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Last Updated on November 26, 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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Published on February 19, 2021

8 Greatest Obstacles In Life You Must Overcome To Be Successful

8 Greatest Obstacles In Life You Must Overcome To Be Successful

Whether it’s planning a public speech or a kid’s birthday party, our intentions lean toward success no matter the endeavor. And whatever success we are hoping to attain, there will likely be obstacles that we must face. When these obstacles surface, we can either shy away and miss our chance or meet these challenges informed and ready.

Although obstacles can seem like the outside world is plotting against us, in reality, these external challenges are merely triggering hurdles that already exist within. They might be memories or beliefs we have about ourselves that act like mud and slow us down. We can be trapped by our own self-sabotage.

What could happen if you knew about and prepared for these obstacles beforehand?

If you knew what you were up against, perhaps you could come equipped with just the right tools to get through anything that threatens your chance at success. Perhaps you could take an obstacle that felt like a mountain and turn it instantly into a mere molehill!

Here are 8 of the greatest obstacles you must overcome on your way to success:

1. Perfection

One of the most common obstacles we face is the need for perfection. Elizabeth Gilbert, in her book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, shared that her mother always used to say, “done is better than good.” Anyone prone to perfectionism is going to find it difficult to remain on the road to success if everything has to be “just so” all the time.

Perfection is the killer of creativity, vitality, and accidental discoveries! There are so many instances of people fortuitously discovering things that we use every day.[1] If they had been so concerned with perfection, they may never have enjoyed the success of their “mistakes!” Plus, learning from our mistakes is how we develop and grow throughout our lives. Therefore, “perfect” will never provide a straight shot to success.

How can you stop going for perfection? Just as it may have taken years of practice to “perfect” a skill you have acquired, it takes practice to undo perfectionism.

Try the following:

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  • Try new things and let go of your expectations.
  • Don’t do everything on your “To-Do” list. See what happens when you leave it for tomorrow.
  • Learn how to prioritize (no, everything isn’t equally important all the time).
  • If you’re feeling particularly rebellious, send an email with a typo in it!

Have fun with this and learn how to laugh at yourself. Welcome to the wonderful world of being human.

2. Fear

Fear is triggered when we have a thought or perception that we are not safe and secure. This is quite a useful tool when there is a real threat to our safety. However, when the threat is imaginary, fear can actually prevent us from doing the work we need to do to achieve our goals.

As with perfectionism, the best way to deal with fear is to become more mindful.

Here are some steps you can try in working through fear:

  1. Sit with the emotion of fear and notice where you feel it in your body. Notice the thoughts that accompany the feeling.
  2. Ask yourself what you are afraid will happen and write down your answers.
  3. Visualize yourself experiencing your worst fears. How did you feel imagining your worst fears coming true?
  4. Ask yourself when you have felt this way before. How did you cope with it that time? What strengths could you use in your previous visualization?
  5. Imagine yourself using your strength with the imagined worst fear. How does it feel to know that no matter what happens, you have the tools and resources to handle it?

In this exercise, we’re trying to be okay with the emotion of fear. Fear is actually trying to help by keeping you “safe.” It calls upon memories of when you were threatened in your life. But when we spend all of our energy trying to prevent the feeling of fear, we make it stronger. We also deny ourselves the memories of all the times we have faced our fears and triumphed.

Allowing the fear to be present and calling upon memories of making it through challenging times helps to convince our minds that, as President Franklin Roosevelt said, the “only thing to fear is fear itself.”

3. Lack of Clarity

Imagine that you are going on a trip and you need to pack. Your suitcase is out, but you don’t know any details of the trip. You haven’t decided where you’re going, how long you’ll be gone, or what you’ll be doing. How easy will it be to pack for this trip?

If we’re trying to run our careers or lives without clarity, it can be nearly impossible to figure out what we need to be doing to get to our destination of success. So, how do we get clarity?

Author and speaker, Simon Sinek, had some excellent advice for businesses on how to get clarity, and it applies beautifully to just about any area of life. According to Sinek, when clarifying your “message,” you should start with your WHY.[2] In other words, why are you doing what you do? Once you are clear on your “why,” it will be much easier to figure out your “how” and your “what.”

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Let’s go back to the packing analogy. Perhaps your why for vacationing is to get some much-needed rest as you have been stressed out lately. That tells you that a quiet vacation might be better than one with lots of museums and crowded attractions. Your “why” tells you that you don’t want to be very active, but you do want to take care of your body, mind, and spirit, perhaps by spending a few days at a nearby spa. Less travel means less stress. Looking at the spa, you see they have a 3-day retreat. Now, you know how to pack.

See how easily those details fell into place once you got clear on your “why”? Imagine what success you could achieve once your “why” is uncovered!

4. Making Comparisons

It’s natural for us to compare ourselves to other people. That’s how we know whether we’re doing things correctly or not and how we can continue improving. When we get into a habit of making comparisons all the time and feeling bad about not being able to “keep up with the Jones’,” this can pull our energy down. And when our energy is down, so is our motivation to keep working toward our goals.

As with perfection, it’s important to be mindful about how much importance you’re placing on “keeping up” with what you think everyone around you is doing.

