Let me share three quick stories and some life-changing lessons with you…
- This morning at a train stop near the hospital, a man and his three young kids got on. The kids were loud and completely out of control, running from one end of the train car to the other. An annoyed passenger sitting next to me looked over at the man and asked, “Is there a reason you’re letting your kids go nuts right now?” The man looked up with tears in his eyes and said, “The doc just told me their mother isn’t going to make it. Sorry, I’m just trying to think before we all sit down at home to talk about this.”
- Two of my ex-coworkers actually laughed at me last year when I told them I dreamed of opening my own hair salon. When I spoke with you and Marc on a coaching call that same day, Marc said something like, “We’ve known quite a few people who went after their dreams and succeeded. One thing they all had in common was they got laughed at in the process.” That advice really pushed me forward. And I’m proud to say I opened my salon almost six months ago, and business is really taking off. But to think I almost didn’t do it … I almost took my ex-coworkers’ negativity to heart!
- Today one of my regular customers, a really grumpy elderly man who has been eating in our diner every morning for the better part of five years, left me $1,000 in cash for his $7 breakfast. Alongside the cash he left a small note that read, “Thank you, Christine. I know I haven’t been the brightest smile in your life, but your smile and hospitable service over the years gave me something to look forward to every morning after my wife passed away. I wanted to say thank you. I’m moving eight hours down the road this afternoon to live with my son and his family. May the rest of your life be magical.”
These stories have been transcribed with permission from coaching sessions we’ve recently conducted with three of our course students. And if there’s one thing these students’ stories have it common, it’s the importance of not taking things too personally.
The father on the train wasn’t deliberately trying to annoy other passengers—he was thinking through one of the hardest realities of his life. Those ex-coworkers weren’t really laughing heartlessly—they were simply acting from within the boundaries of their own limited visions. And that grumpy elderly customer was just a humble, heartbroken man. In each story, the subject’s words and actions were all about THEM, not others. And while the people around them might take their annoying, naysaying, grumpy behavior personally, there’s nothing personal about it. Think about it…
How often have you taken things too personally?
If you’re anything like the rest of us—and that’s OK—it’s probably been quite often.
Why do we always take things personally?
There are quite a few viable and valid answers to the question of why we take things personally. But the one Marc and I have found to be most common through a decade of one-on-one coaching with our course students and private coaching clients is the tendency we all have of putting ourselves at the center, and seeing everything—every event, conversation, circumstance, etc.—from the viewpoint of how it relates to us. And this can have all kinds of adverse effects, from feeling hurt when other people are rude, to feeling sorry for ourselves when things don’t go as planned, to doubting ourselves when we aren’t perfect.
Of course, we are not really at the center of everything. That’s not how the world works. It just sometimes seems that way to us. Let’s take a quick look at a few examples…
Someone storms into the room in a bad mood, huffing and puffing, and addresses us in a very rude way. Immediately we think to ourselves, “What’s going on here? I don’t deserve to be treated like this. They should know better!” And we are left agitated, offended, and angry. But the truth is the other person’s behavior has very little to do with us. They got mad at something outside the room, and now they’re reactively venting their frustrations. We just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. This reality doesn’t justify their rude behavior, but it needs to be consciously acknowledged so we don’t waste all our mental energy positioning ourselves at the center of the situation and taking everything personally.
Now, let’s assume for a moment that a person’s actions actually do seem to relate to us directly—we inadvertently did something that annoyed someone, and now they’re reacting very rudely to us. A situation like this might seem personal, but is it really? Is the magnitude of their rude reaction all about us and the one thing we did to trigger them? No, probably not. It’s mostly just a statement about the other person’s reactions, snap-judgments, anger issues, and expectations of the universe. Again, we’re just a small piece of a much longer story.
And likewise, when someone else rejects us, ignores us, doesn’t call us when they said they would, doesn’t show they care, etc. … these reactions have much less to do with us than they have to do with the other person’s history of personal issues.
But because we see everything through a lens of how it affects us—a lens that does a poor job of seeing the bigger picture—we tend to react to everyone else’s actions and words as if they are a personal judgment or statement about us. Thus, other people’s anger makes us angry. Other people’s lack of respect makes us feel unworthy. Other people’s unhappiness makes us unhappy. And so it goes.
