Do you know what the #1 cause of conflict in any relationship is? Whether it’s professional or personal, family or romantic, it’s always the same:

It’s taking shit personally. And by “shit” I mean “someone else’s thoughts, feelings, or actions.”

We all do this, all the time, without even thinking about it. We assume that what someone else says to us means something about us. We assume that how someone else acts in relation to us has something to do with us. We assume that someone else’s feelings about us are a reflection of how we’ve acted or what kind of person we are.

Imagine you have a boss who yells at you when he thinks you’ve made a mistake. When he yells, you feel anxious or ashamed. You’re thinking something like “He doesn’t like me or respect me,” or “He thinks I’m dumb,” or “I’ve let him down.”

Or consider what it feels like when you sleep with someone, and you’d like to see them again, but they pull a slow fade on you. Your brain starts to spin: “What did I do wrong? Am I not skinny enough? Did I talk too much? Was I too needy? Was I bad in bed?”

What these two scenarios have in common is that you are taking someone else’s behavior personally. You are making it mean something about you. You are assuming that the way someone else acts is a direct reflection of how they feel about you, and that how they feel about you is a direct reflection of your worth, value, or self.

Let me show you the difference. Let’s take each of these examples and see what a person might think who was committed to NOT taking other people’s behavior personally.

Scenario 1: Your boss yells at you. But instead of thinking it means he hates you or you’ve screwed up, you simply think “He has yelled at every associate he’s ever worked with,” or “Yelling is how he communicates,” or “This is just the volume his voice is at right now.”

Scenario 2: Someone ghosts on you after you’ve slept with them. But instead of cataloging your many flaws and faults and despairing about your ability to find love, you think “People ghost because they feel uncomfortable for some reason and don’t know how to express it,” or “This person has probably ghosted 10 other people this year, it has nothing to do with me,” or “This is just how this person rolls—they have sex and then ghost. That’s just their M.O.”

See the difference? When you believe that someone else’s behavior means something about you, it feels terrible. But when you recognize that other people’s behavior is about THEM, not about you, you feel free.

Remember, thoughts > feelings > actions. Your thoughts create your feelings. Your feelings drive your actions.

And that’s true for other people too.

Their thoughts cause their feelings. Not you. Their feelings cause their actions. Not you.

And their thoughts are created by all the same infinite sources and influences that cause your thoughts. Their history, family, social conditioning, work experience, education, friends, romantic life, the books they’ve read, the therapy they’ve had, the way they came out wired from the womb. There are so many complicated forces that go into shaping someone’s thoughts—and you can’t control any of them.

You are always just a neutral circumstance about which other people have a thought, and that thought produces their feeling and motivates their action. If I asked you if you could control which neurons fire in someone’s brain and when, you’d say no. And you’d be right.