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Last Updated on July 10, 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

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Jacqueline T. Hill

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Last Updated on August 12, 2020

When Should You Trust Your Gut and How?

When Should You Trust Your Gut and How?

Learning how to trust your gut, otherwise known as your intuition, can keep you safe. Your gut can guide you and help you build your confidence and resilience. My own gut instinct has saved me on more than one occasion. It has also guided me into making sound career choices and other exciting, big decisions. I’m also aware of the times when I’ve gone against my instincts and really regretted it later, wondering why I didn’t tune in to that valuable internal voice that we all have within us.

In this article, we’re going to explore why and how you should listen to your gut, as well as some concrete tips on how to make sure you’re making the most out of your gut instincts.

How to Listen to Your Gut

The key when making any big decision is to always take a minute to listen well to yourself and your inner compass. If you hear your actual voice saying yes while inside you’re silently screaming no, my advice is to ask for some time to think, or simply take a breath and pause before the yes or no escapes your mouth.

Use that moment to breathe, check in with yourself, and give the answer that feels congruent with who you are and what you want, not the one that always involves following the herd. Trusting your gut means having the courage to not simply go with the majority. It can be about holding your own. Here’s how to hone that skill for yourself and reap the rewards.

1. Tune Into Your Body

Your body gives you clues when you’re faced with a big decision. There are many visible and obvious symptoms that we feel in uncomfortable situations. Our body’s reaction is often something that we might try to hide, for example, blushing, being lost for words, or shaking. There are things we might do to try and hide that physical reaction, whether it’s wearing makeup, having a glass of wine or coffee to perk us up a bit, or learning to control our nerves.

However, paying attention to your body when you experience these feelings of anxiety can teach you so much and help you to make sound choices. Some people will experience an actual “gut” feeling of stomach ache or indigestion in an uncomfortable situation.

Ask yourself what’s really going on here, and explore what is happening behind your body’s response to the situation. What can your reaction or instinct teach you? Understanding that can be a clue and can help you either learn something about yourself, the situation, or other people. The answers are often within us.

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Sometimes we’ll get this “something’s not right here” feeling and cannot quite put our finger on it or explain it. That can still be incredibly useful and really guide us away from danger, even if we don’t know the reason.

In his book, Blink, Malcolm Gladwell also argues this, making the point that sometimes our subconscious is better at processing the answer we need, and that we don’t necessarily need to take time to collect hours and hours of information to come to a reliable conclusion[1].

2. Ensure Your Head Is Clear Before Making a Decision

Energy, sleep, and good nutrition are so vital to nourishing our minds, as well as our bodies. There are times when your instinct could lead you astray, and one of these is when you are hungry, “hangry” (angry because you’re hungry!), tired, or anxious. If this is the case–and it may sound obvious–do consider sleeping or eating on it before making an important choice.

There is, in fact, a connection between our gut and our brain[2], which is where terms like “butterflies in the stomach” and “gut-wrenching” originate from. Stress and emotions can cause physical feelings, and ignoring them might do more harm than good.

3. Don’t Be Afraid to Say What You Think and Feel

Listening to your gut and really paying attention to it might involve standing up and being counted, calling something out, or taking a stand. As someone who works for myself, I’ve become used to following the less-travelled road, and that’s given me the chance to strike out on my own in other ways, too.

As they tell you in the planes, “put your own oxygen mask on first,” and part of that self-reliance is knowing what you really want and like and what is safe and good for you, including what resonates with your personal and business values. Making good decisions with this in mind means making choices that do not go against your own beliefs, even when it may mean taking a stand. This is part of trusting yourself and trusting your instincts.

This does not always mean taking the “safe” option, although keeping ourselves safe is an important part of the process. This is how we learn and grow, by following our own inner compass. When you do take risks, go outside of your comfort zone, or choose the less popular option, spending some time researching the facts can stand us in good stead, too.

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4. Do Your Research If Something Feels Off

As well as listening to our instincts, we can also back up the evidence for our chosen course of action before taking the leap. I had a gut feeling about the need for a learning and development network when I noticed my clients getting stuck with the same problems. I set up and now run such a network, but instead of simply going for it, without evidence, I followed up on my instinct with research.

