Your Pride is a Strength—Here's How to Use It
September 4, 2018
Pride gets a pretty bad rap. We see prideful people as braggarts and narcissists, their chests puffed out and lips pulled into a self-satisfied smirk, posted to Instagram. We blame pride for greedy decisions and self-sabotage. But experts say that not only is pride unfairly maligned, but feeling pride might actually be a good thing.
A recent study found that pride may be more valuable than we typically think. Researchers looked at data from 10 small, varied social groups in Central and South America, Africa, and Asia. They found that pride was a consistent, inherited experience throughout the various communities, and that pride actually had value within each group.
"People evolved to have a selfish streak, but they also needed a contrary pull toward acts that would make others value them in a world without soup kitchens, police, hospitals or insurance," said lead author Daniel Sznycer, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Montreal. "The feeling of pride is an internal reward that draws us towards such acts."
Pride, the researchers found, can motivate people to strive for success and act with compassion, because it forces us to consider others’ viewpoints and opinions, as well as our own.
Additional research has found that an internal sense of pride—feeling proud of something regardless of what others think—has benefits, too.
Professor Jessica Tracy, author of the book Take Pride, found that pride, or a lack thereof, can motivate us to change. “When we’re not feeling pride, and we’re aware of it, that pushes us to do something different—to change our behavior, so that we will feel pride,” she told New York Magazine.
In her research, she asked college students to report how much they’d studied for exams and how prideful they felt about their performance. “What we found was that the students who did poorly on that first exam, if they did poorly and they felt a lack of pride in that performance, that led them to change their behavior, to study more for the next exam—which, in turn, led to an improved performance,” she said. “And, using statistical analyses, we can trace that back to the lack of pride.”
So why, then, do we think of pride as a negative? It might be jealousy, or a distaste for the sense of entitlement that pride can bring. “People dislike the social subordination that sometimes follows others’ increases in status,” Sznycer said in a previous study. “And when there’s envy the mere success of others is experienced as a grievance.”
Of course, pride does have some downsides. History has taught us that pride can be blinding, causing people to go against their better judgement.
How can we find a happy medium? Here, two ways to find your pride stride:
Take Pride in Your Progress
Not feeling particularly proud of yourself at the moment? Find a small way to make progress.
Take it from researchers Teresa Amabile and Steven J. Kramer, who write in the Harvard Business Review, “Through exhaustive analysis of diaries kept by knowledge workers, we discovered the progress principle: Of all the things that can boost emotions, motivation, and perceptions during a workday, the single most important is making progress in meaningful work. And the more frequently people experience that sense of progress, the more likely they are to be creatively productive in the long run.”
"Of all the things that can boost emotions, motivation, and perceptions during a workday, the single most important is making progress in meaningful work."- researchers Teresa Amabile and Steven J. Kramer
Try cultivating pride by making small moves forward—maybe that means sending those three important emails, or finally cleaning out the cabinet in your bathroom. Then, take a moment to actually savor your momentum. By taking a step forward—and acknowledging it—you’ll boost your sense of pride, and gain motivation to keep the ball rolling.
Pair Pride With Humility
Pride starts to become a problem, says DiStefano, when people believe that success in one area means that they’ll have success in everything they do. Basically, when a feeling of pride transforms into a superiority complex. “Since none of us can be an expert in all areas, we must be humble enough to recognize that we cannot be great at everything; there will be times when we need to rely on others,” writes DiStefano.
Plus, says Tracy, pride that initially served to motivate can quickly become an ambition-killer. “We evolved to care so much about our sense of self, and how we’re seen by others...that’s what pushes us to achieve in all the great ways we have,” she says. “But because we do care so much about it, once we start to have those feelings, it’s very hard to put them aside and say, ‘What’s the next thing I’m going to do to keep this going?’ Especially when there’s also the option of, ‘I’m just going to bask in this. I’m just going to feel really great about myself right now.’”
If you find yourself rejecting others’ advice after a big win, or soaking up your success for days on end, slowly shift yourself towards another growth opportunity. Maybe it’s by taking up a new, hard-to-you hobby, or simply asking for help from a friend or coworker. Make pride the outcome—not the starting point—and you'll be able to grow through meaningful work.
Read next: How to Tap the Power of Pride on the Reg