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Published on November 6, 2020

How to Be Humble Without Putting Yourself Down

How to Be Humble Without Putting Yourself Down

We receive all kinds of conflicting messages about humility: Be humble but confident; be modest but don’t put yourself down; don’t be too assertive but don’t be too deferential either. This is why many people are confused about how to be truly humble.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve spent my entire life being paranoid that I was being cocky every time I felt proud of myself, or I’ve thought I was being humble when really I was just beating myself up.

We know from every awards speech or leadership book that humility is a desirable quality in every leader. But how do you accomplish that without putting yourself down? What does being humble even mean? How we can be confident, empowered, and humble all at the same time?

Let’s settle the score once and for all. Read on to learn how to be humble without putting yourself down.

What Is Humility?

First off, a huge part of the confusion is we don’t actually understand what humility really means. The word “humility” can be traced back to Proto-Indo European roots meaning “from the earth.”[1]

It’s a recognition that we’re made up of the same minerals and chemicals as the earth beneath our feet—that we’re all part of a bigger cycle than our daily drama, aspirations, and achievements. It’s the recognition that no matter how much we achieve or create, we’ll all return to the earth one day and so will everyone else who’s ever lived or will ever live.

Every general, president, CEO, and artist in the history of the world is made up of the same stuff as each of us. They have the same human struggles. They’re no better or worse than we are, and we’re no better or worse than anyone else.

This is something Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius was acutely aware of. In Meditations, his printed journal, Aurelius declares:

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“Let the idea and knowledge of the certainty of death humble you.”

As arguably the most powerful person in the world at the time, Aurelius knew the importance of humility in remembering that he was “from the earth” and simply human. In fact, he is even rumored to have had a man follow him around and remind him, “you are just a man” to not let himself become disillusioned by his power.

Is It Humility or Low Self-Esteem?

We live in a world that’s constantly trying to evaluate our worth—convincing us that our lives will be more worthy if we make more money, write that book, build that business, get married, have children, or whatever else.

Truth be told, we may feel really called to do all of those things. But the harsh truth of life is that no matter how much we produce or achieve, we’ll still all return back to the same earth from which we’re made.

Humility is about radical acceptance. It’s about accepting our humanness, and with that comes accepting our skills and abilities alongside our fallibilities and challenges.

Low self-esteem is inaccurately viewing ourselves as less valuable and ignoring our value and contributions. Cockiness is inaccurately viewing ourselves as more valuable and inflating our achievements to pretend we have more value than other humans.

Both low self-esteem and cockiness are refusing to see or accept all of ourselves—whether it be our strengths or our fallibilities and need for support. But humility is knowing that, right now, we have all of the value we will ever have.

There’s nothing we can do to gain or lose value as a human. Everything we ever create or achieve is done in collaboration with the seen and unseen support all around us.

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From the roads we drive on to our personal mentors and cheerleaders or to our ability to stream the internet through our homes, no human being is accomplishing anything alone. We’re supported by and supporting so many others.

Humility is seeing and accepting all of that without downplaying any of it.

Downplaying or ignoring our accomplishments and strengths doesn’t make us humble. It makes us have low self-esteem and an inaccurate view of ourselves as less than others.

The Opposite of Humility

The real opposite of humility isn’t self-confidence. It’s hubris.

In ancient Greece, hubris meant “excessive pride toward or defiance of the gods.” Like Icarus flying too close to the sun, people who displayed hubris felt they were somehow above or more valuable than those “from the earth.” And that disillusionment often led to their own destruction.

But hubris didn’t just go away over 2,000 years ago. There are countless modern cases of people feeling “untouchable” and more valuable than others, from ruthless dictators and exploitive CEOs to reckless teenagers and arrogant celebrities.

In all honesty, we’ve all fallen victim to hubris at some point of another—bragging about our accomplishments, feeling we matter more for something we’ve achieved, feeling invincible, being a know-it-all, or judging others who don’t match our self-imposed standards.

But hubris isn’t really about confidence at all. If we really felt confident in who we were, we wouldn’t have to flaunt our accomplishments or pretend we did everything ourselves without support. True confidence creates humility because our self-worth has been internalized.

