Unshakeable confidence starts with humility
Humility is so misunderstood. For so many it means shyly looking away and denying a compliment, making sure to compliment others, or even making self-deprecating comments or jokes at your own expense.
Notice how these are all designed to make sure others don’t think that we’re putting ourselves above them. And in fact, they usually function as ways to indicate that you are beneath others.
This making oneself small and denying one’s greatness is a sign of the times. Even the famously American culture of arrogance and bravado has been infiltrated by this plague of self-effacing sentiment. At the very least we’ve all learned to ‘act humble’. I’m starting to suspect Australia’s chief export might now be Tall Poppy Syndrome. Even those who feel consciously or subconsciously superior have become excellent at appearing less than they are, and even less than others.
How do I know this isn’t true Humility? Because it doesn’t feel good! Feel into that she sense of self-denial now for yourself. That feeling of blushing discomfort as someone makes a big deal about praising you in front of others. What does it feel like to you?
When I feel into that, I get a sense of shame. Which is strange because it should be the opposite of shame. I didn’t do anything bad, in fact I’m being praised. This is a relatively ‘new’ emotion Hanzi Freinacht refers to as ‘Sklavenmorale’ in his book The Nordic Ideology. It’s new in the sense that earlier societies had no need to feel bad about being good. These early societies tracked status through dominance hierarchies alone. So if you were strong and good at things and you knew it, then it also paid to let everyone else know how good you were too.
In the modern world we’ve worked out a sneaky way to subvert and defeat the dominance hierarchies (at least temporarily) even if we aren’t that strong or good at things. Enter virtue hierarchies. Now we can demonstrate our superiority not through strength or skill but through saying what's most politically correct, demonstrating moral superiority or 'being on the right side of history’. This ‘virtue signalling’ is all too rampant on social media. The upside is it gets people to think more carefully about the morality of their decisions and actions. However it often becomes a game of who can say the 'right things' and fetishises victimhood and feeling offended. This means people are encouraged to stay in that victim status rather than to take their power back. Long story short, both dominance and virtue hierarchies have their merits and drawbacks.
Over time as virtue hierarchies have appeared and evolved they were strengthened by the very act of denying the validity of dominance hierarchies. At this point owning your own greatness became such a faux pas. And yet… the dominance hierarchies haven’t gone away, they’ve just been pushed underground. So we get these complex social dynamics where we have to be seen to be scoring goals without letting on that we know we’re good at goal scoring… In other words, False Humility.
The downside is False Humility has us all confused and ultimately limits our ability for further success in two very important ways:
When we can’t own our greatness we start to feel uncomfortable about it instead. Which leads to subconscious avoidance of the things we’re good at, or at least conflicted energy about them (i.e. one foot on the accelerator and one on the brake).
It obscures the true nature of Humility which is an incredible doorway to unshakable confidence and snowballing success.
The true nature of Humility
Humble is not the opposite of confident. Humble doesn’t mean ‘less than others’. Humble simply means… Human. Not greater than Human either, just equal.
We are all equal in our Humanity.
This was a challenge for me. As a young person it helped me feel safe to quietly and smugly believe that I was smarter or more experienced than those around me. So it became my subconscious defence to the challenges of the world. Deep down at some level I felt I was superior to others and without even being consciously aware I was doing it I would judge them and look down my nose at them.
And truth be told, sometimes I even got off on it.
Sometimes I still get off on my own achievements. The ego doesn’t like taking a back seat.
Even once I understood intellectually that we are all equal, that subconscious superior part of me would play up at every opportunity. At least now I was more aware of it. But awareness alone didn’t change how I came across to people, because it didn’t change how I felt deep down. And those feelings were telescoped out around me through my non-verbals, micro-expressions, tone, etc.
So I would go to great lengths to appear humble. And yet when I got on a roll and started to feel self-important out would come the superiority again and I would say uncharitable things or act in less than generous ways. Ultimately undercutting my own goals and opportunities for win-win outcomes.
It took deep process work to allow that part of me to ease into the back seat. That’s when it shifted. Understanding we are all equal was no longer just a good theory. I now felt it in my bones. I started to realise that although I had strengths and value to add in certain lines of intelligence, others had their own strengths and intelligence also. I started to deeply understand that many perspectives were valid, even conflicting perspectives could contain truth, at the same time. I truly appreciated that the way to get the best ideas, solutions and outcomes was to tap into the wisdom of a group of people, not try to work it all out myself.
The impact on Confidence
This is where you might suspect that my confidence would have taken a hit. Without my safety shield of superiority, and my undeniably superior value, surely I would feel far less confident?
And yet, something incredible and surprising happened. My confidence increased.
Not like the bravado of a competitive ego covering up its insecurity with bluster. True confidence. Peaceful confidence. A vastly expanded comfort zone. Able to speak publicly, lead discussions, workshops, or any number of projects with people at all levels of hierarchy without breaking a sweat.
So what changed? Being equal in humanity didn’t just bring me down to earth. It brought everybody onto an even playing field. All of a sudden, there was no stakeholder, audience or client above me. They were all just ‘people’. Just like me.
At this point I found I could work with very senior leaders within organisations. Levels of hierarchy I’d never reached myself, without hesitation. Without fear. Without walking on eggshells. It also meant I could speak in front of any audience, to crowds of any level.
Yes, there was a transition period, a testing of the water before I could jump in up to my neck, and yes there's another process I'll share at a later date to help with that rapid expansion of your comfort zone. And yes there's more to the formula, including maintaining a purity of intentions. But the first and largest step was embodying humility = humanity.
Once that was a felt knowing, that expectation of equal treatment gets projected out around you at all times. And when you’re not treated equally, your calm response makes it clear you don’t tolerate that kind of treatment. Usually you won't even have to say anything, it’s all there in your non-verbals.
There is a constant dialogue between humans that goes on via our non-verbals. We’re all fluent speakers of that language even if we aren’t aware it’s happening. It’s an unconscious competence of ours.
Becoming more aware of it can be very helpful. Especially once you learn to use it as helpful information without taking it personally when someone’s non-verbals are disconnecting from you. But that’s a technique for another day.
For now it’s enough to know that embodying true humility can be your doorway to unshakable confidence.