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Last Updated on December 1, 2020

How to Not Take Things Personally for a Happier Life

How to Not Take Things Personally for a Happier Life

We sometimes get offended by what other people say or think very hard about some things that other people do. You may experience emotional unrest thinking about what you might have done wrong for someone to do or say what they did.

However, most of the time, these things aren’t because of you, and sometimes, they aren’t even about you at all. When you take things personally, you put unnecessary pressure and negativity in your mind. So you may ask, how to not take things personally?

What Does It Mean to Not Take Things Personally?

Well, here is what it means to take things personally. Lisa walked into the elevator at work to get to her office floor. She met a colleague and greeted her as she would on any other day.

However, Lisa didn’t hear her colleague’s reply and instantly assumed that there was a problem. She spent all the time in the elevator, about 5 minutes, coming up with different reasons why she had been ignored.

Bottom line: she believed that it must have had something to do with her personally. Finally, she got to her office, and while she went about her work, her boss walked in barking requests. Her boss, Heather, had stopped with the friendly smile and gentle tone she used during Lisa’s interview.

Now, it was mostly terse emails, a lot of frowns and didn’t validate Lisa’s work as much as she would like. Although Lisa was very good at her job, she wasn’t sure about that anymore with Heather’s attitude towards her. She started to doubt her abilities and took things personally.

If there is one thing we can get from this scenario, it’s that Lisa was not a happy person. She needs to discover how to not take things personally for a happier life.

So, what should she have done differently? Let’s start by finding out why we take things personally.

Why Do We Take Things Personally?

As her job grew more stressful, this also had a ripple effect on Lisa’s personal life. However, she took the behaviors of her colleague and boss personally because she felt responsible.

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She blamed herself for their response. Thinking about, if only she were more sensitive or smarter, then she would be able to fix all their problems.

But this is so wrong. Many of us are wrestling with the problem of feeling like everything is about us when, actually, it probably is not.

When we don’t take everything personally, life will be so much better. But this is actually more common than you think as it is a pattern of the human mind. We tend to assume personal responsibility for occurrences that we have little to no control over.

We see events happening around us and think that it’s because of us. In the process, we internalize these problems, words, and actions, and make our roles in them bigger than they really are. And when the event turns out negative? We somehow believe that we are the cause. It is like blaming but targeted inwardly. So, it’s a form of self-blame.

This spirals out of control with emotional effects such as depression, anxiety, and stress being a part of your daily life.

The thoughts we carry around influence our reality as they are connected to our feelings of control and happiness. Taking things personally only leads to a negative outlook, which doesn’t contribute to a happier life.

How to Not Take Things Personally

Let’s get back to Lisa. She believed that her colleague didn’t respond to her greeting, and it’s all her fault. Apart from the fact that she was wrong about her colleague not replying to her greeting, Lisa jumped into conclusions and made it all about her.

Here are some tips on how to not take things personally.

1. Investigate Your Thoughts

The best place to start is your thoughts. Most times, we unconsciously encourage thoughts where we blame ourselves for almost every situation.

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In the elevator, Lisa’s thoughts were, “if my colleague couldn’t respond to my greeting, then it must be because of something I did; If Heather is unhappy, then I must not be doing well at my job; If the company is struggling, then it must be my fault.”

You need to investigate your thoughts, which are specific to the situation. The next step is to ask yourself if these are true. If you think they are true, how sure are you?

Here is a different way to look at it. “If my colleague couldn’t respond to my greeting, then she may have been too occupied with her thoughts to notice”; “Heather manages about 20 employees, and I have been doing good work, so it could be any of 19 people”; “Heather has a life outside of the company, so she may have other problems affecting her mood.”

Doing this puts the situation in perspective. When Lisa had the first set of thoughts, they felt very personal. However, if she had investigated those thoughts, she would have seen that they were much less personal. When you examine your thoughts, you will realize that you may have invented a huge chunk of it.

2. It’s Okay to Ask Questions

Rather than basing our thoughts on assumptions and taking things personally, you can ask questions if you are really disturbed about it.

Let’s imagine how things would have gone differently between Lisa and her colleague in the elevator:

Lisa: I greeted you and got no response, is something wrong?

Colleague: Oh, I responded. I guess I wasn’t loud enough, sorry about that.

Lisa: That’s alright. How’s your family?

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What’s the result of this conversation? Lisa will understand that it was never about her, and by encouraging dialogue, she has one less thing to worry about.

Let’s see how the conversation with her boss would have gone:

Lisa: I realized that you have been snapping at me a lot lately, is it something I did?

Heather: Oh, of course not. You’re great at your job, I’ve just been stressed lately.

With this, Lisa knows that her work output is still excellent, and Heather’s attitude has nothing to do with her. Taking things personally is a ticket to getting worried over nothing.

