To be successful, don’t speak negatively about yourself! That’s a no brainer, isn’t it? And yet, how often do we do exactly that? Today, we’ll take a look at something successful people are generally very good at. We’ll see how it works in everyday life. Then we’ll take a look at how Christians can use the same trait in everything in our lives as well.
Take a look at the adjacent image. It could be of anyone.
The person looking into the mirror appears to be someone other than the reflection looking back.
There are also two different emotions on the faces.
The person looking into the mirror is frustrated with themselves.
The person looking back from the mirror is disappointed.
They are both of the same person. Maybe we don’t notice it so much from the outside, but when we get frustrated with ourselves, maybe because we just don’t measure up to our own expectations, the inside emotional changes can be this dramatic.
By the way – there is nothing meant by the possible appearance that the one looking into the mirror is male and the reflection looking back is female. I spent a lot of time going through requests to Bing Chat / Image Creator with DALL-E 3 to get this one, with something close to the emotions I wanted. Then this one came up, such a drastic change in appearance wasn’t what I had in mind.
It is the same person, but from a different angle. That’s what I asked for and it’s what Bing said it gave me. The hair length difference seems like a good representation of just how extreme the emotional effect of speaking negatively about ourselves then seemed appropriate. So I kept this one.
When you speak negatively about yourself, this kind of thing can be happening inside. Emotionally. And it can easily turn into a downward spiral. The disappointment can lead to becoming even less satisfied with ourselves, more frustration with ourselves, and on and on.
As I wrote in the introduction to this series. the thoughts below – most of them – also apply to our life in the secular world. Of course, for someone who’s not Christian, the ideas surrounding God are something you may or may not want to read. If that’s the case for you, I hope you continue reading anyway. They will help you in your life. It may get you thinking about God. And it may even show you that Christians aren’t (maybe more probably aren’t supposed to be) the way we seem to be in this area.
With that as an introduction, let’s get started.
Don’t speak negatively about yourself!
Don’t speak negatively of yourself. It’s the first in a series of traits for successful people in the secular world that we’re going to look at. The entire series is based on Things Successful People Never Do on bestlifeonline.com. Yes, as mentioned, it’s a secular article. The original has nothing to do with Christianity,
However, we’re going to see how these same traits can be applied to becoming a “successful” Christian. Someone who not only has an idea what Christianity is really about, but who also lives it.
With that in mind, here’s the first installment, based on 23 Things Successful People Never Do on bestlifeonline.com: Don’t speak negatively of yourself.
It may sound overly simplistic, but the most important difference between those who succeed in life and those who don’t is how they talk about themselves. If you speak negatively about yourself, discounting your achievements and insinuating you can’t do something, that only serves to hurt your ability to succeed down the line.
“You can transform your life using the power of the spoken word,” says James Sweigert, a lifestyle expert and author of If You Say So. “There is greatness in all of us and the universe wants us all to flourish. Claim and manifest the things you want. Make your mind up to be happy! The universe will present any story you tell it, negative or positive. So be on your own side.”
OK. To some extent, that’s also true from a Christian point of view. To some extent. However, some changes are needed. It maybe seems weird, but there are two totally opposite ways that some (many?) Christians perceive themselves. As with most extremes, I think both are, well, for lack of a better word – extreme – and therefore not right. As usual, someplace in the middle is where we should be.
That may sound odd to most Christians. After all, Jesus told us something about being the least. You may remember it.
9:46-48 pp — Mt 18:1-5
9:46-50 pp — Mk 9:33-40
Lk 9:46 An argument started among the disciples as to which of them would be the greatest. 47 Jesus, knowing their thoughts, took a little child and had him stand beside him. 48 Then he said to them, “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For he who is least among you all—he is the greatest.”
Lk 9:49 “Master,” said John, “we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us.”
Lk 9:50 “Do not stop him,” Jesus said, “for whoever is not against you is for you.”
What we’re looking for in that passage is this: For he who is least among you all—he is the greatest. As Jesus often said, things are kind of upside down in Heaven. The least will be the greatest. The last will be first.
There is one catch to that though. It has to be true. And it’s not like Jesus doesn’t know the truth. After all, notice verse 47: Jesus, knowing their thoughts… . Therefore, if we lie to ourselves about just how far behind everyone else we are, Jesus is going to know. Just imagine being caught in a lie to Him. I know, sometimes we think we’re being humble by putting ourselves down. But He knows better.
It should be obvious that this is the wrong thing to do when it’s not true. Should be. But then, we all do it. The truth is though, it’s false humility. It’s a lie to others, to ourselves, and to God.
Don’t speak negatively of yourself – how does that relate to being humble?