If you’re nodding your head to any of this, it’s time to…
Remind yourself of the truth!
What other people say and do, and the attitude they carry, rarely has anything to do with you. People’s reactions and behaviors are about their perspectives, wounds and experiences. Whether people treat you like you’re amazing, or act like you’re the worst, again, is more about them and how they are viewing the world at a given moment in time.
Now, I’m certainly not suggesting we should completely ignore all the feedback and insight we receive from others. I’m simply saying that a significant percentage of the emotional pain, disappointment and sadness in our lives comes directly from our tendency to take things too personally.
In most cases, it’s far more beneficial and healthy to let go of other people’s beliefs and behaviors and to operate with your own intuition and wisdom as your guide.
And that takes practice. Lots and lots of practice.
The key is in reminding yourself to gracefully deflect the senseless negativity around you. When you sense negativity coming at you, give it a small push back with a thought like, “That remark (or gesture) is not really about me, it’s about you.” Remember that all people have emotional issues they’re dealing with (just like you), and it makes them defiant, rude, and downright thoughtless sometimes. They are doing the best they can, or they’re not even aware of their issues. In any case, you can learn not to interpret their behaviors as personal attacks, and instead see them as non-personal encounters (like a dog barking in the distance, or a bumblebee buzzing by) that you can either respond to gracefully, or not respond to at all.
But again, this doesn’t come naturally—NOT taking things personally is a skill to be honed.
To help you practice, I recommend storing the following reminders in an easily accessible location (perhaps by bookmarking this article in your smart phone), and then reading (and re-reading) them whenever you catch yourself taking things personally.
- Calmness is a superpower. The ability to not overreact or take things personally keeps your mind clear and your heart at peace.
- Even when it seems personal, rarely do people do things because of you, they do things because of them.
- You may not be able control all the things people say and do to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.
- There is a huge amount of freedom that comes to you when you detach from other people’s beliefs and behaviors. The way people treat you is their problem, how you react is yours. (Marc and I discuss this further in the “Self-Love” chapter of our “1,000 Little Things” book.)
- Oftentimes people do things and say things because they’ve been conditioned to, not because they consciously want to.
- You can’t control how people receive your energy. Whatever someone interprets, or projects onto you, is at least partially an issue or problem that they themselves are dealing with.
- Take constructive criticism seriously, but not personally. Weigh what you hear from others against what you know in your heart to be true.
- If you’re willing to view the behavior of other people as indicative of their relationship with themselves, then you will inevitably take things less personally.
- If you truly wish to improve your self-confidence, self-esteem, and self-worth, stop allowing other people to be responsible for them. Stop allowing other people to dominate your emotions. (Marc and I build powerful self-confidence rituals with our students in the “Love and Relationships” module of Getting Back to Happy and with our private coaching clients.)
- All the hardest, coldest people you meet were once as soft as a baby. And that’s the tragedy of living. So when people are rude, be kind, be mindful, be your best. Give those around you the “break” that you hope the world will give you on your own “bad day” and you will never, ever regret it.
Before you go, let me ask you a quick question:
- Which point above resonates the most with you right now?
And how might reminding yourself of it, daily, stop you from taking things personally?
Leave a comment below and share your thoughts.
Also, if you haven’t done so already, be sure to sign-up for our free newsletter to receive new articles like this in your inbox each week.
Thanks for this excellent read, M&A. I just wanted to quickly say that the story about the grumpy customer in the diner really made me think. I own a restaurant and I sometimes deal with grumpy customers, and it’s hard in the moment see these folks as nice people who are struggling or hurting in some way. But you’re so right, most of the time the “bad” people we deal with are just good people having a bad day.
Also, my daughter and I bought tickets to your Think Better, Live Better 2022 conference in Orlando. Can’t wait! See you in a few months. 🙂
Marc Chernoff says
You’re welcome. And looking forward to seeing you in Orlando.
Seth Hansen says
Another one of your blog posts dropped into my email inbox right when I needed to read it. I really relate to the short stories and the first bullet point of how calmness is a super power. I agree, when we keep a calm mind, we tend to respond more effectively to the uncontrollable negativity and circumstances around us.
