Don’t take anything personally. This is the second agreement of Don Miguel Ruiz’s classic, The Four Agreements.
As the author writes so eloquently in his book:
“Whatever happens around you, don’t take it personally…nothing other people do is because of you. It is because of themselves. All people live in their own dream, in their own mind; they are in a completely different world from the one we live in. When we take something personally, we make the assumption that they know what is in our world, and we try to impose our world on their world.
As you make a habit of not taking anything personally, you won’t need to place your trust in what others do or say. You will only need to trust yourself to make responsible choices. You are never responsible for the actions of others; you are only responsible for you. When you truly understand this, and refuse to take things personally, you can hardly be hurt by the careless comments or actions of others.
If you keep this agreement, you can travel around the world with your heart completely open and no one can hurt you. You can say, “I love you,” without fear of being ridiculed or rejected. You can ask for what you need.”
These are words to live by, and I for one frequently need a reminder of this lesson from time to time. If you’re anything like me, striving to achieve this state of peace of mind, a few tips on how to actually put this principle into practice would go a long way.
Here are some of my thoughts on how to work towards the goal of not taking things so personally:
1. Remember, no matter how hard you try, you CANNOT control the opinions of others
2. Say to yourself: “I am the only one who determines what I feel and what I believe”
3. Tell yourself the reasons behind your choices – chances are you have good ones!
4. Journal – sometimes through writing we develop clarity over what we know to be true about ourselves and the situation
5. Ask yourself: “How important is this relationship to me?” If you are finding yourself being heavily invested in someone and paying a high price for it, it may be time to reinvest that energy elsewhere
6. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes by trying to understand what the other person might be feeling/thinking/trying to convey to you and what his or her circumstances are that may influence their behavior
7. Seek clarification before jumping to conclusions. Instead of making an assumption, first ask the other person for more information and give them the benefit of the doubt
8. Create space between yourself and your reactions by resisting the urge to act through a difficult emotion. Rather, be aware of your reaction, sit with it long enough to determine the most appropriate response, and then act
9. Remind yourself that you know YOU better than anyone else can
10. Find strength in your own personal resources such as your instincts, ability to problem solve, and capacity for good judgement
11. Practice a form of meditation or mindfulness to help you stay centered and grounded in your own self
12. Find perspective through exercise, spending time in nature, or doing something relaxing
13. Identify a common value, commitment, or guiding principle that you have in common with the other person
14. Write down a list of your strengths and positive qualities and refer to it frequently
15. Make efforts to surround yourself with positive people who “fill you up”
16. Be kind to others and take note on the positive impact that you have in other people’s lives
17. Visualize a protective barrier between you and the other person; this barrier cannot be penetrated by ugly and rude comments or behaviors. Imagine these things “bouncing off” you without any damage whatsoever
If you think that you respond too sensitively to other people’s comments, you might benefit from talking about things with a therapist. Your therapist can help you identify an underlying issue that contributes to your hypersensitivity and assist you in letting go of resentments and finding new ways of thinking about things. Making the change to take things less personally isn’t easy. You can practice being gentle with yourself and understand that this is a process that will take time. Reflecting on how far you’ve come and the gains you are making will give you the confidence and courage you need to keep working towards your goal.