Isn’t being self-deprecating and putting ourselves down part of being humble? It certainly isn’t puffing ourselves up. Nor is it making ourselves look better than everyone else.
However, did you know that putting ourselves down isn’t what humility in the Bible is about? Let’s look at that.
HUMILITY — a freedom from arrogance that grows out of the recognition that all we have and are comes from God. The Greek philosophers despised humility because to them it implied inadequacy, lack of dignity, and worthlessness. This is not the meaning of humility as defined by the Bible. Jesus is the supreme example of humility (Matt. 11:29; Mark 10:45; John 13:4–17; Phil. 2:5–8), and He is completely adequate and of infinite dignity and worth. Biblical humility is not a belittling of oneself (Matt. 6:16–18; Rom. 12:3), but an exalting or praising of others, especially God and Christ (John 3:30; Phil. 2:3). Humble people focus more on God and others than on themselves. 1Youngblood, R. F., Bruce, F. F., & Harrison, R. K., Thomas Nelson Publishers (Eds.). (1995). In Nelson’s new illustrated Bible dictionary. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc.
Before you continue reading, take a moment to try to place yourself in that description of humility. Try to consider humility as a way of being free from arrogance.
Freedom from arrogance. In reality, false humility is nothing but arrogance. It’s an attempt to influence the opinions of others. We put ourselves down. Secretly, we want someone else to say that we’re better than what we said. And most of the time, someone does exactly that. And we’re lifted up in our self-esteem. Not to mention in the eyes of others. Or so we think. Truth is, oftentimes it’s no secret at all. Most people know full well what’s going on. And they play the game.
In a sense, maybe we should look at humility as not doing something in order to be doing something else. Let me explain that. Consider the issue with the way Greek philosophers viewed humility. Maybe we don’t realize it, but many of us probably view it the same way.
The Greek philosophers despised humility because to them it implied inadequacy, lack of dignity, and worthlessness.
Maybe we won’t acknowledge it, but I dare say many, if not most of us, internally view it the same way.
To get around the problems like inadequacy and worthlessness, we turn it around. Being inadequate and of little to no value are suddenly traits to be esteemed. Traits to claim for ourselves, even if they don’t apply. Claims of inadequacy and worthlessness are badges of honor, not characteristics to hide and stuff away where they can’t be seen.
To maybe make it a bit more clear, as Christians, we know we are indeed inadequate, don’t have a whole lot of dignity, and in some respects are worthless. More on that in a moment.
But Jesus? He knows what’s going on even before the words are out of our mouths. False humility just doesn’t fly with Him. It’s not humility at all.
Biblical humility is not a belittling of oneself (Matt. 6:16–18; Rom. 12:3), but an exalting or praising of others, especially God and Christ (John 3:30; Phil. 2:3).
This thought is what we need to remember on the positive side of the humility topic. It’s not about us. It’s about others. And it’s especially about God.
Here’s an example from the Romans passage mentioned above.
Ro 12:1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. 2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Ro 12:3 For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. 4 Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. 7 If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; 8 if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.
Notice that Paul talks about what we do as an act of worship. Once again, this points us to the fact that we’re talking about something between us and God. He also reminds us that the things we do, when we follow God’s will, aren’t following the ways of the world. We’re following God’s good, pleasing and perfect will.
That makes being humble a very tricky situation. Especially when we’re doing something with one of the gifts God gave us. Just how much can we put down our efforts when we’re using a gift from God? And by the same token, how can we build ourselves up when we’re using a gift from God? Do you see? It’s not about us either way. It’s not what we have or don’t have. What we have comes from God. What we don’t have, we don’t need in order to fulfill our part of God’s good, pleasing and perfect will.
I feel like one of the big things is not to get in the way. If I feel like I don’t need God, that’s a recipe for disaster. So when I feel like I’m starting to write on my own – I stop. On the other hand, if I feel so inadequate that even God can’t help me do something, that’s a recipe for failure.
Don’t speak negatively of yourself – how does humility fit in?
Earlier, I said we’ll get back to the concept that as Christians, we know we are indeed inadequate, don’t have a whole lot of dignity, and in some respects are worthless. It’s time.
Humble people focus more on God and others than on themselves.
We’re now getting to the heart of the matter. The issue isn’t don’t speak negatively of yourself. The issue is to focus more on other people. Especially on God. That’s made very clear in the last part of our look at humility.
Biblical humility is also a recognition that by ourselves we are inadequate, without dignity and worthless. Yet, because we are created in God’s image and because believers are in Christ, we have infinite worth and dignity (1 Cor. 4:6–7; 1 Pet. 1:18–19). True humility does not produce pride but gratitude. Since God is both our Creator and Redeemer, our existence and righteousness depend on Him (John 15:5; Acts 17:28; Eph. 2:8–10). 2Youngblood, R. F., Bruce, F. F., & Harrison, R. K., Thomas Nelson Publishers (Eds.). (1995). In Nelson’s new illustrated Bible dictionary. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc.
