By Thao Nguyen
When we think about curbing bad habits, we either start thinking about vices like drinking, smoking, and excessive spending, or we think about ticks like biting our nails, playing with our hair, or stockpiling used mugs in our rooms. It’s pretty rare that we consider the way we think a bad habit. But there are definitely ways we’ve trained ourselves to think that can be self-destructive or ever hurtful to others. One that I’m pretty familiar with is self-deprecation.
It started with me being jokingly modest and critical about myself. Despite my joking tone, there was always a part of me that didn’t think I was that great. Every time I made a joke about how much I looked down on myself and every time I vehemently turned down a compliment, there was more than a grain of truth to what I was saying. I really did believe that I wasn’t worthy of compliments and that I had nothing worth being proud of.
It wasn’t just that I was low on self-confidence. For years and years I had learned to think that accepting compliments or speaking highly of myself and my achievements would make me come off conceited. I thought that I was being modest and humble. It took me awhile to realize that I was just short-charging myself and ruining my self-image. Having such a negative view of myself did nothing for my mood or attitude. I found myself finding all kinds of excuses not to try new things because I felt like I would fail anyway. I put little effort into projects I had already started because, once again, I figured I wouldn’t succeed. Essentially, I let myself become a self-fulfilling prophesy.
Needless to say, this was an incredibly hard behavior to quit. Partly because I didn’t even realize what I was doing, but mostly because I had become extremely comfortable with doing it. The self-destructive modesty felt so much more familiar and likable than accepting and receiving praise. But one day, I overheard my youngest sister aggressively turning down a compliment. It killed me that she didn't believe in herself and that even as a 9 year old, she was falling into the trap of not being proud of herself. I stayed up for most of the night wondering if she had picked that up from me.
After that, deciding to change was the easy part. Carrying out that decision is still a conscious decision I have to make several times a day. I always catch myself shaking my head and biting my tongue on an, “oh no,” when someone says something nice about me or having to stop mid-way through a self-deprecating joke. I can't promise that this is something I'll ever stop doing completely. After all, a little bit of humility, humor, and self-awareness are always good things to have. But I can say that being more aware of my behavior and making the daily decision to be better at it has vastly improved how I see myself.