It can also boost your self-esteem, so you feel more confident of achieving further success. So why do so many people respond to praise by putting themselves – their looks, their work or their achievements – down?
Pattern of behaviour
This habit of deflecting compliments appears to develop early in life as a defence against criticism. It can continue throughout the teen years, as a way of fitting in with peers – if you worry about being singled out for being good at something, putting yourself down before anyone else has the chance is a way to fit in, ironically.
And the trend is often still there in adulthood. Whether it’s a joke you make about a recent cooking disaster, your appearance or missing out on a dream job, you might still be at it long after the awkward teenage years have passed. And the habit, it turns out, has damaging side effects: people who default to self-deprecating comments are more likely to exhibit low self-esteem, according to one study.
Luckily, with practice, you can break this pattern. It’s as simple as being open, honest and owning praise when praise is due. Here are a few tips to get you started…
You’ve taken up swimming. Your partner asks, ‘20 laps today?’
You say 'Please! I'll be lucky to finish even one!’
Why you do it Doubting yourself aloud instantly relieves any pressure you may feel. If you fail to do well,
at least you predicted it, so you can retain some sense of control.
The risk Forecasting an unwanted outcome can result in psyching yourself out and achieving a less impressive goal. In other words, if you set low expectations, chances are you won’t rise to the challenge. A lot of self-deprecation comes
from anxiety about what may happen, and the body tends to follow those negative instructions.
Next time, say ‘I’m definitely going to try!’
Why it works If you talk the talk, you’re more likely to walk the walk (or swim the laps, as the case may be). Think of your sporting performance as 10 per cent reality and 90 per cent perception. If you can talk positively, an intense situation feels less threatening.
Ten phrases you should ban from your vocabulary
The next time someone pays you a compliment, resist the urge to put yourself down with one of the common responses below:
• ‘Who, me?’
• ‘It was nothing, really’
• ‘I’m too old’
• ‘You’re just saying that to be nice’
• ‘This old thing?’
• ‘I’m too fat’
• ‘You’re so much better at…’
• ‘I just got lucky’
• ‘I’m so bad at…’
• ‘This would look much better on you’
You've lost weight. A friend comments on how slim you look
You say ‘Oh really? I’m surprised I haven’t gained weight. I’ve been eating everything in sight.’
Why you do it Sometimes people feign modesty to draw out additional praise. Positive feedback makes you feel warm and fuzzy; it boosts your confidence by validating your achievements. Pretending
that the weight loss was not deliberate can also make it seem all the more impressive.
The risk People can tell when you’re faking it. A false humble response, when it’s clear you’ve done something significant to change your looks, can communicate the exact opposite about you and come across as disingenuous.
Next time, say ‘Thank you.’ Yep. It’s that simple.
You’re up for a promotion. A colleague says, ‘You’ll get it, for sure’
You say ‘Doubt it, considering that stuff-up last week.’
Why you do it You really want to be liked, and you may believe that appearing too confident puts people off.
The risk Downplaying your success at work can backfire. A little self-deprecation may be a way of connecting with people but, in a job situation, confidence is equated with competence. And competence, not your friends, will win you the promotion.
Next time, say ‘I hope so. I’ve really worked hard for this.’
Why it works By emphasising the effort you’ve made, you acknowledge a promotion doesn’t come easily. Others will be drawn to your strength – which you’ll need when you get that job.