3. Don’t Worry So Much About What Others Think of You

One reason why you take things personally is that you care so much about the approval of the person involved. A lot of us have been conditioned from birth into thinking that you must be accepted by everyone.

However, the truth is that not everyone will like you. In fact, not everyone has to, especially since you can’t control the thoughts of others. So, if you want to stop taking things personally, you need to accept that you can’t influence how people respond to you.

Accept yourself, and you will be able to attract those who will accept you for who you are. With those people, you don’t have to constantly worry about what they think of you because you know that they absolutely love you.

4. Get Out of Your Head

Most times, when you feel judged or criticized by someone, you may have blown it out of proportion because you are in your head. We’re always acutely aware of our weaknesses and flaws.

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Therefore, when you think a statement from a co-worker was actually criticism, they may not have been talking about you at all. Instead, you projected your insecurities into that statement and took it personally.

Has there been a time in the past where you took something personally but later realized that what was said wasn’t about you? So, next time you’re tempted to take things personally, think about this.

5. Build on Your Self-Confidence

Improving your self-confidence gives you a decent level of immunity to the actions and comments of others. That confidence acts as a buffer, meaning that you won’t instantly jump on a negative comment about you and let it define your thoughts.

People with a low level of confidence are more likely to bristle at any negative comment thrown at them because they are quick to believe that it is true.

Yes, you have your flaws, but that self-confidence will let you realize that it’s not enough to hold you back or get in your way. You will encourage the positive thought that you can fix it, making it easier for you to shrug off these comments.

6. Look Through a Different Lens

When you shift perspectives, you will be able to look at things beyond your experience. If Lisa had looked at the office through Heather’s eyes, she might have been able to see that managing more than five people was a lot of work.

She may have also noticed that Heather’s attitude wasn’t always targeted at her. Lisa would have also seen the tons of responsibilities that come with managing the office. This would have helped Lisa realize that she wasn’t the cause of Heather’s attitude.

When learning how to not take things personally, you need to realize that not every situation will revolve around you. Instead, be willing to show empathy.

Final Thoughts

Empathize with the other person’s position instead of being locked up in a narrow self-absorbed point of view.

As much as you can, use these tips to understand when you’re about to take things personally and avoid them. When you don’t take things personally, you will be able to have a richer and more productive life.

More Tips on Living a Happier Life

Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

More by this author

Jacqueline T. Hill

Writing, Blogging, and Educating To Guide Others Into Happiness

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Last Updated on January 24, 2021

How to Say No When You Know You Say Yes Too Often

How to Say No When You Know You Say Yes Too Often

Do you say yes so often that you no longer feel that your own needs are being met? Are you wondering how to say no to people?

For years, I was a serial people pleaser[1]. Known as someone who would step up, I would gladly make time, especially when it came to volunteering for certain causes. I proudly carried this role all through grade school, college, even through law school. For years, I thought saying “no” meant I would disappoint a good friend or someone I respected.

But somewhere along the way, I noticed I wasn’t quite living my life. Instead, I seem to have created a schedule that was a strange combination of meeting the expectations of others, what I thought I should be doing, and some of what I actually wanted to do. The result? I had a packed schedule that left me overwhelmed and unfulfilled.

It took a long while, but I learned the art of saying no. Saying no meant I no longer catered fully to everyone else’s needs and could make more room for what I really wanted to do. Instead of cramming too much in, I chose to pursue what really mattered. When that happened, I became a lot happier.

And guess what? I hardly disappointed anyone.

The Importance of Saying No

When you learn the art of saying no, you begin to look at the world differently. Rather than seeing all of the things you could or should be doing (and aren’t doing), you start to look at how to say yes to what’s important.

In other words, you aren’t just reacting to what life throws at you. You seek the opportunities that move you to where you want to be.

Successful people aren’t afraid to say no. Oprah Winfrey, considered one of the most successful women in the world, confessed that it was much later in life when she learned how to say no. Even after she had become internationally famous, she felt she had to say yes to virtually everything.

Being able to say no also helps you manage your time better.

Warren Buffett views “no” as essential to his success. He said:

“The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.”

When I made “no” a part of my toolbox, I drove more of my own success, focusing on fewer things and doing them well.

How We Are Pressured to Say Yes

It’s no wonder a lot of us find it hard to say no.

From an early age, we are conditioned to say yes. We said yes probably hundreds of times in order to graduate from high school and then get into college. We said yes to find work, to get a promotion, to find love and then yes again to stay in a relationship. We said yes to find and keep friends.

We say yes because we feel good when we help someone, because it can seem like the right thing to do, because we think that is key to success, and because the request might come from someone who is hard to resist.

And that’s not all. The pressure to say yes doesn’t just come from others. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves.

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At work, we say yes because we compare ourselves to others who seem to be doing more than we are. Outside of work, we say yes because we are feeling bad that we aren’t doing enough to spend time with family or friends.

