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The subtle art of not taking yourself too seriously

It can be incredibly difficult to live a fulfilled life when our expectations for our lives are sky high. We’re all striving so hard to achieve our goals that the emotional toll can weigh us down. There is endless advice out there encouraging us to show gratitude, give back to others, and any number of other handy tips for being more satisfied with our lives. However, what we don’t seem to talk about enough is our tendency to take ourselves too seriously.

Contrary to our own inner critic’s voice, spending our time hoping that others will take us seriously can have the exact opposite effect. Not only does this behaviour detract from the goal of being taken seriously, it can cause some real concerns for mental and emotional health thanks to undue stress and anxiety.

Living a more fulfilling life ultimately comes down to a shift in our own attitudes, and this is something that most of us are at least intellectually aware of. Unfortunately, no matter how much time we donate to charitable causes or spend meditating on our gratitude, for example, there’s very little chance it’s going to end in true satisfaction and fulfillment without the two following crucial things:

  1. A good sense of humour
  2. The ability to laugh at ourselves

After all, there are going to be times in our lives when we stumble, make a mistake, or look silly in front of others. It’s near impossible to avoid. This doesn’t mean losing sight of your goals or striving hard to achieve the things you want in life, of course. It simply means being able to recognise that none of us is perfect – and that’s ok, and let’s enjoy the journey along the way!

The trouble is, the ability to not take yourself too seriously doesn’t always come naturally. Especially if you’re used to feeling as though you have to ‘prove’ yourself to your boss, to your peers, or to your family. There is evidence to suggest that this behaviour not only doesn’t serve us but can be detrimental to our health and happiness. With that said, how exactly do we develop the subtle art of not taking ourselves too seriously, when it doesn’t come naturally?

We all know someone whose ego gets in the way of their better judgement; someone at work who can’t admit their faults, or a family member who is prone to defensive outbursts. Take a look around and have a think about the people in your life who have a habit of taking themselves a little too seriously. Then ask yourself: Is this person pleasant to be around? Do others enjoy working with this person or attending family gatherings with them? Do arguments often arise when they’re around? These types of people are often acting from an ego-driven place in their minds. They’re afraid to be shown to be wrong, to be silly, to not be taken seriously by others. Identifying these people in your life and pondering just how little their seriousness is serving them is a great motivator for putting a stop to this behaviour in yourself.

Being truly authentic is a great way to practice not taking yourself too seriously. Being authentic means coming clean about your mistakes, being aware of your shortcomings, and being open about needing help. You can practice authenticity at work, at home, at social engagements – practically anywhere. The next time you’re worried you’ve made a mistake or are struggling to get something done, try being open about it and asking for help. People tend to respond well to those they perceive as being authentic, and in fact respect them even more. You’ll be surprised just how quickly you notice a change in yourself, and in others.

The age-old adage that most people fear public speaking more than death just goes to show how greatly we fear looking silly. Of course, the best way to overcome a fear is to face it head on. In order to learn to stop taking yourself too seriously, you must operate outside of your comfort zone. For you, that might mean taking a dance class, speaking in public, saying ‘yes’ to activities you’d normally say ‘no’ to. Find something you’ve always been curious about doing, but have avoided due to lack of confidence. Then, get out there and do it – with the knowledge that you’re probably going to feel a little ridiculous at first. Embrace that feeling, laugh at yourself, and see just how fun it can be. The key is to get used to having a laugh at yourself and to learn that it’s not the end of the world. That old saying “feel the fear and do it anyway” has many psychological benefits and can be very liberating!

Finally, an incredibly powerful tool in overcoming the tendency to take ourselves too seriously is to realise that, in the grand scheme of things, we’re just not that important. If that sounds harsh, it isn’t meant to. By removing our focus from ourselves and living a little less inside our own heads, we begin to realise that everyone around us is so busy worrying about themselves that our occasional foibles are barely on their radar. Think anyone else cares that you stumbled over a few words in your work presentation? That your shirt isn’t ironed perfectly today? That your jeans are a size bigger than they used to be? Not likely. There’s a famous quote often attributed to Maya Angelou, among others, which sums it up perfectly:

“People may forget what you said – but they will never forget how you made them feel.”

Exhibiting confidence in ourselves means not being afraid to be proven wrong or shown to be a little silly now and then. Only those who don’t take themselves too seriously are able to be truly comfortable in their own skin, and this is a characteristic that is felt by those around us. By practicing authenticity, getting outside your comfort zone, and thinking about the bigger picture, beginning to take yourself less seriously becomes second nature. Furthermore, it helps those around us to do the same.  And if you need help to improve your confidence or self-esteem we have a program just for you; our Personal Empowerment Program can help you to feel comfortable in your own skin so you no longer have to take yourself too seriously!  Call us today to commence your journey towards living a more authentic and fulfilling life.

Michelle van Namen
Author: Michelle van Namen