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Hubris Is About Shame

If humility is about radical acceptance of all of ourselves, then hubris is refusing to accept the parts we don’t like. It’s about refusing to see ourselves as sometimes wrong or imperfect.

Ironically, hubris is often associated with high levels of shame and self-doubt because we don’t feel worthy or good enough. Therefore, we feel the need to puff out our chests and overemphasize our accomplishments.[2]

In fact, research shows that individuals who are overly proud and hubristic tend to carry a lot of shame.[3]They find their self-worth in their accomplishments rather than an intrinsic sense of value. That means that hubristic self-worth is always conditional. If anything goes wrong—like losing a job or relationship—the external source of worth is gone, and the shame returns.[4]

Humility, on the other hand, is about internalized and unconditional self-worth because the self-worth is consistent regardless of the fluctuating external conditions in that person’s life. Nothing a person creates, achieves, or loses can increase or decrease their self-worth and, therefore, they don’t need to boast about it.

How Can You Be Humble Without Putting Yourself Down?

Be realistic and honest. Humility is simply about accurately accessing ourselves and internalizing our sense of self-worth. Remember that you are made up of the same materials as every single human who’s ever lived—no worse than the rich and powerful and no better than the underprivileged or sick.

And yet, at the same time, no one has ever existed exactly like you with your exact strengths, talents, abilities, sensitivities, fears, and insecurities. You contribute something unique to the world and the people around you that no one else ever could.

Holding that paradox of equal value to every other person and complete uniqueness is where humility exists. It is vulnerably looking at your strengths and fallibilities and being honest with yourself.

Try This Exercise

If you’re struggling to be humble without putting yourself down, try this exercise:

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  1. Grab a pen and piece of paper or open a new document on your computer.
  2. Write down 10 things that are amazing about yourself. It can be anything from your nice smile to a funny joke you made two years ago or to your ability to care for your children or even a recent accomplishment.
  3. Now, write down any resources that helped you get to those 10 amazing things. It could be as simple as “I get my great sense of humor from my mom” or “I was able to get that promotion with support from my coworkers.” Just take a moment to acknowledge all of the support that helped you become those 10 amazing things.
  4. Next, write down 10 things that are imperfect and human about yourself. These could include things from the past that you’ve since worked on—like “I used to really care what people thought”—or things you’re still working on—like “I sometimes get too invested in my work.”
  5. Finally, imagine a few people you really respect and admire (these could be celebrities or personal heroes), and take a moment to wonder if any of them have ever faced the imperfect things you’re working through. Chances are, it won’t be that hard to imagine that even the people you admire the most have some human traits.

That’s it. You can do this exercise any time you’re putting yourself down for being human or any time you’re forgetting that same humanness.

Being Humble Means Being Human

Humble isn’t the only word that comes from the root “from the earth”—so does the word “human.”[5] Being humble simply means being human—acknowledging all of our challenges and faults and imperfections right alongside our strengths and skills and abilities and accomplishments.

Being humble means the whole breadth of the human experience. It means being confident and proud alongside insecure and uncertain. It means that we always have more learning and growth to do and that we’re never as much of an expert on anyone else’s lives as they are, so we can trust their experiences, even if they look different than our own.

When we’re humble, we’re realistic. We’re not trying to overinflate ourselves to seem worthier or more important because we know that we already are worthy, no matter what we create or achieve.

Humility isn’t at odds with self-esteem. They’re on the same team. When we can really accept all of ourselves—including our fallibilities and challenges—that’s a sign of high self-esteem because we’re not afraid or ashamed of any part of ourselves.

We can accept our expertise, our limitations, and where we’ve received support and not be afraid of any of it. And that is humility—that is knowing how to be humble without putting ourselves down.

More Tips on How to Be Humble

Featured photo credit: Ben Hershey via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Online Etymology Dictionary: Humility
[2] Psychology Encyclopedia: Self-Conscious Emotions
[3] Association for Psychological Science: The Two Faces of Pride.
[4] F1000 Research: Hubris and Sciences
[5] Online Etymology Dictionary: Human

More by this author

Mike Iamele

Mike Iamele is a writer, life purpose expert, and brand strategist who helps people map their sensitivities to discover their purpose.