Keep up the great work, you two!
As usual, Marc & Angel, you have shared some incredibly useful insights in this post/email! All the mantras connect together seamlessly and I truly appreciate the explanation of why we take things personally. I never really thought about my tendency to place myself at the center of things…that really struck a chord.
Anyway, I definitely am someone who taken things personally far too often.
1. I used get into pretty heated arguments with family when I disagreed with them, instead of communicating peacefully and lowering my unnecessary expectations.
2. I used to focused on people’s negative qualities and actions and then take them to heart.
And although I’m still learning and growing in this area, your course, coaching and online teachings have guided me and allowed me to make gradual progress. I’m definitely less hot-headed and a lot more mindful than I used to be. Mindset really is everything, and with your guidance I’m mastering it more and more every day.
I couldn’t have asked for a better read. Talk about perfect timing. Thank you for your insight. I am very emotional sometimes (all the time) and although I have tried countless times to adopt a Stoic mentality. It is great to understand or rather read it in a different context. Your point about giving people a break when they needed most made me tear. Can’t wait to practice this again and again. Also, to read more of M&A. Keep it up ?
This is “bang-on” advice!
I’ve being taken down the garden path by a significant other in this regard. It may have pulled me back from calling it quits altogether. This is the right message at the right time!!
Perla milner says
Thank u M&A for always reminding so many of us of realities around us and MAKING a diiference 🙂 Will never give up in participating in your seminars some day!
I read your emails and articles every week, and so many touch my heart. I’m so very sensitive and I let people into my life that I shouldn’t.. I take things personally because I would never treat people the way I get treated. I know we are all different. You article on sensitive people awhile back helped me feel better about how different I am.
I will put these 10 reminders in my phone and hope I can let go of how some friends react to me nice one day and distant the next. You never know what your going to get. It’s about them not me Right.
Thank you for all your helpful emails and articles, I wish I could meet you some day.
Marc Chernoff says
You are welcome, Debbie. I’m so inspired to hear that you resonate with our work. And cheers to sensitivity being our strength. 🙂
Thank you for your comment about letting people in your life when you shouldn’t. My husband asks me, “How do you attract these people who are caustic or users?” I’m sure it relates to taking things personally.
Renée Jolley says
Love it! I usually take things personally. I end up hurting myself in the process…usually over something so small. I WILL copy these words & read & reread them. I’m so glad I opened this email and post first this morning.
You guys! Thanks for what you do. I really needed to read this now, and I certainly want to teach my children to remember this in their lives as they grow up.
Stephanie Pancha says
Awesome readings!! Thanks for the life reminder, it is completely relevant with my office life btw 🙂 what a perfect timing to find your article..
Look forward to your next article Marc & Angle. Again, thanks for this meaningful booster!
Betti Ann says
Calmness is a superpower. The ability to not overreact or take things personally keeps your mind clear and your heart at peace.
Needed to remind myself of this today, thank you!!!
So why can’t we look at bullying this way? I feel like we are barking up the wrong tree. People who bully- especially kids- are most likely passing along how they are treated at home. I believe we need to add some focus to deflecting the negative comments and building up strength of those bullied; this, in conjunction with teaching kindness and acceptance of course. You may not agree, but just think about it. It seems bullying is as rampant as ever, even with all the campaigns to stop it. If we also teach kids that there may be more to the story for the one who is bullying, we can come at things with compassion as well. Just a thought…
Jane Ward says
This is exactly what I needed today because this is the most difficult advice to remember. I need to distance myself and meditate on this for awhile. Peace at last. Thank you. Thank you!
I am chronically ill, and pine for a childhood when everyone I knew took the time to if not be helpful, at least think before they spoke. We live in such a “sound bite ” era with people having little time or patience for others. I read your emails all the time and they are a godsend! Because I do not feel well, it is extra hurtful to me when people are callous or insensitive. Your postings today were a great reminder that I need more faith in myself, and not to be so burdened by the words of others. Mark and Angel, you do a great service, and I hope someday to be one of your course students.
