Stop Making Things Personal

Jan 30, 2023

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There is a big difference between doing and being. For example, you can experience anger but not be an angry person. You can make a bad decision but not be a bad person. You can fail but not be a failure. When we make decisions and emotions mean something is wrong with us, personally, that those somehow define who we are, we only make it worse. And we make something personal that probably actually isn’t.

Of course, I’m not suggesting we don’t take responsibility for our choices and our actions. But I am suggesting we maybe don’t personalize them so deeply. That we don’t assign meaning and character traits that aren't really there. When we don’t personalize things that aren’t personal, we eliminate the pile-on of more negative emotions, freeing us to examine ourselves, to grow and to change.

“When you personalize it, you make it mean something more pervasive and more permanent about yourself… That’s gonna be so much worse. Right? That’s gonna be such a bigger deal, and have so many more repercussions for you.” – Dr. Sara Dill

What You’ll Learn

  • Difference between doing and being
  • Adjust your perception
  • Pile-on prevents growth and change
  • Catch yourself challenge

Contact Info and Recommended Resources

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I'm Dr. Sarah Dill, and this is the Stressless Physician Podcast, episode number 51.

Welcome to the Stress Less Physician Podcast. I'm your host, Dr. Sara Dill, MD. Using my unique combination of coaching and mindfulness tools, I will teach you practical ways to reduce your stress level, feel happier at work, and create a better balance between your medical career and personal life. If you are a busy practicing physician who wants to design a life and medical career that feel good to you, you are in the right place.

Hey everyone. Welcome back to the podcast. I hope you can't hear my puppy working on his bone in the background. I tried to kick him out, but he is in sort of a barky mood lately. So I've appeased him with a little treat that he loves and he is hanging out with me as I record this.

So today I wanted to talk about something that I've been thinking about a little and just noticing in some of my clients and then also just noticing in friends, quite honestly. And this is this idea, it's similar and yet distinct from what I've talked about before. In the past I know, and last week I talked about this as well, is how not to take something personally. How not taking things personally can give us so much more space to decide how do we wanna respond to things rather than reacting.

What I wanna talk to you all about today is how not to make things personal. And I think this is an important distinction because what I notice is how often so many of us make things about us or make things mean something about us. And so for an example, this is the difference between doing something wrong and being wrong. This is the difference between failing at something and being a failure. When you personalize it, you make it mean something more pervasive and more permanent about yourself. What it tends to do is then make it a whole lot more risky to then try stuff. Because if, when you try something new or you try to achieve a result and you aren't successful, if you then make it mean that you not only failed at achieving your goal, but that you are a failure, that's gonna be so much worse. That's gonna be such a bigger deal and have so many more repercussions for you.

So this is also the difference between being angry and feeling angry. So a different way to say that would be to describe yourself as a person who's currently feeling the emotion of anger versus describing yourself as being an angry person. So I hear people say, "Oh, I'm, I'm an angry person". Which again, tends to personalize something that doesn't have to be personalized. You could be someone who feels a lot of anger, quite frequently, but that's very different. And you'll notice how it might feel different than saying, "I am an angry person", or "I am angry", even.

And so I just want you to check in with yourself. Is this something that you tend to do? Do you tend to personalize things that don't necessarily need personalization? Do you make things mean something about you as a person? And so the reason I think this is important is that when we make things like failing to achieve a result or showing up in a way we don't like, or when we make things like making mistakes or feeling intense emotions, when we make that mean that we are wrong, or that we are a mistake, we personalize something that isn't really personal, we make it mean that there's something wrong with us.

And what we're doing then is we typically add self-judgment, self-criticism, and shame to whatever other negative emotions we are already feeling, like disappointment or something else. That self-judgment and shame then make us much less likely to be able to change or to grow. Because who wants to spend more time looking at and investigating what happened?

When we feel shame and when we feel self-criticism and judgment about ourselves. When that happens, we tend to turn away. We tend to ignore it. We wanna hide it, right? Because we're ashamed about it. We're making it mean that there's something wrong with us, not just that we didn't achieve a certain goal. So we don't wanna investigate it, and then we don't learn. We don't assess what went wrong or why we did what we did. And then, at least in my own experience - and again, I would say check in with your own experience - we're more likely to keep repeating the same pattern.

I know in a lot of previous podcasts and when I work with people, I'm always helping them get to a place of curiosity and openness. When we investigate things, I like to compare it to being an anthropologist or being a biologist and observing with curiosity and interest, whatever you're observe. So when we wanna do this work, when we wanna change our results or change how we show up, maybe we wanna change how often we feel anger or how we react or respond to our anger, and it's way easier to do that if you approach it with a sense of curiosity and interest, without shame, without self-judgment, without self-criticism.

And the way to do that is not to make things personal that aren't personal. Feeling like a bad person does not make us act better. Feeling like a bad person doesn't make us act like a good person. It makes us feel terrible, and then we find more evidence for why we are wrong, right? Not only did we do something wrong, perhaps, but we're making us wrong. And so again, I would just ask yourself the question; What if this is not personal? What if we can make a mistake or fail at achieving something, and it doesn't mean anything about us as a person ?

What would be different in your life? Would you be more likely to take risks? Would you be more likely to try new things? Would you be more likely to forgive yourself maybe from failing to achieve a goal and move on and try again or try something different? What if doing something wrong or failing at something, or experiencing negative emotions or having thoughts that people can't hear because we have some judgment about them, what if that's just normal? What if that's just simply part of the human experience?

In my experience, my ability to forgive myself, to move on, to create lasting change and to really show up as a different person has been largely from the practice of not making it personal about me when I have a thought that I don't like, or when I'm experiencing a lot of negative emotion or when I'm showing up in ways that I would prefer not to. Because if I don't make it personal, then I am much more likely to investigate with curiosity, to analyze, to coach myself, or to get coaching, to reach out for help with things. When we make it personal, again, we're much more likely to hide it, not to share it, to feel shame. And shame is often why we stay stuck and how we stay stuck and it feels terrible.

So I would love to challenge you to see if you can catch yourself if you are over personalizing things. If you are someone who tends to make things personal and make whatever it is in your life mean something negative about you. And the reason I would like to challenge you to catch yourself is also because I'd like you to consider what might be available to you if you stop doing this, right?

Are there some big goals you have or some dreams you have that you haven't been pursuing because you are worried about failing and not achieving? If you know that you won't hold yourself responsible and make yourself wrong as a person. would you be more likely to go after other things? Would you be more likely to try new stuff? It makes it a lot lighter. It makes things not so serious. Things are serious enough in life without our adding to it.

So what if you just decided, if you had an agreement with yourself, that no matter what you do, no matter what happens in your life, you aren't gonna make you wrong? You aren't gonna label yourself a failure. You're gonna start to differentiate between failing at something and being a failure between doing something wrong and being wrong. Try it out and see. I'd love to hear, I'm gonna keep this short and sweet, and I look forward to talking to you next week. Bye.

If you are a busy practicing physician, ready to start feeling less stressed, enjoy work more and learn how to create a more balanced and sustainable medical practice and life, sign up for a consult call with me at It would be my privilege and pleasure to work with you.

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