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Last Updated on November 13, 2020

10 Habits To Cultivate To Attract Positivity in Life

10 Habits To Cultivate To Attract Positivity in Life

If you want to attract positivity in life, you have to become that which you seek—positive. Positivity doesn’t mean that everything is perfect. Instead, it means that you find the good no matter what. You wake up thinking each morning is a miracle, and you interact with everyone with love and light.

Positivity means having an optimistic attitude. When you have this, you step forward in confidence in anything you do. You see possibilities, not problems. You see opportunities, not obstacles.

Positivity has its benefits, too. According to Mayo Clinic, it largely has to do with stress management, reduction of depression, and increasing life span. You will cope better, be more prone to live healthier, and come out stronger from any situation.[1]

But sometimes, it is easy to find yourself feeling negative if things don’t go your way. Positivity doesn’t downplay the hardships of life. Instead, it helps you build resilience and bring up others around you. When you are positive, you are saying “yes” to life and receiving so much more than you would have otherwise.

Positivity in life starts in your mind. Think positive thoughts, and you will attract positive energy. Breathe in the possibilities and positivity, and breathe out the limitations you perceive you have. Then, you will find yourself a new person.

Here are 10 ways you can attract positivity in your life.

1. Give

Giving makes you happy and healthy, according to the Greater Good Magazine. It is also highly contagious![2] What you give, you get back.

There are many ways you can give. You can support someone, reach out, listen, be kind, choose to show up for something you believe in, care about a cause, make a difference in some way, donate, teach, change a life, give a compliment, lead others, spread awareness, and motivate others to do good.

Giving is about anything that you can do to make someone’s life easier or reduce an ailment experienced by many. By giving in any way, you can find positivity everywhere because you are taking part in creating it. Change the world.

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2. Believe in Yourself

If you don’t believe in yourself, who will? Start to see your good qualities and attributes, even making a list of them.

What about yourself do you want to change? What has improved? If you can see any progress or make goals about yourself, you have the ability to do anything. If you underestimate yourself, you will play small. But if you see the potential in yourself, you will become positive—and others will see it, too.

If you can’t believe it, act as if you do. Stand tall anyway. Good will come to you eventually because you’re ready to receive it.

3. Forgive

Holding onto resentment can be very detrimental to feeling positive. It’s very unhealthy to remain unforgiving. Yet, forgiving does not mean “allowing.” Instead, it means learning to “release.”

You do not hold onto the negative feelings anymore, so you can heal. And you also can forgive yourself for anything in your life that you hold onto. Blaming yourself is a part of being human. Everyone does it and engages in negative self-talk. But if you forgive yourself, you can learn to start over.

Some days, you will be able to forgive yourself and others. Other days, not so much. It can come and go in waves. However, it’s your intention that matters. If you intend to forgive, you may receive healing.

Even if you can’t always muster it, just having the intention is enough. You will feel better afterward. So, if you can’t forgive, remind yourself to just intend it. You may feel forgiving eventually.

4. Gratitude

Some people would do anything to have what you have. Your younger self may be relieved at the point you have gotten yourself into.

Gratitude is a mindset, and it can bring positivity to your life. Make a list of what you have. What around you can you feel appreciation for? Can you recognize the good despite the bad? That can make you stronger.

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When you can set down the burdens and look at the beauty of things, you will have a new mindset—one of positivity. That is something no one can take from you. So, just be here—be present, and be still.

Practice mindfulness. Notice what you normally neglect. Then, things will feel okay again.

5. Let Go of Expectations

What expectations are you holding onto about yourself and your life? Are you living in a “should” mindset? Are you constantly thinking about what you should be doing and where you should be versus appreciating where you are right now?

This does not mean lowering your expectations. It just means letting go of expectations—expecting the best but not needing it to look a certain way. In this, you find freedom from negative thinking and fear-based living.

When you can set yourself free in that way, you can let go and let yourself live. Maybe things don’t always work out. Expect setbacks sometimes. But know that that’s part of learning and growth. Stay open, and positivity will flow through you.