Ame B says
As a chronically ill person myself, I can totally relate to what you are saying. It is incredibly difficult when you are isolated and dealing with constant battles because of your condition, to not be offended by the others and their disrespect for what we face every day. People seem to always speak before they think when it comes to giving unsolicited advice to those of us with chronic illnesses and it’s always based on lack of knowledge. This was so helpful and something that will make such a difference to all of us facing the challenges of chronic illness as we all know we are the forgotten ones when it comes to help and support from friends, family and community. And again… not because of something “we have done” but due to the fact that our illnesses are ‘forever’… AND how someone reacts to us may simply be an issue within themselves. Great advice from M&A and more to help us face our days with courage and strength! Many Thanks and Much hope to you in the future… Stay strong & Keep smiling! ~ Ame B
Thank you for your excellent article and the many before this one. Per your request, #8 If you’re willing to view the behavior of other people as indicative of their relationship with themselves, then you will inevitably take things less personally makes the most sense to me. I also ‘try’ to stay conscious of my immediate thoughts and focus so I can be calm and less reactive to difficult situations. Sometimes easier said than done.
1 & 3 I find it difficult not to internalize the behavior of others. I’m President of our HOA and many people are so ungrateful and actually mean and have stopped speaking to me. Because of my position I’ve become the target, or at least I feel that I am. One of my sisters has turned on me while we worked at clearing out our mother’s home after her death this past summer. Here I am at 65, and I have to work each day to put that “stop” sign up in my mind. I’m much more at peace with myself and practice gratitude each day, yet these reminders are very helpful. Thank you.
M&A, thanks a million for sharing your precious article. It came to me at just the right time…you know, it’s as if God is conversing with me thru your articles…i am working on mastering the art of calmness and i wholeheartedly believe that nothing in the world is more powerful than remaining centred and calm esp in adverse situations….i am completely sold on your mind opening articles…every word is so true and I can make my life blissful by working hard on incorporating your teachings in my actions, speech and thoughts.
#8 resonates with me personally. A former relationship with someone I totally admired once claimed I was “not nice” (ouch!!!). After the initial shock and sting wore off, I tried to think through her words and my actions.
I knew in reality that helping people is one of my strong points and I knew this person had a very tumultuous childhood. I calmed myself and tried to look at the world through her lens. While it still hurt, it helped me not take the words too personally. Thank you for this list. It promises to come in handy as the need arises!
# 1. Calmness is a superpower. Not control. I need to remember this!
Ditto what Seth said.
I recently had a friend challenge my position on another friend. We have a very non combative relationship so it took me by surprise. But I stood my ground calmly. Another friend laughed and said you two are going to have to agree to disagree on this one. We all laughed and went on with our visit. It might have been different if I hadn’t stayed calm or felt as strongly as I did.
Thank you over and over again.
M&A, your insights always remind me of what’s really important and that everyone has their own story, and not to judge too quickly!
Jesus Enrique says
“That gesture is about you not about me.” Powerful!
Thank you for this!!
Linda Dubois says
Several of these things ring true for me. I rely on others for my own happiness. When my girlfriends go out and don’t think to invite me, even though it’s just thoughtlessness, it hurts my feelings.
I can really relate to number 8. “If you’re willing to view the behavior of other people as indicative of their relationship with themselves, then you will inevitably take things less personally.”
I always take things personally (to be honest) but after that I look at them (and their behavior) which makes me realize that it’s not me but them who has some stuff to deal with. It makes life easier. 🙂
Calmness is a superpower. Omg yes, a thousand times yes. Because the mind’s knee jerk reaction is to have an opinion on everything and label it or interpret it or take it personal……being able to read my social media without reacting to every opinion or story has been an amazing lesson for me……and it gets easier every day.
Other people’s actions have more to do with them and less to do with me? yes. That was tough to accept too. Because one wants to feel all important, whadaya mean it has nothing to do with me? ha ha silly ego.
#9 – blaming others when I’m doubting myself. My insecurities are my own. Great post! Love it and the reminders it provides. Thank you!!
I’m currently living in Bangkok and have to go back to my country. I feel down leaving these precious people here. Thank you for your insights and wisdom. I read and re-read the emails you sent to my email inbox. They’re a good reminders of how to be a human being. It really helps me to be resilient amidst many things I’m going through.
