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How not to take everything to heart

In this article, I would like to share life-hacks from a referee with you. In particular, we’ll talk about the unexpected cause of our grievances, and also, we’ll analyze how to efficiently respond to the negative aimed at you. Frederik Imbo is a football referee. He, like no one else, knows what insults are. However, Frederik has learned not to take them personally.

In 2019, Frederik Imbo decided to become a football referee. Not for the money, he only gets 20 euros per match. He’s doing it for two reasons:

Firstly, such work allows him to stay in good physical condition. Secondly, Frederik wanted to learn not to take things personally. The profession of referee is ideal for this. You’ll never hear the audience chanting "Well done referee!". No, the referee is usually insulted and not only by the fans, but also by the players. Have you ever had a situation when someone cancelled a meeting with you at the last moment which made you start to think that something was wrong with you? Imagine that you invite a friend to go to the cinema and they refuse to go, referring to the fact that they need to study or work. But then on Instagram you see that they went to meet other friends. Or for example, you talk about a difficult day to a close person, and they’re going to another room and turn on the TV. Many of us will feel hurt, forgotten, insulted or betrayed – this is our ego. It believes that others should take a closer look at us, and our ego doesn’t accept any criticism. We blame other people for our feelings. We shift our responsibility for our mood to them. The ego forces us to want to be right all the time, but that is debilitating. Frederik says that when his ego takes over him, he’s in a constant struggle with the rest of the world all day and it drains his energy. But if we knew how not to take everything personally, we would have more sense of freedom. Other people wouldn’t have such power over us. And the extra energy could be directed to something positive. The question arises: "do you want to be right or to be happy?".

If you choose to be happy, then let's move on to strategies that will allow you not to take everything personally. The first strategy: “it's not about me”. For example, you’re speaking in front of the audience, and you see how a person is fascinated by the phone and not by your presentation. The automatic reaction is that you’ll feel insulted. "How is it that I've been talking for so long, and my work is not respected?". At this moment, we think only of ourselves. But what if you try to look at it from another person's point of view. Why is he or she looking at his phone? Perhaps they received an important message that they had been waiting for a long time, or maybe they are not so interested in the topic of the speech, or they might be so interested that they even take notes on their smartphones? The first strategy proposes to shift from itself to us. Replace me with us. If we try to see the other's intentions, we make room for understanding, not irritation.

For example, when a parent puts a child to sleep, but they don’t want to go to sleep. The kid starts to scream "I hate you!". In such a situation, parents rarely take these words personally. Why? Because they understand that it's not about them, it's about the desire of the child. The kid is angry, because they don't want to go to bed. That’s all. Look at the intentions of the other people. Yes, it all sounds simple, but of course life is more complicated.

How many thoughts do you think our brain produces every day? Fifty thousand. How many of them are positive? About ten thousand. Eighty percent of what we think is negative thoughts. For example, you see how two of your friends or employees are talking. They look at you and start laughing. What do you think firstly? That they like your shoes and want the same ones for themselves? Or that they gossip about you, laugh at you? It takes a lot of strength in life to stop for that moment and say to yourself: "Stop, I have no idea what they're talking about." They can laugh at something that has nothing to do with me.

Not taking things personally – it is a permanent job. It takes discipline and practice. Frederik trains his brain for an hour and a half a week during the entire football match. Before the game, he says to himself: "Frederik, be ready during the match. You’ll make decisions that some won’t agree with. And they’ll probably shout unpleasant words. Don't take them personally. They just want to be right. They just want their team to win, that's all".

Then Frederik focuses on the intentions of other people, he no longer needs to take everything to heart. But some words can really hurt. For example, Frederic is yelled at by the coach of one of the teams that he’s a loser and he should find another hobby, such as fishing, for himself. And the fact is that Frederik sometimes feels like a loser, a failure. “What if the coach is right? And what to do then? What to do when the previous "it's not about me" strategy doesn't work?”. There is only one explanation for this. If "it's not about me" doesn't work, then it's really about me. Frederik has never really played football and he’s just starting to work as a referee. Those words hurt him, because he’s not 100 percent sure of himself. And here we come to an unexpected cause of resentment. If I call you an orange, will it hurt you? Hardly, you know for sure that you’re not an orange and this word in your direction sounds absurd. But if you’re called arrogant or narcissistic? It could hurt a lot more. Why? Because somewhere in the depths of the soul, we know that the speaker is right about something. It's all about low self-esteem. It often comes from childhood, when you lacked support and even your relatives criticized you. You subconsciously believe that you deserve these hurtful words, which is why they cause hurtful emotions. Perhaps, as a child, you were criticized more often than supported. You brought a B home, and your parents were scolded, because this is not the maximum score. We take something to heart only when it somehow touches a sore point. And this is the time to give yourself support.

This is the second strategy: "become compassionate to yourself". Admit that you’re in pain. And then you can speak up.

Like in that situation when you talk about a difficult day to a close person, and they go into another room and turn on the TV. In such cases say, "Hey, I'm telling you about my day and you're leaving to turn on the TV. You seem not to care about what I'm telling you. That's not respectful". Now there is an important thought. By opening up to the other person, becoming vulnerable and talking about your feelings, you increase the likelihood that the other will understand you and take your needs into account. But at the same time, you shouldn’t blame the person, you should understand the following point: "Any negative, even the transition to personalities, doesn’t describe you, but the feelings of the speaker". If a teacher or boss calls you an idiot, it doesn’t mean that you’re really an idiot. They’re probably worrying about their problems. It’s their way of saying: “I’m upset”, but they just couldn’t choose the right words. It’s difficult for the offender to restrain themselves and analyze their feelings. It’s easier to splash out and switch, for example to you. Just start with yourself. From your feelings and facts. Here is the formula for an adequate response: describe your feelings + add a fact + offer a solution to the situation.

Let's summarize how not to take everything to heart. Firstly: "It's not about me". Look at the intentions of another person. If it doesn't work, then it's really about you. In such cases, show yourself compassion and talk to the person who offended you. Choose whether to be happy or be right forever?

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