Having confidence in your gut instinct through these kinds of tests can help to minimize your risks, as well as spur you on. It will encourage you to trust your gut again in the future and trust that you are an expert with foresight and experience. You are!

5. Challenge Your Assumptions

When you look at the assumptions your making, this could be the clue to mistakes you are making.

In order to check that our instincts are wise, we need to ask ourselves what blanks we might be filling in, either consciously or unconsciously. This is true not just when it comes to our own decision-making. It’s also true when we are listening to someone explain a problem or situation, and we’re about to jump in and give some advice. If we can learn to be aware of our own assumptions, we can become better listeners and better decision makers, too.

A useful tool to become more aware of your assumptions before making a final decision is simply to ask yourself, “What assumptions am I making about this situation or person?”

6. Educate Yourself on Unconscious Bias

Unconscious bias is something we all have, and it can trip us up big time!

There is a vital caveat to bear in mind when wondering about whether you can trust your gut and the feelings your body gives you, and that’s having an awareness of your unconscious bias. Understanding your own bias–which is hard to do because it literally does happen in our subconscious–can help you to make stronger, better, decisions instead of re-confirming your view of the world over and over again.

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Bias exists, and it’s part of the human condition. All of us have it, and it colors our decisions and can impact on our performance without us realizing.

Unconscious bias happens at a subconscious level in our brains. Our subconscious brain processes information so much faster than our conscious brain. Quick decisions we make in our subconscious are based on both our societal conditioning and how our families raised us.

Our brains process hundreds of thousands of pieces of information daily. We unconsciously categorize and format that information into patterns that feel familiar to us. Aspects such as gender, disability, class, sexuality, body shape and size, ethnicity, and what someone does for a job can all quickly influence decisions we make about people and the relationships we choose to form. Our unconscious bias can be very subtle and go unnoticed..

We naturally tend to gravitate towards people similar to ourselves, favoring people who we see as belonging to the same “group” as us. Being able to make a quick decision about whether someone is part of your group and distinguish friend from foe was what helped early humans to survive. Conversely, we don’t automatically favor people who we don’t immediately relate to or easily connect with.

The downside of that human instinct to seek out similar people is the potential for prejudice, which seems to be hard-wired into human cognition, no matter how open-minded we believe ourselves to be. And these stereotypes we create can be wrong. If we only spend our time with and employ people similar to ourselves, it can create prejudices, as well as stifle fresh thinking and innovation.

We may feel more natural or comfortable working with other people who share our own background and/or opinions than collaborating with people who don’t look, talk, or think like us. However, diversity is not just morally right; having a mix of different people and perspectives that can be genuinely heard is also a valuable way to counter groupthink. Diversity stretches us to think more critically and creatively.

7. Trust Yourself

It is possible to learn how to truly trust yourself[3]. Like any talent or skill, practicing trusting your gut is the best way to get really good at it. When people talk about having great intuition or being good decision-makers, it’s because they’ve worked at honing those skills, made mistakes, learned from them, and tried again.

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Looking back at decisions you’ve made, what you did, what the outcome was, and what you’ve learned can help you become a stronger decision maker and develop solid self-trust and resilience. Making a mistake does not mean you are not great at decision-making; it’s a chance to grow and learn, and the only mistake is to ignore the lesson in that experience.

If you are in the habit of asking others for their input, then the trick here is to choose your inner circle wisely. Having a sounding board of people who have your best interests at heart is a valuable asset, and, combined with your own excellent instincts, can make you a champion decision maker.

The Bottom Line

The above tips are all actionable and easy to start immediately. It’s simply about switching your thinking around, slowing down, and taking great care of this amazing machine that is your body and mind!

Learning how to trust your gut is one of the most fundamental ways to make decisions that will help you lead the life you want and need. Tune into what your body is telling you and start making good decisions today.

More Tips on How to Trust Your Gut

Featured photo credit: Acy Varlan via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Science of People: Learn to Trust Your Gut Instincts: The Science Behind Thin-slicing
[2] Harvard Health Publishing: The gut-brain connection
[3] Psych Central: 3 Ways to Develop Self-Trust

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