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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
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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 July 21, 2021

17 Traits That Make a Successful Person Stand out from the Crowd

17 Traits That Make a Successful Person Stand out from the Crowd
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If you are like most people, you probably have big goals and dreams that you would like to succeed in — you want to be the top in your career, live a healthy lifestyle, or flourish in your relationships.

Everyone dreams of a positive future, but most people don’t realize the secret to a truly successful life:

You determine your future in the way you spend your everyday moments. If you want to be a successful person, you must consistently develop good daily habits. As Aristotle pointed out:

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit”.

Building positive daily habits is a huge challenge, but can you imagine the amazing things you could accomplish with just a little commitment and determination?

Creating lasting, healthy habits is the real key difference between people who are successful in life and those who are unsuccessful.

You might be wondering which specific habits make the biggest difference. Not to worry, I’ve compiled a comparison list to help you get a jump start on a successful future.

1. Successful people embrace change. Unsuccessful people fear change.

Change is a constant for all of humanity, and it is important that you develop a positive relationship with it.

When unexpected or unwelcome changes arise, ask yourself how you can embrace it instead of running away. A few practical ways to reverse a change-fearing mindset include:

  • Take a moment to recognize and address any fears associated with the upcoming change.
  • Communicate with a person you trust about your negative feelings toward change.
  • Practice positive thinking, which you can read about in the next section.

2. Successful people exude joy. Unsuccessful people think, say and do negative things.

A joyful, positive disposition can seem like a distant reality in today’s cynical world, but it may be easier to achieve than you think. All you have to do is notice the good things around you and practice being thankful.

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Mindfulness and gratitude are not just buzz words – choosing a positive attitude can honestly change your life. Many studies have found that thankfulness leads to greater happiness. Furthermore, research indicates that gratitude may even have a lasting positive impact on the brain and overall mental health.[1]

3. Successful people forgive others. Unsuccessful people hold grudges.

As a human being, you have likely been offended or hurt by others plenty of times. Don’t give in to the temptation to hold a grudge. Let it go.

Note that forgiving someone does not equate to giving up your boundaries (which are very important) or even admitting that the offending party is right. You should choose to let go for your own peace of mind.

4. Successful people track progress. Unsuccessful people just criticize.

Some kinds of criticism, such as constructive criticism, are good for personal and professional development. The kind of criticism I’m talking about is the pessimistic, nagging, unhelpful variety. This is the kind of criticism in play when you are unfairly harsh to yourself or others.

Toss unfounded criticisms aside and consider tracking your “wins” or your progresses, no matter how small. Take mental notes or keep a progress journal.

If you have a solid sense of what you have achieved, you will be less tempted to be hard on yourself.

5. Successful people share information, data and ideas. Unsuccessful people hoard.

If you have useful information or generate brilliant ideas on the regular, your first instinct may be to keep it all to yourself for personal gain and solo recognition.

Instead of hoarding bright ideas, share them with your team. Your talents will be on display for the team, and the team will be able to support you and make your ideas a reality.

6. Successful people are humble. Unsuccessful people talk more than they listen.

Humility is key. The ability to listen to other people, really listen and understand, is essential to success in both work and relationships — and to listen you have to be humble.

Everyone has experienced the frustration of being in a one-sided conversation. When someone approaches you with a question or concern, put your own world aside for just a moment and give them the kindness of your full attention.

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7. Successful people take risks. Unsuccessful people take the easy way out.

The next time your heart is racing and you want to walk away, consider embracing the risk. You never know what might happen if you take a chance.

Embracing risks looks like accepting the speaking engagement even though it seems a little scary. Success takes the courageous route, not the easy route.

8. Successful people learn, improve and read every day. Unsuccessful people stop learning.

Instead of binge-watching a show tonight, save an hour before bed to read a book and expand your mind.

Unsuccessful people are afraid to be flexible – they don’t challenge themselves to learn new things. Avoid this pitfall by exposing yourself to new thoughts and ideas every day.

9. Successful people handle problems well. Unsuccessful people act before they think.

The next time you run into a problem or even an emergency, try to work through your initial panic reaction with a few deep breaths.

Instead of acting rashly, think through your next actions as quickly but as logically as you can.

Learning to handle problems thoughtfully is an absolutely essential tool in the successful person’s toolbox (that’s you!).

10. Successful people accept responsibility for their failures. Unsuccessful people blame others.

Along with a previous tip about humility, this is one of the hardest things you’ll ever learn to do – but also the most rewarding. When you’ve failed, you must fight the urge to pass the blame. Successful people are able to fail honestly and gracefully.

And, hey, don’t feel bad about failing. Some of the most successful people in the world have failed too many times to count. It’s all a part of the process.

You can check out this article for more tips on how to fail well:

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How Failure Helps You To Succeed and Grow

11. Successful people work with passion and commitment. Unsuccessful people have a sense of entitlement.

A short and sweet lesson for you:

You should never expect to achieve the things you want without working hard.

Follow your passion and stay committed to pursuing it. Work hard and stick to your habits every day. You’ll earn your reward.

12. Successful people spend time with the right people. Unsuccessful people think they already know it all.

A lot of people miss out on useful relationships and information sharing because they think they can do it all alone.

Spend time with people who inspire you, spur you to be a better person, and remind you that you can’t go it alone.

13. Successful people make to-do lists and maintain proper life balance. Unsuccessful people waste their time.

Ah, time management. Unsuccessful people never master the art of organization and planning.

Here are a few tips for you when it comes to time management:

  • Make to-do lists. Seriously, this will help you. Make time to do it every morning, evening, or whenever you are able.
  • Keep track of your time. Are you happy with the way you are currently balancing things? What changes can you make?
  • Keep a calendar full of your long-term goals (see next tip).

14. Successful people write down goals and think long term about their burning desires. Unsuccessful people get distracted every day.

Why is it so important to keep a long-term goal calendar? Here’s the deal:

The things you are passionate about today need a backbone.

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Give your passionate ideas sustainability by writing down goals and staying on task instead of succumbing to distraction.

15. Successful people compliment others. Unsuccessful people try to bring others down to their level.

There is no greater confidence than saying “no” to sudden jealous or envious feelings and choosing to sincerely admire someone’s talents instead.

Unsuccessful people live in a world driven by competition, but successful people know that building people up is far more rewarding than bringing them down.

16. Successful people want others to succeed. Unsuccessful people secretly hope they fail.

In the same vein as the point above, this tip is all about good intentions.

Care for the people around you. Encourage them toward their successes. Hoping that others fail will not help you at all.

17. Successful people know their purpose and mission. Unsuccessful people don’t know what they want to be.

The last thing that differentiates successful people from unsuccessful people is one of the most important:

Keep your mission in mind.

Don’t be swayed to and fro by passing emotions and events. Know who you are and pursue your dreams wholeheartedly.

Final thoughts

Above all, stay confident. Truly believe that you can be and are successful. Strive to prove it in your day-to-day habits and activities!

What are you waiting for? Choose one of the habits above and get started today.

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Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Berkeley University of California: How Gratitude Changes You and Your Brain

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