If you feel like the world is against you all the time and you can’t get ahead, it might be time to look inward and make some changes about the way you allow people to rule your life.
The hard part about changing your outlook is that it involves taking responsibility for your own interpretations of how others treat you or speak to you.
And that is a difficult pill to swallow because what you will come to find is that the way you have been feeling about people and experiences is that the buck stops with you.
Here is how to stop taking things personally and get on with your life in a productive way.
1) Make sure your beliefs are aligned.
The first thing you need to do if you want to stop taking things personally is to make sure you have a good hold on your beliefs.
In other words, if you are offended because somebody didn’t say hello to you when they pass you in the hallway at work, make sure that is something you offer people.
Otherwise, why would you be offended?
According to psychologist Tartakovsky in Psych Central, when you want to “teach people how to treat you, you do not begin with them, you begin with yourself…The way you believe about and treat yourself sets the standard for others on how you demand to be treated.”
And further to that, you may come to recognize that saying hello in public might not be a part of their beliefs, and you need to be okay with that.
Their lack of communication probably has nothing to do with you and everything to do with how they interact with the world.
It’s normal to wish that others were different, just like it’s normal to wish you, yourself, were different (eg. thinner, richer, wiser).
But when you become angry that they’re different and even worse, you take it personally, problems begin to surface.
A much more productive habit is to accept people for who they are, and who they are not.
According to Rick Hanson Ph.D. in Psychology Today, accepting people “does not itself mean agreeing with them, approving them, waiving your own rights, or downplaying their impact upon you.”
Instead, it’s important to remember that you can still take appropriate actions but when you accept the reality of the other person, you may not like it, but “you are at peace with it.”
And when you shift to acceptance, “you can help things get better”.
2) Ask yourself how other people impact you.
If you feel like the victim in your own life, you need to stop and think about how you let other people impact your outlook on life.
For example, if someone makes a snide remark about you, logic would dictate that it’s a reflection of their own self-worth.
But in many cases, we think illogically about these things and feel like we are being attacked.
In fact, research by a Wake Forest University psychology professor found that what you say about others says a lot about you.
“Your perceptions of others reveal so much about your own personality”, says Dustin Wood, assistant professor of psychology at Wake Forest and lead author of the study.
“A huge suite of negative personality traits are associated with viewing others negatively”.
So if you take these results to heart, there is literally no point in taking things personally.
What people say about you clearly says more about themselves than anything to do with you.
Spiritual guru Osho says that it’s crucial to start looking inside yourself, rather than being disturbed about anything anybody says about you.
“Nobody can say anything about you. Whatsoever people say is about themselves. But you become very shaky because you are still clinging to a false center. That false center depends on others, so you are always looking at what people are saying about you. And you are always following other people, you are always trying to satisfy them. You are always trying to be respectable, you are always trying to decorate your ego. This is suicidal. Rather than being disturbed by what others say, you should start looking inside yourself…”
3) The world isn’t out to get you – take a step back from your limiting thoughts
From time to time, our minds race and our thoughts get the better of us, but when it comes to the thoughts of other people, we need to stop trying to guess what they are thinking – this can make life really hard.
When we put words in the mouths of others we take away any other chance for a different outcome.
This is where mindfulness comes in.
Judging others and putting words in their mouths might be a natural instinct, but we can take a step back from our mind and automated thought processes and ask ourselves what is objective reality.
When we feel like the world is against us, it’s our mind that creates that reality. The most likely scenario is that the world is neutral towards you.
But our thoughts and beliefs about the world form such an integral part of who we are that it’s not easy to just take a step back from the mind.
Spiritual guru Eckhart Tolle says that this has a lot to do with our ego, which likes to emphasize the “otherness” of others.
Eckhart Tolle describes an excellent way to view the ego:
“One way to think about ego is as a protective heavy shell, such as the kind some animals have, like a big beetle. This protective shell works like armor to cut you off from other people and the outside world. What I mean by shell is a sense of separation: Here’s me and there’s the rest of the universe and other people. The ego likes to emphasize the “otherness” of others.”
The big problem with the ego is that the ego loves to strengthen itself through negativity and complaining.
When you listen to the ego and its negativity, it starts to control you and how you behave.
According to Eckhart Tolle, when this happens, “you don’t have thoughts; the thoughts have you.”
These limiting thoughts can feed on themselves as well. Our brains have a built-in confirmation bias. This means that it focuses on information that is consistent with our own beliefs and values.
This is useful to prevent the brain from being overloaded with too much information. Therefore, if you believe that people are out to get you, your brain will likely hold onto and search for information that confirms that people are out to get you.
So, what’s the key to not letting the ego controlling you?
Eckhart Tolle says it’s all about observing the mind and becoming aware of what kind of negative thoughts you habitually think.
Eckhart Tolle says that awareness is the first step to becoming free of the ego:
“Awareness is the beginning of becoming free of the ego because then you realize that your thoughts—and the negative emotions they produce—are dysfunctional and unnecessary.”
Of course, the question is: How do we become an observer of the mind to achieve this?
Below we’ve found a passage from Osho that explains exactly how to go about it.
