You shouldn’t take things personally. Never, ever. Ever, never. And I’m gonna tell you why.
But first, I’ll tell you why I did take every single little thing personally for so many years, and, if you can relate, maybe why you might be doing it too.
STARTING LIFE WITH A WRONG BELIEF
My mom was a nice mom. Like every mom, she wanted good things for me. She wanted a bright future for her son. So her teachings of life were very simple. Just 2 rules. One of them was something like that: “Everybody has to like you. Your teachers, your classmates, the parents of your classmates, the parents of your teachers, the neighbors, the mailman. Every single person on Earth.” More or less. The implication being that life would be great after that.
I was a kid, young, naive, and of course trusting my caretakers. So I tried my best to apply the rule. For too many years.
It started within my family. I was a curious kid. I was always asking why, always trying to understand how things worked. In my mind it just made sense that if I learned about something, I could anticipate, I could recreate, and things wouldn’t appear like black magic anymore.
But my parents didn’t want to answer my questions. Maybe they didn’t know the answers. Maybe they were not interested. For whatever reasons, they found me annoying. They wanted me to be quiet instead. So I did.
I remember asking my father a couple of times why would people reappear in a movie while they’ve been killed a week before. But after too many “shut up” and seeing big veins popping up on his forehead, I decided to stop asking. I stopped being annoying, so that he would like me.
Then I brought this mindset to the outside world.
NEVER TAKE ANYTHING PERSONALLY FROM OTHER PEOPLE
There’s a big difference between your family and the outside world. With your family, you probably don’t spend time wondering whether the members like you or not, you just assume they do. For the outside world, it’s a different story. You might keep wondering whether people do like your or not, and if they don’t, you might also be wondering why.
So if this happens to you, let me repeat that question and answer it for you:
Question: Why do people don’t like you / are angry towards you / don’t care about you? Answer: Because of whatever reason is going on in THEIR OWN head.
It has nothing to do with you.
Yes, really. Read that again: It has absolutely nothing to do with you..
If it was about you, everyone would react the same. But who does?
Let me give you an example. You’re sitting in a classroom and you realize that college is definitely not for you, you don’t believe in it anyway and you want to go out and build your own thing. You stand up, pack your stuff, say “Fuck this shit” and leave. Some classmates will scream “yeah way to go” and applaud, some others will shut up and think how stupid and irresponsible you are. What’s the truth in that story? The truth is within yourself, end of the story. Every person’s reaction might be different because every person’s own inner world is different. People have different beliefs, different needs, different goals, ideas and opinions.
It’s all within themselves and it has nothing to do with you.
If some people call you stupid it’s because of the way they define stupidity, not because YOU are stupid. It really has nothing to do with you.
What I’ve failed to understand as a kid is that I wasn’t annoying. It’s just that my parents valued quietness over curiosity. It was their choice, not mine. But I believed them. At the time and for long after. Until I woke up.
NEVER TAKE ANYTHING PERSONALLY FROM THE UNIVERSE
It’s very easy—and sometimes comforting—to feel like a victim, to feel like the whole Universe is plotting against us. But this is a big delusion. Playing the role of the victim is actually the best recipe for unhappiness. You give away your own personal power, you give the control of your life to external events. You then feel powerless, demotivated, useless and depressed.
The truth is that the whole Universe doesn’t care. It just happens. That’s it. There is no fair, there is no unfair. It is just the way it is. Shit happens to everyone. The only difference is how people react to it.
NEVER TAKE ANYTHING PERSONALLY FROM YOUR OWN BRAIN
Our brain is a funny piece of evolution. In his fantastic book Thinking, fast and slow Daniel Kahneman explains how our current brain is an evolution of the brain found in animals. We didn’t get a brand new organ built especially for the human race. Instead, evolution took the brain of animals and grew us a prefrontal cortex on top of it. These 2 systems work differently, and the first one to respond to an event is always the animal brain. The thing is the animal brain is not controllable, it works automatically. And it is the birthplace of our emotions, our intentions, our needs, and our unconscious thoughts.
Just to prove the point, let me remind you of this:
I’m sure you’ve seen these illusions already. And even if intellectually you KNOW that the lines are straight and the tiles colors are the same, you just CAN’T SEE it. That’s your animal brain at work.
The main goal of our animal brain is to keep us alive. 10 000 years ago, that would mean escaping a lion. But there is no lion anymore and today, it might just be about escaping writing a blog post. It might be thoughts that you are not good enough to do this or that.
We tend to avoid fear and other negative emotions, but if we subdue to these emotions, we’ll never do what we want in our life. We just have to accept that we are afraid, everybody is, and go through it. Not everything that is coming from your brain is helpful, so learn to choose wisely.
FROM MINDSET TO ACTION
This mindset is a really helpful one. But there is a minor issue with mindsets and beliefs. From experience, I find it much harder to change an intangible belief than it is to change an actionable habit. So I usually strongly focus on action. Below is a list of actions that I’ve found to be very helpful and that forced me to stop taking things personally. If you follow the list, big are chances that will naturally start to feel detached to what others might say or do to you.
1. Learn to know yourself
I used to take things too personally because I was living through the eyes of others. I believed that if I was doing things for others, or what others wanted me to do, or said what others wanted to hear, my life would be smooth. But a smooth life doesn’t exist. It is only when I started to listen to my heart and my gut that I’ve discovered what I really wanted, what I really believed in, what principles and values I wanted to stand for, and that I’ve found that inner power that made me able to handle healthily the ups and downs of life. I consciously spent time trying many different things and listened to my inner feedback to discover what I wanted, what I liked, and what I didn’t want and didn’t like. Only you can know for yourself, there is no right and wrong here. Just try. And only you can do this work for yourself.
2. Please the only person who really matters: you
I’ve replaced pleasing others with pleasing myself. I treated myself better, I bought what I wanted to buy, I traveled more, I spent more time doing exercise, I spent time writing. Basically, I finally started to spend quality time with myself.
That doesn’t mean you have to be a selfish asshole. There’s a difference between being selfish and having some self-respect. A selfish person only care about their own needs. A person with self-respect cares about their needs as well as the ones of others.
But if you don’t care about your own needs and believe someone else will for you, you’re just fooling yourself. Sorry, but true. People can help you get your needs met, but no one have to, and people are busy, consciously or unconsciously, getting their own needs met.
So take responsibility for your life. Once you know what you want, just go get it, ask for it, ask for help if needed, but go forward. You’ll finally stop feeling powerless, you’ll feel more in control of your life, and again you’ll stop taking things personally, because you’ll have something that matters much more: building your own destiny.
3. Build strong boundaries
Let people know when they are crossing the line. Your life is yours, not others’. People can advise you, but they shouldn’t be upset if you decide not to listen. If they are upset it’s their problem, not yours. You don’t have to fight over trying to make them understand your point of view either. Just tell them when it’s not OK with you, when they’ve gone too far and should mind their own business instead. There are things that are definitely none of other people’s business so you can cut the crap straight away, like what you do with your body, your money, or your free time.
When you start building strong boundaries, you get less tense, less angry when someone is doing something or saying something that annoys you. You’re just stating that it’s not OK with you, and you move on. Once again, this tends to help not taking things personally anymore. And it makes you accept and respect more people for who they are, instead of what you believe they should be.
Hopefully you start seeing the value of this mindset, and you will start not taking things personally. It’s a very powerful mindset and once it replaces your old unhealthy beliefs life become simpler, with less drama, and you yourself become stronger, more confident, and more in control of your own life.
It’s a pretty big topic, each point could have its own full article. So if some things are not clear, please feel free to take responsibility for your curiosity and ask in the comments below.