Let’s drill down into that last paragraph.
Biblical humility is also a recognition that by ourselves we are inadequate, without dignity and worthless.
Yeah – that’s that part about our worth, or lack thereof. But hang in there. All is not lost. And it’s not at all as bad as it may seem at first.
Of course, the key is the part about “by ourselves”. That takes away thoughts of false humility and arrogance. And while it appears to give an impression of absolute worthlessness, it really doesn’t mean that at all.
Yet, because we are created in God’s image and because believers are in Christ, we have infinite worth and dignity (1 Cor. 4:6–7; 1 Pet. 1:18–19).
But then, the thoughts of arrogance are also out the window, because the infinite worth doesn’t come from us. Rather, it’s from God.
It feels like over the past several years, this is more and more an issue. Too many Christians seem to be incredibly arrogant these days. Especially those who get involved in politics. Of course, by that, I mean the idea that passing laws and forcing people to live a Christian lifestyle. That’s just not in the Bible. Anywhere. In fact, it’s the exact opposite of the way we should live.
The next line really brings that thought home.
True humility does not produce pride but gratitude. Since God is both our Creator and Redeemer, our existence and righteousness depend on Him (John 15:5; Acts 17:28; Eph. 2:8–10).
Ultimately, this is what we should speak of. We should not speak negatively about ourselves.
Here’s something I mentioned earlier: In a sense, maybe we should look at humility as not doing something in order to be doing something else.
If we stop speaking negatively about ourselves to bring out what we think is humility, then maybe we can begin to be truly humble by talking about others and especially talking about God, to whom the credit for everything good that we do truly belongs.
Don’t speak negatively of ourselves – but don’t boast either
The previous point on Biblical humility producing gratitude referenced some verses in Ephesians. Here’s the passage containing those verses. A passage where Paul points out that nor should we be boasting of ourselves.
Eph 2:1 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
There’s a lot in there. But the key part for today’s topic is this:
For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
So – if we’re really trying to follow Jesus, how can we boast about ourselves? And how can we have false humility? Furthermore, how can we speak negatively about ourselves?
Honestly, we can’t. Or at least we shouldn’t. We are, at best, doing what we promised to do when we became a Christian. And to the extent that we succeed, all the credit and the glory goes not to us – but to God.
Are we really totally worthless?
That part sounds really bad.
It was explained a little bit above.
However, since that’s not the topic today, that’s as much as I have here. But, I made a note to write something titled Are we really inadequate, without dignity and worthless? I’ll add a link here when it’s done.
Conclusion – To be successful, don’t speak negatively about yourself!
As you can see, whether we’re talking about life in the secular world or the life of a Christian in the religious “world” – or the secular world, don’t speak negatively about yourself.
As someone who has issues with depression, although not as much as previously, I can tell you from experience, it’s not a good thing. Even if it’s meant as a self-deprecating thing because you think it’s the “right” thing to do, it isn’t.
If our goal is to build someone up, we don’t have to knock ourselves down in order to make someone else feel better about themselves. That applies anywhere. Besides which, I suspect most people really know what you’re doing, and it’s not appreciated.
It often only makes the speaker lose respect from those listening to him/her. If you’re good at something, and try to talk or act like you aren’t, and you talk yourself down, the only one being fooled is you.
Ultimately, a lie told too often can be believed. The issue here though is that the one who’s going to believe the falsehood is the speaker when they start to feel insecure or negative about themselves.
Or, maybe, they’ll be upset when people stop trying to tell them that they really are good.
It’s like a lose-lose scenario.
If we don’t talk about ourselves, but only about the good things in others, then there’s no issues like these.
And for those of us who are Christians, when we only talk about others and about God, and especially about what God’s doing in/through others, pardon the pun, but it’s all good.
The adjacent image shows two extremes.
Obviously, the person on the left has positive things to say.
Just as obvious is the fact that the guy on the right is negative.
They’re both smiling. But which smile is genuine?
Which of them do you want to hang out with?
And which of them do you want to be like?
All images from Bing / Image Designer with DALL-E 3 based on descriptions from cwgsu
- 1Youngblood, R. F., Bruce, F. F., & Harrison, R. K., Thomas Nelson Publishers (Eds.). (1995). In Nelson’s new illustrated Bible dictionary. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc.
- 2Youngblood, R. F., Bruce, F. F., & Harrison, R. K., Thomas Nelson Publishers (Eds.). (1995). In Nelson’s new illustrated Bible dictionary. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc.