THE ROAD AHEAD CAFE PODCAST
EPISODE 04: BEHIND THE WORDS
“Don’t take anything personally”
Welcome to THE ROAD AHEAD CAFE. Today we’re so excited to be talking about a quote--I know that a lot of you love this segment of our show -- “Don’t take anything personally.”
Many of you have heard this said in different ways, and now I’ll turn it over to Peter. Peter, what do you have to share about this?
Peter M Fellows:
Peter M Fellows, here. Author of an upcoming book, on Mindful Pathfinding, the new American Mindfulness
It’s really good to be back with you guys out there, listening to us. What have you guys been doing all week? We have a great episode for you. Rick and Frank are locked and loaded (in a spiritual way, of course) ready to help me share with you some incredibly empowering, some new, deep, insights. So, today our segment is called BEHIND THE WORDS. The words, this notable quotable that Rick has told you,
“Don’t take anything personally.”
You’ve seen this type of thing everywhere, quotations are popping up on social media. You must have asked yourself, “It sounds great, but what does this meme mean?”
We’re here to enlighten you on that, and that’s what we’re going to do today. Not only will I explain everything about it, I’ll also thoroughly annoy you by telling you that it’s really easy to stop taking things personally.
So, don’t touch that dial because I have three surprises for you ahead.
Back to you, Rick.
Great job, Peter.
Frank, what do you think about this? I know that we’ve talked about this before. I'd love to hear what you have to say.
Frank van den Horst:
Well, I think it’s a very interesting topic: “Don’t take things personally.” You know you easily take things personally. I remember when I studied at the university, I studied pedagogy and juvenile delinquency. One time into my study, I was assigned to a police unit for three weeks just to see how they dealt with situations. It was one of the most fascinating moments in my study. I went to juvenile delinquency settings and detention centers and talked to parents about whatever happened. Of course, those police agents, the officers, they were yelled at and so on.
Afterwards, I asked them [the officers], “How can you deal with that? How can you not take this personally?”
One said, “Well, Frank, there’s only one solution for that. When I put on my uniform in the morning, I know people will be looking at me and they start to talk to me, they start to talk to my uniform. I don’t take it personally. When I’m at the end of my shift, I take off my uniform, and I just go on the street and nobody will recognize me as a police officer. So, my uniform somehow, is my shield. I don’t take it personally because they’re talking to me as a police officer.”
That was an interesting story and made me realize that not taking something personally can be quite easy. But I will go over that subject later on. Not everybody is wearing a uniform every day, but anyways, I think this might be an interesting thing to remember.
Thank you, Frank.
One of the most important realizations in my life was when I first read this in THE FOUR AGREEMENTS and I really started to think about it. It’s a book, twenty years old.
I've been on this spiritual journey, it seems like 25 to 30 years. I really thought this was important because we’re pre-programmed to please others. I remember as a young kid hearing this phrase all the time, “Be a good boy, Ricky.” Not only my mother, my father, my grandparents--they were just always saying, “Be a good boy,” so I was always programmed to please other people.
Of course, when you didn’t do the right thing and then you either got reprimanded or judged or criticized in some way, then you were set up to take things personally.
But I remember a story: everybody loves recognition. This is kind of a challenge because I was in sales most of my life and I remember developing awards programs or even being up for different awards. In the sales business, they’re always trying to motivate us with incentives. But recognition is one of the biggest things. If you become recognition hungry, which so many of us are, we’re programmed for that. That’s the main incentive, is being recognized, then we’re setting ourselves up to take things personally.
I can remember, it feels like you’re creating a black hole almost because we need constant approval. It’s like a personal prison. So, that’s my view on this and why we really need to take a look at this closely.
Peter, what are your thoughts on this?
Peter M Fellows:
Well, I promised you three surprises. Take notes now because there will be a test later.
Suprise number one:
What I found in writing my book on Mindful Pathfinding, you don’t take it personally. You don’t take it personally. Your brain takes it personally.
In my book, I call your brain, the pilot, because it’s at the controls. I call your deeper non-conscious self, Pathfinder, because that’s your personal GPS to get you maximum fulfillment in life.
So, the reason your brain takes things personally is because it’s always freaking out about anything that it thinks threatens your self-worth. It’s a little sad, and it really messes up life for you because being offended constantly is exhausting, is wearing. But you can do something about it and I will tell you about that in a bit.