Umme Azher says
Thank you so much for this article. Every point resonates positivity. It’s just what I needed today.
Thank you very much for this beautiful article. All the points are very important, but I especially loved number 10. I myself try to believe that every human is fundamentally a loving, kind person and her/his behaviour is just determined by their personal past which might have been much harder than my own. Sometimes (too often?) I’m falling for this trap as well, but ever so often, I am trying to stay mindful and to treat everyone as I would like to be treated as well. I will save this article for future reference 🙂
The piece here that resonates with me the most is “You may not be able control all the things people say and do to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.” I know that removing TOXIC people in your life is important. Thanks for the great article!
Lilian Muthui says
Thank you so much for sharing this. It’s just what I needed to read at this time.
I so needed this article today. I haven’t heard back from a friend and am worried she may be mad at me for backing out on plans. I wasn’t feeling well but she admitting she was going thru some things herself. I reached out a few times but haven’t heard back. This article is just what I needed because I don’t think it’s me that she’s upset with but situations that have happened recently. Thank you for this!
Brian Enotu says
I am always indebted to M&A, My only regret will be not having a chance to meet you in life yet my greatest appreciation for the transformative pieces you have given me freely, This was just for me, God bless you
This part is what got to me: “But because we see everything through a lens of how it affects us—a lens that does a poor job of seeing the bigger picture—we tend to react to everyone else’s actions and words as if they are a personal judgment or statement about us.” But this whole post really spoke to me and opened my eyes to something happening in my life right now. So thanks for posting it. How would I bookmark this on my android, though? I’m not very tech savvy.
MaryAnn Russum says
I had a party recently and invited a friend who I’d not really been hanging out with due to some previous issues. He and I have had some challenges in this last year and a half, and beyond that time period and I was all but done with the friendship. I ran into him in September and slowly but surely we reconnected as friends again. Long story, short, at my party, I had been talking to a couple of friends about something personal that I was aggravated about it and he completely interrupted to try to change the subject. Not a huge deal but when I mentioned to him later that I wished he had not done that he got really bent out of shape. He’d been drinking so I tried to explain myself further but it did not get through to him. Fast forward to the next morning…. He apparently was binge drinking because he started texting me completely ignorant messages at 5 am and didn’t stop for nearly 3 days. His texts were beyond rude and hurtful and not even true in some cases. I blocked him on FB and tried to block his texts but they kept coming through for some reason. I’ve now unfriended him completely in real life. I did take what he said personally and I know better. He’s an alcoholic and has been for many years and when he’s drinking and is pissed off, his favorite pastime is to take it out on people on FB or by text messaging. He did apologize by email after I successfully blocked him by text but it was a little too little and a lot too late. It’s a lesson learned. When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time. Such a true statement!
Donna Shannon says
wow! awesome post and comments. Dealing with an extremely toxic passive aggressive mother with big agendas who loved to lash out and hurt me. Its a regular habit of hears. It opens old wounds for me every time as I have had a lifetime of this. This post reminded me its not about me but about her and her story. She most likely will never change or apologize but this makes it easier for me to cope with her.
Donna Shannon says
me again… sorry for the typos in the above….note to self check before sending… LOL!
Prefer not to say says
I really needed this today. I’m helping more with my aging parents. My dad is a real character. Reading this reminds me again, that he grew up in a very meager environment, and his life had to be hard. I have not doubt that there are many hard memories that he has buried deep in himself that he is not telling us about. Also, he is not dealing with that trauma, and his subsequent poor life choices very well.
My mother seems to catch the emotional brunt of it. Her faith has kept her strong. Yet, most of the time she does just what is mentioned above and is in a constant state of “what did I do to make him so angry at me.” I have tried to tell her many times, that his anger is mostly about him, and that her life’s work is not to make sure he is happy. Such insanity.
Thank you for this. I really needed this today.
The story about the hair salon resides with me….but something to remember and take from a situation like that is, that is just a reflection of the nay sayers’ personal self doubt.
“whether you think you can, or think you can’t, you’re right” !