The message, no matter where we turn, is nearly always, “You really could be doing more.” The result? When people ask us for our time, we are heavily conditioned to say yes.

How Do You Say No Without Feeling Guilty?

Deciding to add the word “no” to your toolbox is no small thing. Perhaps you already say no, but not as much as you would like. Maybe you have an instinct that if you were to learn the art of no that you could finally create more time for things you care about.

But let’s be honest, using the word “no” doesn’t come easily for many people.

3 Rules of Thumbs for Saying No

1. You Need to Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

Let’s face it. It is hard to say no. Setting boundaries around your time, especially you haven’t done it much in the past, will feel awkward. Your comfort zone is “yes,” so it’s time to challenge that and step outside that.

If you need help getting out of your comfort zone, check out this article.

2. You Are the Air Traffic Controller of Your Time

When you want to learn how to say no, remember that you are the only one who understands the demands for your time. Think about it: who else knows about all of the demands in your life? No one.

Only you are at the center of all of these requests. You are the only one that understands what time you really have.

3. Saying No Means Saying Yes to Something That Matters

When we decide not to do something, it means we can say yes to something else that we may care more about. You have a unique opportunity to decide how you spend your precious time.

6 Ways to Start Saying No

Incorporating that little word “no” into your life can be transformational. Turning some things down will mean you can open doors to what really matters. Here are some essential tips to learn the art of no:

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1. Check in With Your Obligation Meter

One of the biggest challenges to saying no is a feeling of obligation. Do you feel you have a responsibility to say yes and worry that saying no will reflect poorly on you?

Ask yourself whether you truly have the duty to say yes. Check your assumptions or beliefs about whether you carry the responsibility to say yes. Turn it around and instead ask what duty you owe to yourself.

2. Resist the Fear of Missing out (FOMO)

Do you have a fear of missing out (FOMO)? FOMO can follow us around in so many ways. At work, we volunteer our time because we fear we won’t move ahead. In our personal lives, we agree to join the crowd because of FOMO, even while we ourselves aren’t enjoying the fun.

Check in with yourself. Are you saying yes because of FOMO or because you really want to say yes? More often than not, running after fear doesn’t make us feel better[2].

3. Check Your Assumptions About What It Means to Say No

Do you dread the reaction you will get if you say no? Often, we say yes because we worry about how others will respond or because of the consequences. We may be afraid to disappoint others or think we will lose their respect. We often forget how much we are disappointing ourselves along the way.

Keep in mind that saying no can be exactly what is needed to send the right message that you have limited time. In the tips below, you will see how to communicate your no in a gentle and loving way.

You might disappoint someone initially, but drawing a boundary can bring you the freedom you need so that you can give freely of yourself when you truly want to. And it will often help others have more respect for you and your boundaries, not less.

4. When the Request Comes in, Sit on It

Sometimes, when we are in the moment, we instinctively agree. The request might make sense at first. Or we typically have said yes to this request in the past.

Give yourself a little time to reflect on whether you really have the time or can do the task properly. You may decide the best option is to say no. There is no harm in giving yourself the time to decide.

5. Communicate Your “No” with Transparency and Kindness

When you are ready to tell someone no, communicate your decision clearly. The message can be open and honest[3] to ensure the recipient that your reasons have to do with your limited time.

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How do you say no? 9 Healthy Ways to Say “No”

    Resist the temptation not to respond or communicate all. But do not feel obligated to provide a lengthy account about why you are saying no.

    Clear communication with a short explanation is all that is needed. I have found it useful to tell people that I have many demands and need to be careful with how I allocate my time. I will sometimes say I really appreciate that they came to me and for them to check in again if the opportunity arises another time.

    6. Consider How to Use a Modified No

    If you are under pressure to say yes but want to say no, you may want to consider downgrading a “yes” to a “yes but…” as this will give you an opportunity to condition your agreement to what works best for you.

    Sometimes, the condition can be to do the task, but not in the time frame that was originally requested. Or perhaps you can do part of what has been asked.

    Final Thoughts

    Beginning right now, you can change how you respond to requests for your time. When the request comes in, take yourself off autopilot where you might normally say yes.

    Use the request as a way to draw a healthy boundary around your time. Pay particular attention to when you place certain demands on yourself.

    Try it now. Say no to a friend who continues to take advantage of your goodwill. Or, draw the line with a workaholic colleague and tell them you will complete the project, but not by working all weekend. You’ll find yourself much happier.

    More Tips on How to Say No

    Featured photo credit: Chris Ainsworth via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Science of People: 11 Expert Tips to Stop Being a People Pleaser and Start Doing You
    [2] Anxiety and Depression Association of America: Tips to Get Over Your FOMO, or Fear of Missing Out
    [3] Cooks Hill Counseling: 9 Healthy Ways to Say “No”

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