Just remember that your brain cannot help the way it got wired. So, you don’t blame your brain. But you can help it. Remember too, that your brain is just trying to protect your self-worth. No matter how misguided it is, its intentions are good.
Surprise number two:
Your brain has a double standard. You’ve probably seen this. “I have every right to take what you said personally.”
But then you switch it around: “You don’t have any right to take what I said personally.”
Why do we do that? Because your pilot believes that the other person is spiteful, horrid, mean-spirited, but we’re nothing but flowers and rainbows. We would never say a horrible thing or even have a harmful thought in our mind, right?
So, on the highway, when someone pulls over rather quickly in front of you, they’re an idiot. But when you pull in front of somebody rather quickly, you had a reason for that. There was a reason for it. So there’s a double standard going on there, that’s kind of fun to know it happens.
Surprise number three:
How do you stop taking things personally: stop trying.
As I explain in the book, the power of mindfulness works by doing nothng. So, when you feel that sting from some slight delivered by the wiener in the next office, and you notice your brain rushing to think of a snappy comeback, just interrupt and say [to your brain] something like, “Well, thank you for caring for me, for coming to my rescue. How can I maximize fulfillment here?”
And then you just see what comes up.
You do nothing, you don’t try to control your feelings. You don’t try to manage them, you just see what comes up.
The first thing that comes up is probably your brain saying something else negative which is fine. That’s okay, because that’s your brain. He’s used to going to himself or herself first, then you can interrupt that and simply say, “That’s great. What else comes up?”
What happens is you begin to reconnect to that source of guidance, your inner GPS, your Pathfinder, your deeper non-conscious mind. Pretty soon you get feelings or you get thoughts or you get something--and it’s different for everyone, so I don’t know what it will be for you--that moves you towards having no response when someone says something which could be taken as a ‘slight.’
They have said in the past--wiser people than me--that when somebody said something ‘mean’ to you, they’re really simply introducing you to their insecurity. They wanted you to meet, so they said something mean.
So, ask yourself this: how will I feel today if nothing anyone says or does causes me offense? How will I feel?
You’ll feel good.
That’s great stuff, Peter. I wrote some great notes here. Terrific insights.
Frank, what do you think about this? As I was listening to Peter, I was thinking I can’t wait to hear what Frank has to say about this.
Frank van den Hurst:
Yeah, I’m a change facilitator at my own company, Frankwise.nl. In Dutch, we have a saying which refers actually to don’t take it so personally, we say, “Waarom trek je het jezelf zo persoonlijk aan?” Why do you attract it to you personally? The word -- aantrekken -- means to pull you.
It’s interesting what happens. You start to own what someone else says. That’s the one thing. But the problem is that you start to incorporate it, you start to accept it as a kind of truth.
That’s for two reasons, if you look at social psychology. You don’t want to be left out, FOMO, the Fear Of Missing Out, not being part of the group, not being accepted, is very important.
If you look at your childhood, you were not invited to the ball game, or to the birthday party, and so on. You didn’t feel like someone who was appreciated. It is deeply ingrained in our system because, as very small kids, we were really tough on each other. So, it has to do with group-thinking and it has to do with the feeling of being excluded, of missing out. But there’s a solution for that.
The first thing is what I learned from my parents. My father was a professor of psychology at the University of Amsterdam, and when I would begin to argue with my sister, he would say, “Okay, we will count to ten, because you’re going to get aggressive and you don’t want to be calling each other names.”
As kids we were not always that easy, of course. So, he would start to count to ten out loud, “One, two, three, four...” and then we knew, he was thinking we were about to start arguing, we immediately started to think about what we had said. We knew that we had said something he probably didn’t approve of. So, that was an interesting thing.
He didn’t blame us, he said, “Okay, Frank, why do you say that to your sister?” or “Okay, Marleen (my sister), “why do you say that to Frank?”
And then he started to discuss that with us. Of course, at a certain age you cannot do that but when you grow older you can think, you can reflect, and so on. That was a very interesting thing because the counting from one to ten and asking the question are two things I learned as a kid to do. That’s a very important one.
And the other thing I want to give you as an idea, is that the moment you feel that someone is accusing you (because it is a fight-or-flight system) what happens?
Either flight, you shut up, or you’re going to fight.
[Instead] you [can] become the observer.
Ask yourself the question (which I mentioned in another podcast): “What is happening here? What is happening to me?”
Asking this question is another way to count to ten. What it does is it takes you off the track of reacting [and on]to the track of responding.