Want to stop sizing yourself up to others? Try the following:

  • Notice the feelings that come up for you when you compare yourself to someone else.
  • Ask yourself, “what information am I really getting from this comparison, and what’s helpful about it?”
  • Keep the helpful bits from that line of questioning and let go of the rest.

Remember that when you compare yourself to another person, oftentimes you are seeing the potential that already resides within you.[3]

5. Untamed Inner Monologue

How do you talk to yourself? Do you tend to say uplifting and encouraging things to yourself? Or is your self-speak often negative? An untamed inner monologue can serve as a great obstacle to many people.

Many people grow up with the idea that the inner monologue is what drives us to become better people. We get “tough” on ourselves to prevent laziness or sloppiness. If unchecked, the monologuing can quickly become negative and purely critical. Despite our intentions for self-improvement, this constant habit of pointing out what’s “wrong” with what we do and who we are can become a huge energy drain.

According to the Mayo Clinic, overcoming negative self-talk is good for our health.[4] Some of the benefits of maintaining a compassionate inner voice include lower levels of depression, better immune function, and improved coping skills in stressful times.

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Activities to develop awareness about your inner monologue and make it more compassionate include:

  • Keeping a thought diary (there are so many great apps for this!).
  • Reframing negative self-statements neutrally or compassionately.
  • Asking yourself what a trusted friend might say to you.
  • Thinking about what you might say to a friend if they were in your shoes.
  • Considering EFT Tapping or saying affirmations.
  • Allowing yourself to follow the inner critic down the worst-case-scenario path (this version might have you laughing at how ridiculous your inner critic’s imagination truly is).

6. Unclear Boundaries

So far, we’ve covered several ways that internal boundaries are necessary on the road to success. These include monitoring your fear, limiting your need for perfectionism, lacking clarity about what you want, making unhealthy comparisons to others, or having a mean-spirited inner monologue.

How about those boundaries we need to clarify with other people in our lives? To be clear, boundaries are not about saying “no” to everything and cutting yourself off from everybody. Healthy external boundaries are about being communicating to others about what you want, how you want to be treated, and what your plans are.

If we have unclear boundaries with others, success will result only by accident, if at all.

People pleasers and empaths especially know how challenging it can be to set boundaries with others. The desire for harmony can be so strong for some people that they convince themselves that it is easier to let others make the decisions rather than risk creating conflict.

The problem here is that no matter how hard we try to avoid conflict with others, we will create conflict within ourselves that results in roadblocks to success. If you have trouble setting clear boundaries with others and you want to be successful, start building your muscles around this skill slowly.

Here are a few steps:

  1. Identify little things that you like and want.
  2. Tell people about what you like and want in your life.
  3. Notice what happens in your body when you say this out loud.
  4. Identify things you don’t like or want.
  5. Notice what happens in your body when you think about these things. (Your body is really smart when it comes to telling you what you don’t want!)
  6. Tell trusted people what you don’t like or want.
  7. Notice how it feels in your body to say this out loud.
  8. Practice saying “no” to something really small that you don’t want and work your way up to bigger things.

Without boundaries, it’s like being water and trying to hold a shape without being in a container. You get to create your own container and watch your success take form.

7. Unreasonable Expectations

It’s important to dream big. It’s how we allow inspiration and big ideas to come to the surface of our awareness. But if our dreams are not grounded in the reality of our current resources, we might be headed for some disappointment or even worse, the loss of our dreams!

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Setting reasonable expectations is the bread and butter of success. If you haven’t been introduced to setting SMART goals at this point in your life, it would be a good idea to try it out.

It might not always be possible to know whether or not something is reasonable, especially if you’re trying out a brand-new-to-you project. If the expectation is for a new project to work without any bumps or glitches, this is likely to be unreasonable. The consequences of this experience could be losing your drive to succeed.

If the expectations for a new project include the idea of bumps and glitches that hold seeds of learning and growth, then even the perceived “mistakes” will turn out to be a success. This has the positive benefit of fueling your motivation to keep working toward even more success.

Be mindful of where you set the bar—neither too high nor too low.

8. Unreasonable Definition of Success

What is your definition of success? Asked in another way, from what perspective are you seeking success?

It’s easy to think that success means achieving the goal(s) you set for yourself. But there are so many ways to look at success. You might be missing out on some opportunities to really feel like you are shining in your life.

An unreasonable definition of success might be one that only allows for one specific outcome. If that outcome is not reached, then success is not the result. But if we allow for multiple definitions of success, we might find that success is much easier to come by than we previously thought!

To expand your definition of success, ask yourself the following:

  • What would need to happen to make me feel successful?
  • What else could happen to make me feel successful?

Keep brainstorming all the outcomes you could experience to create a feeling of success.

Final Thoughts

Being successful requires overcoming a lot of obstacles, and many people will fail at some point. The key is to tackle these obstacles one step at a time. In the words of Joyce Brothers, “Success is a state of mind. If you want success, start thinking of yourself as a success.”

More Tips on How to Overcome Obstacles

Featured photo credit: asoggetti via unsplash.com

Reference

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