life be if we applied this mentality to the things that we are seemingly stuck with?
The mantra of ‘Who cares’
While Shaun was talking about this in the context of competition and prime time pressure, there is something to be said for how we apply this mantra to other areas of our lives. Areas where perhaps we are already placing a lot of weight on the end goal. When we focus so intently on something that we so badly want, it can be counterproductive. We make a mountain out of a molehill and in addressing the challenge, we don’t act from our ‘best self.’ We get hung up on all the things that could go wrong.
In my experience of working with people who are ‘stuck’ with issues – whether it’s bad habits they’ve picked up somewhere along the line, problematic relationships, negative self-beliefs low self-esteem, performance issues and even poor health, one of the common denominating factors is this sense of ‘weight’, a sense of ‘everything is hanging on this one thing.’
It’s like this one thing has become such a focus; the desire to change it has become so important, the pressure ironically prevents them from getting the changes they want.
Take it or leave it
You see examples of this more commonly in everyday language when talking about interviews. There have been many times in my life where I’ve been on both the receiving end, as well as the giving end of the sentence “Just go in as if you could take it or leave it and you’ll smash it.” If you go in with the attitude that you could take it or leave it, suddenly the whole process becomes a lot easier, and you find yourself growing into the best version of you – easily and naturally.
In meditation, people often talk about ‘attachment to outcome’ and how things start to unfold when we allow ourselves to move away from this. When you adopt this mentality of ‘who cares?’ you’re effectively moving yourself into this space where you are no longer attached to that outcome.
The neurology of caring less
Interestingly, you can look at it another way, by looking at the way in which the brain works. There are a couple of a common sayings, specifically: ‘what you look for you will find’ and ‘where attention goes, energy flows” which really means – you manifest what you focus on.
Whilst you will find these sayings amongst many sources of personal development and inspiring quotes, their meanings are wholly backed up by neuroscience.
When we apply attention to one specific area, neurologically, that part of our brain gets bigger and stronger through neuroplasticity. What this means is, the more we focus on one specific thing, the more adept our brains become at not only continuing to look for that thing, but at finding it.
Within our brains we have what are called neural pathways. And the more we exercise them the stronger they get. You could imagine one set of neural pathways like the branches of a tree – extending out in different directions. Now imagine we keep feeding a few of those pathways with the object of our attention, those pathways, i.e. the branches will grow, they will reach out and find more of what they are reaching for. The more they find, the stronger they get, the more they find. And so it goes on.
Moving from fixation to flow
When you approach challenges from a place of ‘who cares’ you move from a place of fixation to a place of flow and allow yourself to move through issues with ease. Life is a constant balancing act of navigating flow with self-discipline. If there is something in your life that you haven’t yet mastered, it may be time to look at your flow-displine ratio and consider the question “Do I need to up my flow?” If the answer is yes, then it may also be time to ask yourself ‘Who really cares?”