6. Look for the Silver Lining

Is there something good that has come out of a difficult situation? Can you see the stars in the night sky? If you can, reach for them. That light has to do with gratitude and also persistence in seeing the positive in things.

You just have to believe that there is always good in this world. You may not see it right away, but it is there. Look for the silver lining. Instead of thinking, “This negative thing exists in my life.” think, “I am the positive person this situation needs.” Then, you will change it all around. You are the silver lining.

7. Surround Yourself With Positivity

If you’re surrounded with positivity, you too will start to let it seep in and become positive! Positivity in life involves being surrounded by positive people and things.

Is there anything in your life that is holding you back? Maybe it’s a toxic situation or relationship. Maybe it’s your own mental traps where you fall into a rabbit hole of negative thinking. Whatever is spiraling out of control, if you fear you cannot change the situation, it’s time to change yourself.

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Step outside of yourself and your life for a moment. Do you see the possibility of looking outside the box or even destroying the box? If you decide that you will not allow certain things in your life anymore, you will let in the right things. Surround yourself with positivity, and you’ll become the person you are meant to be.

8. Stay Healthy

It’s time to evaluate your daily habits. Are you drinking enough water? Are you eating healthily? Are you getting exercise? What about your mental health? Are you talking to someone about your feelings? Are you doing some sort of cathartic activity to let out negative energy? The list goes on.

Staying healthy starts with taking care of yourself. Self-care shouldn’t be a chore. So, find activities you enjoy doing. In negative situations, do what is called “radical self-care.” This means spending time with yourself doing what you love as much as you can.

Sometimes, you need to separate yourself and find some joy. Instead of spending your time scrolling through social media, go outside and breathe in the fresh air. You never know what can happen once you make a positive choice.

Little things have a ripple effect to turn into big things. All it needs to start is with one action. Face what you can and cannot control, and do what you can because all your choices matter.

If you feel sluggish, eat more veggies and do some cardio. If you feel lonely, make plans with someone. You see, there is always something that you can do to stay healthy.

9. Smile

Smiling activates the amygdala, and that releases neurotransmitters that make you happy![3] This is something that can change your life. You cannot have positivity in life if you can’t even do a simple smile.

Just by smiling, you “trick” your brain into thinking happy thoughts. When you smile at someone else, they are more likely to smile too—also making them happier. Smiling doesn’t just spread positivity, it also makes you more attractive to people and therefore, more social.

It seems like such a small thing because it is, but it has a big effect. You can draw in the right thoughts and the right people just by smiling. Who knew you had such power?

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10. Think Positive

Of course, the way to feel positive is to think positively. Thoughts inform feelings. You have primary emotions or natural reactions to an event. Then, you have secondary emotions that stem from a belief about the event that happened.

For example, if you fail a test, you may think, “This makes me a failure.” But it’s just a setback. True resilience is utilizing positive reframing to tell yourself that you are not defined by what happens to you.

Often, people blame themselves for bad situations. If you had been robbed, would you blame yourself or the other person? The obvious answer is the other person. Yet, you tend to also blame yourself. You may think, “If only I had been smarter or somewhere else, this would have never happened.” This creates a buildup of negative emotion.

Just by releasing the wrong thoughts, you can burst the positive ones. That’s why thought is so important. This is also a practice done in cognitive behavioral therapy.[4]

How realistic are your thoughts about a situation? Is there evidence for your thoughts? What is a new thought or belief that would be more realistic?

By challenging your thoughts, you can become more positive. Once you learn to manage your thought patterns, you can start to see something important: No matter what happens, you have the choice to think positively.

Conclusion

Positivity in life keeps you focused, motivated, and happy. It stops negative thoughts from taking over, and it leads you to be all that you can be.

Maybe now you can give yourself permission to be positive. After all, it’s a choice that is up to you. You decide what you do with this one life. Are you going to live it facing down or looking up at the sky?

More Tips to Maintain Positivity in Life

Featured photo credit: Thought Catalog via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Mayo Clinic: Positive thinking: Stop negative self-talk to reduce stress
[2] Greater Good Magazine: 5 Ways Giving Is Good for You
[3] Ladders: The science behind why smiling can literally make you happier
[4] Psychology Today: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

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