Responding is the ability to find the answer inside of you. But it takes practice. The practice of pausing for a moment, and keeping silent for a moment will help tremendously.
When you do that, then you will see that the emotions will lower, the anxiety will lower, and then you are able to ‘not react.’ But the ability to respond will emerge in its own time. It may take some practice to do that. That’s a wonderful technique and it will help you certainly.
Wow. We’re going to have to buy some cheap microphones, so that we can drop them after you guys talk because we got some mic drops here. Again I’m writing furiously here!
Nothing anyone says is my business, right? Why is everything you think and say my business? I’m not in charge of thinking about, and processing what everybody else says and thinks?
We never really were told that. But for some reason, what both of you said backs up the fact that we’re always going to think like that and feel like that. Seeing through our own lens is the key to both of your insights today.
My own thoughts, even in this case, I can’t take personally because sometimes when we have negative self-talk, we may end up taking something personally that we’re saying.
There’s that popular quote,
“I’m only hearing two recordings in my head, “I’m not good enough,” and then when I succeed, “Who do I think I am?”
So, I can’t take either one of those things personally.
All these ideas and thoughts, they reside at the level of the ego. As you mentioned, Peter, the brain is the pilot, so we’ve got to try to deal with that and work with that pilot.
I think that what you guys said today really led me to think suffering can vanish if we practice these skills. I love these techniques.
You made me think, Peter, when you were talking about the famous George Carlin’s piece when someone’s on the highway. They’re driving, one is--I’m not going to use the words--but the crazy person and then when you have to be like that, you have a perfect excuse for doing it.
I love doing nothing, so that was terrific. Introducting them to their own insecurities. This is some good stuff.
I have a story. I remember one time when I came back into the sales department. My first boss out of the family business, Al Kirchner. I was in the copier business. I came back to the office, I was all excited, I had my order in my hand, and, “Hey Al, look, I got this order!”
“Kid,” he said, “Just don’t forget this: we’re all peddlers, kid. We’re all peddlers.”
He kind of brought me down and said, “Just remember, when we’re going out there selling this stuff,” in other words, don’t take it personally, right, that you succeeded. So, when you fail, you’re not going to be disappointed.
He taught me to do the work and forget about the outcome. I think that when we let go of what people think about us, it’s probably one of the biggest doorways to getting what we want and getting out of that prison, getting out of that place where we get stuck wanting others’ approval.
I think this is terrific tool for transformation. I know that you guys mentioned a couple of things that you’re working on. I would say for people to check out my book, THE CURRENCY OF CONNECTION. My wife and I just put it out last year. It’s got a lot of great stuff about the energy involved here.
Peter, do you want to make a couple of closing comments before we wrap up?
Peter M Fellows:
I think you brought up a really important point, Rick.
The phrase don’t take anything personally sometimes is thought of as, “When somebody says something don’t feel bad.”
But it’s the reverse too. When someone says how clever you are and how great you are, you don’t that personally because if you get a hundred people, fifty will say you’re a saint, fifty will say you’re a sinner. Nothing someone says or does detracts from your self-worth, but nothing someone says or does can add to your self-worth.
We just need to remember that we never know the backstory for someone. We don’t know what’s gone on in their life, what went on today to make them say the things that they said. So, we can only notice our response, our brain’s reaction (or the ego’s reaction).
Accept it and say, “What else comes up when we ask how we can maximize fulfillment here?” Maximizing fulfilment for everyone who’s involved.
And that, I think, would be what I’d have to say...last word of the day.
Great stuff, thank you. Frank, what do you think?
Frank van den Horst:
Next [time] you post something on social media, don’t keep looking to see if you got ‘likes.’ Don’t worry about that and you will gradually build up the whole idea of ‘don’t take it personally.’
Whether you get thumbs up or thumbs down, what Rick says is completely right: Don’t take it personally.
Be authentic, tell your story with the intention you want to say it, and people will react because they react, they respond in their own way. Focus on what you want to tell, believe in what you want to tell, and don’t wait for reactions.
Well, you just pushed my buttons because I’m thinking, here I am, I’m going to make a post and I’m just waiting for that first like, and that first comment, and that share. We’re so attached to the outcome, so these things are challenging and they do feed right back into that prison.
So, good stuff. You guys were both brilliant again today. We’re so happy to have you. Thanks for joining us today at THE ROAD AHEAD CAFE, and we’ll see you next time.
BEHIND THE WORDS
“Don’t take anything personally”