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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 Purpose + Brand Strategist who figures out what makes you naturally successful. Then helps you do it on purpose.

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Last Updated on April 27, 2021

How To Accept Responsibility For Your Life (7 No-Nonsense Tips)

How To Accept Responsibility For Your Life (7 No-Nonsense Tips)

Chances are that if you’re reading this, you are human. This means that there is likely a time or two when you have not taken responsibility for something in your life. We’ve all been there. Maybe you broke an item at a place of employment but didn’t fess up to it, or you missed a deadline and blamed the reason why on someone else, or perhaps you decided a responsibility was too great to face.

Accepting responsibility can be challenging because it doesn’t always feel good. It can require time we think we don’t have. Feelings of shame or inadequacy can surface. Rather than face those feelings, it’s much easier to not accept responsibility.

This is all understandable. But it may not be serving us and who we want to be in the long run.

Accepting responsibility has benefits at work, home, and all aspects of life. When we demonstrate to ourselves that we can be responsible, we show our strength of character, our leadership qualities, and even our adulting skills.

Knowing that doesn’t make accepting responsibility any easier, does it?

Using the example of pretending that you live in an apartment with multiple roommates where you all have to share the kitchen, we will look at seven tips on how to accept responsibility for your life.

1. Stop Playing the Victim

You’ve just cooked a big meal involving several pots, pans, and cooking utensils. You reflect on feeling overwhelmed and stressed by life right now and decide that you just don’t have the time or energy to do your dishes right now. The next time you or your roommates want to use the kitchen, there’s a big mess and a lack of options for pans and cutlery to use.

Maybe one of your roommates will do it for you? Superman to the rescue? I hate to break it to you, but Superman doesn’t actually exist.

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Why insist on crushing every childhood fantasy? Because when we wait for someone else to fix our problems, we are playing the victim, and if Superman doesn’t exist (or Spiderman or Wonder Woman, or Black Panther, etc.), then we will be perpetually tied to the proverbial train tracks, waiting for someone else to save us.[1]

What we can do in this situation is acknowledge and validate our feelings. In the above scenario, you’re focusing on feeling overwhelmed. This feeling isn’t “bad.” But it does affect your motivation to accept responsibility, keeping you in a victim mindset. It isn’t just the dishes that you need to face. You also need to take responsibility for your emotions.

Acknowledging and validating emotions help you to understand what you’re feeling and why. You can then redirect the energy you’re wasting on being a victim and redirect it toward more productive things in life. Like doing your own dishes.

There are many different ways we can develop the skill of self-acknowledgment and validation. One of the best is to write about what you’re experiencing. You may be surprised by how you describe the “what” and “why” of your feelings. You may even uncover other times in your life when you felt this way and find that your current thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are based on that past. You might even heal an old experience as you deal with the present circumstance!

2. End the Blame Game

“If my roommates were more consistent about doing their dishes, then I would feel like I could do mine.”

It’s so easy to come up with excuses and reasons why we shouldn’t be held to a higher standard than anyone else. We find interesting ways to blame others for why we can’t do something. This becomes another way to avoid taking responsibility, and we can do so out of a perspective of anger.[2]

Anger can be energetically compelling, but it’s not always rooted in reality. It can keep us stuck and prevent us from having the life and relationships we really want. Much like being the victim, it’s important to ask yourself how being and staying angry is serving you. Again, it’s important to acknowledge and validate these thoughts and feelings too.

Perhaps you’re really feeling mad at someone at your workplace who isn’t taking responsibility for their own projects. You end up taking on their work, allowing anger to build up. By the time you get home, you need a place to let that anger out. And so, your anger is directed toward your kitchen and your roommates.

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This may help you feel better for a little while, but it’s not sustainable. There are so many ways of dealing with anger. It would serve you and others around you well to learn how to manage and work with any anger you have in your life so that you can resume your acceptance of responsibility.

3. Forgive Yourself and others

After reading tips number 1 and 2, perhaps you are now adept at practicing acknowledging and validating your feelings. Because of that work, it’s easier to forgive yourself and others.

For instance, without the feelings of victimhood and blame, you have the energy to see things from a perspective of forgiveness and tolerance.

From a place of forgiveness, you see that even though your roommates don’t take care of their dishes right away every time, they do so more often than not. Plus, you can see that all of you have challenging things happening in your lives right now, so why should your challenges make it so that you can slack off? You may even remember times when your roommates have helped you out with cleaning the kitchen even though the mess wasn’t theirs.

As you forgive others, you forgive yourself too and take ownership of your own tasks.

4. Use Responsibility as a Way to Help Others

Shirking our responsibilities can actually affect others’ well-being. We can step into a space of considering how our actions, or lack thereof, might be burdening or harming others.

For example, not doing your dishes and leaving the kitchen dirty means that when another roommate wants to use the kitchen to make a meal, they may have to clean the kitchen first to have access to the pots, pans, and utensils required. They may feel annoyed that you didn’t take responsibility for your mess, which affects your relationship with your roommate. A confrontation may be on the horizon.

However, if you can put yourself in the frame of mind to consider things from your roommate’s position, you might think twice about leaving the dishes. By taking responsibility and doing your part to keep the kitchen clean, you are taking care of the space and your roommates.

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A lot of people find it easier and highly beneficial to do things out of a sense of responsibility for others.[3] Thinking about things from another’s perspective can be a motivating factor and can provide us with feelings of purpose.

5. Look for the Win-Win

When we choose not to take responsibility, we are choosing a zero-sum game, meaning nobody wins. What if you looked for the win-win opportunity of taking responsibility instead?

Maybe there have been times when your roommates have saddled you with a messy kitchen. If you now decide to leave your mess, nobody wins. Whereas, cleaning up after yourself now means that you are modeling how you want the space to be treated by everyone. You are also ensuring that your roommates can trust you to take responsibility for your cleaning tasks, and the next person who wants to use the kitchen will be able to do so.

In this scenario, you will be taking responsibility, cultivating a relationship of trust with your roommates, and making it so that nobody else has to clean up after you. Everyone wins.

6. Make Taking Responsibility Fun

Another vantage point from which we could look is the place of joy. Yes, joy.

It’s easy to paint “cleaning the kitchen” in a negative light when shows are streaming on Netflix and downtime activities calling. But what could happen for you if you made the task of doing the dishes fun?

How can it be fun? This is where you get to be creative.

Some ideas could be playing some of your favorite music as you clean, invite a roommate to chat while you clean, or you could play that show you’re binging on Netflix as you scrub. Have Airpods? Call a friend as you clean!

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Finding a way to make it fun helps you lose track of time and get the job done faster. It could also provide some necessary “play” time. We don’t play enough as adults. Get back to your childhood roots and find ways to incorporate play into your daily routine, and get the dishes done at the same time!

7. Choose Your Own Adventure

When we approach responsibility from our highest self, we can be at choice for how we want to accept it. This requires an awareness of what we intend to accomplish or learn in any life experience.

For instance, when faced with a responsibility, you could consider all the ways of looking at it (from a place of victimhood, blame, forgiveness, service to others, win-win, or fun) and decide which perspective would serve the highest good of all, yourself included.

When we can approach any life situation from the standpoint of having choices, doesn’t that feel better than feeling forced into a decision or action?

Conclusion

Knowing that you can make conscious choices at any time in your life hopefully helps you to feel freer and more energized for any life responsibility you choose to accept. These seven tips on how to accept responsibility will set you up for a good start.

More Tips on How To Be a Responsible Person

Featured photo credit: Marcos Paulo Prado via unsplash.com

Reference

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