The Second Agreement: Don’t Take Anything Personally

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform summary of "The Four Agreements" by Don Miguel Ruiz. Shortform has the world's best summaries of books you should be reading.

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The second agreement sounds deceptively simple: “Don’t take anything personally.” But so many of us are sensitive and defensive, primed to ward off the negativity the world throws at us.

But as we begin to adopt the first agreement, “Be Impeccable With Your Word,” we become happier and more at peace, more in control. When we have more internal strength, taking on this second agreement becomes easier.

These first two agreements free you from many of the bad agreements that have been disrupting your life. After all, careless words combined with highly offended people will inevitably bring drama.

Bad Things Happen When We Take Things Personally

No good comes from taking things personally. In fact, it’s a chain reaction of bad:

Someone says something about you => You take it personally => You’re offended => You defend yourself and your position => You fire back something about the other person => The other person takes THAT personally, gets offended, and says something meaner =>…

It goes on and on. Does this remind you of any arguments you’ve had in the past?

When you take things personally, you can resent it and simmer for much more time than is appropriate. You also take what might otherwise be helpful advice and reject it out of anger.

How Do We Go About Not Taking Things Personally?

How do we refrain from taking things personally? Here’s the simple belief to put this into action: Any negative input is about the other person, not you.

Whenever someone says something to us or about us, pause and remember the following:

  • Nothing they think about you is really about you. It’s really about them.
  • If someone gets mad at you, they’re dealing with their own issues. When you accept someone else’s “emotional garbage,” it becomes yours. And you don’t need it.
  • Others see the world with different eyes. They have their own worldviews. You can choose to reject their worldview, since you have your own.
  • Everyone’s truth is their own.
  • When you take things personally, you suffer for nothing – and there’s already too much suffering in the world.

Here’s an example: Someone calls you ugly. This isn’t about you at all. It’s about the opinions and beliefs they have incorporated. Calling you ugly comes from their own wounds. If they were feeling great about life, they’d probably be calling you beautiful. They certainly wouldn’t take pleasure in putting you down.

And whether the other person calls you beautiful or ugly, their input about you is unimportant. The only thing that matters is how you feel about yourself. Whether it’s good or bad, just don’t accept others’ judgment of you.

And it’s not just other people’s opinions and judgments that are harmful; you shouldn’t even take your own opinions about yourself personally!

It gets crowded in our minds, dealing with the opinions of others and with our judgments of ourselves. It’s a real problem when our internal dialogue gets too loud, crowded, and negative. Our overcrowded mind becomes a giant marketplace of agreements that don’t all agree with each other; too many voices are speaking at once, clouding our thinking.

But each time we’re able to hear someone’s “insult” and not take it personally, a new process begins:

  • We start dismantling old agreements we unknowingly accepted.
  • We begin breaking down all the tiny agreements that bring us pain, such as “I’m not smart enough,” “I’m terrible at directions,” “There’s no way I can learn to drive.”
  • We start making order out of chaos.

Good Things Happen When We Don’t Take Things Personally

When you have the ability not to take things personally, here’s what happens:

  • You can’t be hurt by what others say or do, even if they’re lying. It’s about them, not you.
  • You become truthful with yourself, saving yourself from greater pain. Even if the truth hurts at first, healing is on the way.
  • Anger and jealousy disappear.
  • You become immune to the Black Magic power of others’ words. Words can’t hurt you.

When you’re immune to the careless comments and actions of others, your heart can open up, allowing you to be more vulnerable and open to love. You’re not afraid of being hurt by others, because you can’t be hurt by others.

When you don’t take anything personally, you are free to be happy with your life. You find it easy to create love. You are at peace.

The Second Agreement: Don’t Take Anything Personally

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Here's what you'll find in our full Four Agreements summary :

  • What the Four Agreements are, and how they'll make you happier with life
  • Why you need to take responsibility for your life, instead of blaming others
  • How to achieve breakthroughs in your life and shake off old habits

Allen Cheng

Allen Cheng is the founder of Shortform. He has a passion for non-fiction books (having read 200+ and counting) and is on a mission to make the world's best ideas more accessible to everyone. He reads broadly, covering a wide range of subjects including finance, management, health, and society. Allen graduated from Harvard University summa cum laude and attended medical training at the MD/PhD program at Harvard and MIT. Before Shortform, he co-founded PrepScholar, an online education company.

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