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Why You Should Never Take Anything Personally

In 2008, some researchers at Yale University conducted a study to determine how our unconscious minds affect our perceptions of the world.

The researchers gave participants in the study a description of a person to read. Everyone got the same description. After reading, the participants were asked if they liked the person or not.

Seems straightforward, but there was a little twist.

When the participants were in the elevator that would take them to the lab, a researcher had in one hand, some papers, and in the other hand, either an iced coffee or a warm coffee. The researcher would ask the participant to hold the coffee for a moment as they wrote down the participant’s name and time of participation. The participant would hold the coffee for 10 to 25 seconds. After that, they were escorted to the lab.

If a participant held a warm coffee, they would form a significantly more positive impression of the person they read about. If they held the iced coffee, they formed a significantly more negative impression of the person they read about.

In this and other studies, it turns out physical warmth or coldness can result in social warmth or coldness.


Due to a little walnut shaped thingy hidden deep within your brain called the Human Insula. Sorry, I wasn’t able to find a good picture of it, so here’s a picture of a walnut.

This little walnut becomes active when you’re holding something warm. And it becomes active in the same way when you’re texting people you love. It becomes active when you hold something cold. And it becomes active in the same way when you’re thinking about people who have betrayed you.

For some reason, warm and love, and cold and dislike/rejection are wired together. It works in reverse too. Your body temperature goes up when you feel loved and included. It goes down when you feel disliked or rejected.

It’s hard to imagine that something as insignificant as holding a warm coffee for 10 seconds can change someone’s opinion upon meeting you. It makes you wonder what other factors are at play? Did cold things happen? Did that person have a fight with their wife that morning? Did someone cut them off on the drive to work? Or did warm things happen? Did they get chosen for a special project? Did their boss give them an atta girl?

Or is the office air conditioner set just a little too cold that day?

The second of Don Miguel Ruiz’s Four Agreements is “Don’t Take Anything Personally”. Jeez, he got that right.

“Nothing other people do is because of you. It’s because of themselves. All people live in their own dream, in their own mind; they are in a completely different world from the one we live in. when we take something personally, we make the assumption that they know what is in our world, and we try to impose our world on their world.”

So, what’s a person to do?

Well for starters, remember that someone else’s opinion of you is none of your business. They’ve got a whole thing going on in the little walnut part of their brains that has nothing to do with you.

And then do your best. Be kind. And whenever possible, buy the people in your life a warm beverage.

The Unstuck Leader book is now available.
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