“Become an observer of the currents of thought that flow through your consciousness. Just like someone sitting by the side of a river watching the river flow by, sit by the side of your mind and watch. Or just as someone sits in the forest and watches a line of birds flying by, just sit and watch. Or the way someone watches the rainy sky and the moving clouds, you just watch the clouds of thoughts moving in the sky of your mind. The flying birds of thoughts, the flowing river of thoughts in the same way, silently standing on the bank, you simply sit and watch. It is the same as if you are sitting on the bank, watching the thoughts flowing by. Don’t do anything, don’t interfere, don’t stop them in any way. Don’t repress in any way. If there is a thought coming don’t stop it, if it is not coming don’t try to force it to come. You are simply to be an observer….
“And if you become aware that you are not your thoughts, the life of these thoughts will begin to grow weaker, they will begin to become more and more lifeless. The power of your thoughts lies in the fact that you think they are yours. When you are arguing with someone you say, “My thought is”. No thought is yours. All thoughts are different from you, separate from you. You just be a witness to them.”
When you take a step back from your mind, you’ll realize very quickly that you don’t have to believe your thoughts. Your brain is simply a thought-making machine.
This will give you enormous liberation from the constraint of self-limiting thoughts. If you can’t help but think that the world is out to get you, remember that it’s just your brain.
It’s not you and you don’t have to believe those thoughts.
(To dive deep into meditation techniques to calm down and live more in the present moment, check out my most popular eBook: The No-Nonsense Guide to Using Buddhism and Eastern Philosophy for a Better Life)
4) Work on your confidence.
If you want to stop taking things personally, you need to work on your confidence.
Everything that happens to you is not actually happening to you – it might seem that way, but it’s your interpretation of the events that make things seem worse than they are.
If your confidence was more intact, you would overlook much of what people say or do and know that their actions and words say more about them than you anyway.
When our confidence is low, we take everything personally and feel like the world is ending.
Do things to make yourself feel good and as you become more confident in yourself, you’ll see that others around you are not as confident as they appear and half of what they say that makes you feel bad is brought about by the same lack of confidence you feel.
It’s all well and good to tell you to be confident, but how do you actually go about it?
I believe that one of the keys to building self-esteem is to learn more about yourself.
Getting to know who you are, your strengths and weaknesses, and what makes you tick allows you to put your life in a place of control.
And when you’re strong with who you are, you’ll be far less likely to take anything personally.
One technique that we’ve become particularly bullish about at Hack Spirit is VITALS. We first talked about it in our ultimate guide on how to love yourself.
You’ll need a pen and notepad to do this exercise.
Here’s what the letters stand for and how to find it in yourself:
V = Values
What are your values? This can include “helping others” or “health” or “being creative”. Think about it and write down 10 important values that describe you.
To figure out your interests, ask yourself these questions: What do you pay attention to? What are you most concerned about? What gets your mind really curious?
Answer these questions to figure out your temperament: Do you restore your energy by being alone or with other people? Do you prefer to plan or be spontaneous? Do you make decisions based on facts or feelings? Do you prefer big ideas or details?
A= Around-the-Clock Activities
When do you like to do things? Are you a morning or evening person? What time of day does your energy peak?
L = Life Mission and Meaningful Goals
What is your purpose in life? What have been the most meaningful events of your life? What’s your main motivation for getting up in the morning?
What are your strongest abilities? Skills? Talents? What are your greatest character strengths?
5) Stay away from people who make you feel bad about yourself.
If you are trying to stop taking things personally, it’s best to keep your distance from people who make you feel bad about yourself.
Whether or not they are actively trying to bring you down, if you don’t feel your best around them, it’s best to keep your distance.
There is a lot of work to be done about how you interpret these people, but in the meantime, you can decide to just move on and not allow them the opportunity to impact your life in a negative way.
And in the end, spending time with toxic people doesn’t add anything to your life.
You’ll live a much more successful and fulfilling life if you choose to hang out with people who are positive and uplifting.
According to a Harvard study that went for 80 years, they found that our closest relationships may have a significant overall impact on our happiness in our life.
It’s fairly simple to work out who you should spend time with.
Ask yourself these 2 questions:
1) Do they make you feel better after you spend time with them?
2) Do you feel more optimistic and positive about life after you spend time with them?
If you can answer yes to these questions, then that’s a good indicator that you should spend more time with them.
The bottom line is this:
If you spend time with people who are toxic and negative, then you might develop that attitude as well.
People who have a chronic negative mindset tend to take things personally because they believe that everything that happens to them is a personal attack on themselves.
6) Fill up your calendar.
If you really want to stop taking things personally and get on with your life, be too busy to care about what others think of you.
Go out and do you and enjoy every minute of your life. That’s what really happy people do and they don’t care how others perceive them.
Get out and get busy living instead of worrying about what people think you are doing.
One of the best ways to get busy is to have a purpose in your life. Set some goals.
At Hack Spirit, we often get asked about goal-setting, and we’ve found that people get consistent results from using the acronym SMART to set their goals,
You’ve probably heard of this acronym before. It’s popular because it works.
