Engaged Indifference

Engaged Indifference

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It was at the neurofeedback institute, Biocybernaut, that I first heard the phrase ‘engaged indifference’. There, I learnt that our emotional responses in the present are often a signal to the past – and that we can let go of these emotional attachments.

Emotional attachments like frustration, anger, self-pity, or simply wanting things done a certain way – all prevent the best outcomes. The trick is: don’t use emotion to drive the outcome. Learning how to let go of the attached emotion gives you the best results.

I reflect on these concepts when I am making things happen or helping others to do so.

Whenever I’m trying to create change, I make sure that I start from a place of engaged indifference. If I feel any emotional attachment to getting a certain response or result, I question where that comes from and let it go, before I move forward.

Engaging in solving a problem, yet remaining emotionally indifferent to it, can be a real challenge – but it maximises the probability of achieving your desired outcome.

I spent the winter reflecting on this, with regard to my work at The Dandelion Foundation. When we launched in 2013, it was all about the enjoyment of making great things happen. In the following years, I began to see many harsh issues beneath the surface, troubling my community. I saw an ever-greater need to do what we were doing, and in the process, I became quite serious and emotionally attached to it. The problem was – the playful edge disappeared and the work became exhausting. It started to feel more and more of a struggle. I had to dive deep into my subconscious to find the reasons why I was so attached to the work – and let go of them. As a result, I am getting back to my playful best and finding new and simpler ways to make change happen. Despite all the challenges my community faces, the work I do is starting to feel easy and fun again – which can only improve our outcomes in the long term.

I see this with my children, too. The more attached I am to getting certain outcomes from my kids, the more they resist what I’m trying to do. I want them to be healthy, so I encourage them to eat vegetables – but the more they sense my insistence, the more likely they are to refuse. Because their lives matter greatly to me, I could live fearful of illness, death and danger at every turn – and in that fear, I would unintentionally drive ever-greater resistance from them. To engage with my children without them picking up on my anxieties, I first had to process all my own fears. The more I let go of my fears, the easier it is for me to help my kids to grow and develop.

In our development of change-makers in my community, we do a huge amount of work to turn angry, frustrated activists into calm, grounded, patient and collaborative lobbyists. We show them how to do the inner work they need to do, in order to leverage the power of engaged indifference – and as a result, they become much more effective in the mission they wish to achieve.

The path of the activist is particularly difficult because it is based on taking a stance and challenging others. There’s an emotional investment: you can feel great passion, pain, injustice and rejection along the way. The very thing that drives us to be a change-maker can be the greatest barrier to our change-making. The important thing to recognise is that we are not powerless in the face of our emotional responses. When we are able to let go of emotional attachment, we become much more effective in achieving our missions.

Emotions can be strong drivers – and equally strong barriers. Learning to let go isn’t always an easy process. Sometimes, it’s because we don’t fully appreciate how someone feels, or because we can’t see the opposing view. But the roots of our emotional attachment usually lie in our own childhood. Perhaps our current situation  reminds us, even unconsciously, of a memory from the past that triggers us into an emotional response. Whether we’re activists, change-makers, or in our day-to-day life, our desire to get certain results or to ‘make things happen’ often comes from some past pain in our early lives. And the process of letting go of that pain is frequently uncomfortable.

There are many different ways to process our emotional triggers and fears, to enable us to move forward. Find a way that works for you. A good book to read is Letting Go: The Pathway to Surrender by David Hawkins. Some of us may need to develop compassion for the other side’s point of view. Others need some sort of healing or therapeutic process to deal with the past and reframe that experience.  

We are all a work in progress. This is why the personal development field is huge – intersecting, as it does, with business and leadership development. Self-improvement affects all aspects of life and society. Heal ourselves, and we heal the world.

To master being engaged and indifferent, we must be willing to explore what the present is teaching us about our past. We need to do the hard work to let go of that, and move on – to achieve our dreams, goals and mission.

To letting go.


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  1. Shoa Naqvi says

    Dear Marc,
    What a fascinating read. I am definitely an emotional activist. I really like the concept of “emotionless engagement”/”engaged indifference”, but is that ever really possible? If yes, how? Very keen on learning the strategies from you. I do realise that heightened emotions can sometimes render all efforts useless.
    Best wishes,
    Dr. Shoa Naqvi

    • It is very possible but the approach depends on what the individual is ready for and what they can afford. Biocybernaut is where I first learnt about an approach like this. They are fantastic but expensive. There are many ways to learn to let go of the past to improve the present. Feel free to reach out directly and I can get a sense of who you are and what would work for you.

  2. Shoa Naqvi says

    P.S. Also, Thanks for suggesting the book 🙂 Regards. Shoa

  3. Love this post – in an engaged and indifferent way!

  4. Hi Marc. Thanks for another excellent blog post. I can certainly relate to this. Frequently, initiatives start in reaction to a significant personal experience, which is therefore bound to have some emotional investment, but this same emotion can be a barrier to wider engagement. Detachment is difficult but I agree some objectivity is definitely required. I also think that the ability to frame an initiative in a way which can be shown to provide benefit to others through their engagement is useful. I can see this approach in your Dandelion Foundation project. The win win scenario is always more persuasive! 🙂

  5. I totally agree with what you’re pointing to here Marc – great stuff!!! Not necessarily easy to achieve but vital to sustain ourselves and also to listen and be heard and thereby to influence. Thanks so much for this articulation and for your honesty in unpicking this. Inspiring stuff. Thanks! Debbie

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