Here’s what it means.
Specific: Your goals must be clear and well-defined.
Measurable: Label precise amounts and dates. For example, if you want to reduce expenses, what amount do you want to reduce them to?
Attainable: Your goals have to be achievable. If they’re too difficult, you’ll lose motivation.
Relevant: Your goals should be aligned with where you want to get to and what you want to do.
Time-bound: Set yourself a deadline for your goals. Deadlines force you to get things done, and not procrastinate.
Another tip we give is to write down your goals. Don’t just rely on your brain to remember your goals.
Physically write down each goal, no matter how small it is. Putting a line through your goal will give you the motivation to keep going.
The next step is to make an action plan so you achieve your goals.
You’re not going to achieve your big goals in a day. You need to write out individual steps to get there. Cross them off as you complete them to give you more motivation.
[If you’re looking for a structured, easy-to-follow framework to help you find your purpose in life and achieve your goals, check our eBook on how to be your own life coach here].
7) Decide what the relationship is worth in the grand scheme of things.
When you feel offended by something someone said to you, stop and think about what the relationship means to you.
If this person is not important to you and your well being, you can let it go and stop seeing value in it that isn’t there.
It might take some practice, but you can overcome the sense of obligation to whatever it is that this person said to you.
For some reason, you put a lot of stock in their opinion, but you can let it go if you decide that what they think of you is not as important as you once thought.
8) Put yourself in their shoes.
If someone says something that offends you, rather than react to their words, you can try to see things from their perspective.
If they’ve offended you, you can think about where they might be coming from or what might have happened to cause them to act in such a way.
Rather than blaming them for how you are feeling, try thinking about how they are feeling. This doesn’t always help to remove your anger or offense, but it will help you see the situation from a different perspective.
Empathy can go a long way when you are feeling attacked or threatened by someone else.
Barbara Markway Ph.D. offers some great advice in Psychology Today. She advises repeating the mantra “just like me”. Here’s why:
“When I feel critical of someone, I try to remind myself that the other person loves their family just like I do, and wants to be happy and free of suffering, just like I do. Most important, that person makes mistakes, just like I do.”
9) Don’t assume anything about the other person.
We often jump to conclusions about people who offend us or make us feel bad about ourselves, but it’s important that you don’t make any assumptions about another person.
What people say and do almost never have anything to do with the way you are acting or the things you are saying and they have everything to do with how those people are feeling about themselves at the time of the conversation.
People who feel like crap will treat other people like crap.
People who have experienced loss will want you to experience loss. They’ll say and do things to make you feel what they feel.
And when we make assumptions and judgments about others, we’re often wrong.
According to a study in the Journal of Personality and Psychology, we’re pretty bad at understanding other people’s minds.
Researchers from the University of Chicago and Northeastern University in the US and Ben Gurion University in Israel conducted 25 different experiments with strangers, friends, and couples to assess the accuracy of insights into other’s thoughts, feelings, mental states, and attitudes.
Here is their conclusion as psychologist Tal Eyal told Quartz:
”We assume that another person thinks or feels about things as we do, when in fact they often do not. So we often use our own perspective to understand other people, but our perspective is often very different from the other person’s perspective.”
So when you make a judgment that someone is attacking you personally, you’re most likely wrong.
Eyal says that the only way to find out what’s going on inside someone’s mind and their motivations for acting is to ask them, rather than guess.
10) Take your reactions to another location.
When someone says something or does something that makes you feel angry, it’s important that you don’t react right away.
Give yourself some time to figure out your own feelings and position on the situation before you react.
This can save you a lot of heartache and disappointment if your reactions just spur on the other person some more.
Giving yourself time to walk away with your thoughts may prevent you from saying or doing something you’ll regret.
Remember, they might have said something that ticked you off, but you were the one who got ticked off.
They can’t actually make you feel or react a certain way. That’s a hard lesson we all need to learn from time to time.
When you feel angry, take a step back, breathe in and try to release the tension. Acting out in anger will rarely achieve anything.
Here’s how Thich Nhat Hanh recommends practicing “awareness of the body”:
“Breathing in, I’m aware of my body. When you practice mindful breathing, the quality of your in-breath and out-breath will be improved. There is more peace and harmony in your breathing, and if you continue to practice like that, the peace and the harmony will penetrate into the body, and the body will profit.”
“So next time you’re stopped at a red light, you might like to sit back and practice the fourth exercise: “Breathing in, I’m aware of my body. Breathing out, I release the tension in my body.” Peace is possible at that moment, and it can be practiced many times a day—in the workplace, while you are driving, while you are cooking, while you are doing the dishes, while you are watering the vegetable garden. It is always possible to practice releasing the tension in yourself.”
11) Respond on your own time.
When you are ready, and you’ve done your due diligence on how you want to react, take your case to the person you made you feel angry.
In these cases, it’s not so much about you taking things personally as it is about acknowledging how the relationship means to you.
If they are an important person to you, you’ll want them to know they hurt you in some way and you’ll want to make sure you are better able to manage expectations between the two of you in the future.
Say what needs to be said for yourself and you can feel good about not reacting in the moment.