Be mindful about mindfulness

Michael Harold was giving a speech, his first ever, and the venue was packed. It was standing room only, and people were spilling out the door. After speaking for 30 minutes, he lost his place in his notes. What would he do next?

What would you do?

We've all heard the claim that people fear public speaking more than death.Of course, I'm going to throw some science in here. This study proves what I have always suspected: nobody is actually more afraid of public speaking than dying, but people are more likely to include public speaking on their fear list. Why is this? People probably don't give much thought to their chances of dying on a given day. Dwyer, K. K., & Davidson, M. M. (2012). Is Public Speaking Really More Feared Than Death? In Communication Research Reports (Vol. 29, Issue 2, pp. 99–107). Informa UK Limited. https://doi.org/10.1080/08824096.2012.667772 Just imagining being in Michael's shoes might make us sweat. More than a few inexperienced speakers have given up in panic and ducked for cover.

What did Michael do?  Instead of being overcome by an emotional reaction, he had a mindful thought:

This is what everyone is afraid of.

Mindfulness turned what could have been an embarrassing and upsetting experience into a moment of wonder, one he has cherished ever since. Later, I will share the ending of the story, but let us linger in this moment with Michael. As you learn about mindfulness, try to imagine what Michael would think and do next.Incidentally, Michael was not only being mindful here but self-compassionate. 1. He was being kind to himself, not judgmental. 2. He was focusing on what he had in common with the rest of humanity. 3. He was being mindful.

For a long time, I put off writing this article because mindfulness is like a sharp knife: It's very powerful, very useful, but it can be dangerous when misused. This article addresses the following questions:

  • What is mindfulness?
  • What mechanisms are at work?
  • What are the benefits of mindfulness?
  • What are the potential dangers and downsides?

What is mindfulness?

What is the word you most closely associate with mindfulness?

Meditation. Am I right? The two words are often used interchangeably today, but they are not the same. On the one hand, mindfulness is just one of many types of meditation, and on the other hand, it is not necessary to meditate in order to be mindful. In fact, science strongly indicates that combining the two may not be as useful. That's next, but in the meantime, let's set the record straight as to what mindfulness means:

  • Awareness is the primary function of mindfulness.
  • Self-regulation is also an aspect of mindfulness: a mindful person exerts control over their attention.
  • Mindfulness involves observing and paying attention, not judging.
  • Attention can be directed toward one's thoughts, feelings, or bodily sensations.
  • The objective is to observe and note, not to judge, and not to ignore, deny, or suppress.
  • Mindfulness means being conscious of, open to, and curious about what is happening right here and now.

The key takeaway should be: Mindfulness distances a person from self-judgments and knee-jerk reactions.

Journalist Dan Harris, the author of 10% Happier, says that mindfulness creates some "space in your head" so you can respond rather than react. In his words, mindfulness "is the ability to see what's happening in your mind without being yanked around by it."

How it works

"More research is needed on the general and specific mechanisms by which mindfulness reduces reactivity to threat," wrote the authors of a study on mindfulness.Heppner, W. L., & Kernis, M. H. (2007). “Quiet Ego” Functioning: The Complementary Roles of Mindfulness, Authenticity, and Secure High Self-Esteem. Psychological Inquiry, 18(4), 248–251. doi:10.1080/10478400701598330 

We may not understand everything, but some factors can be identified.

Those who have spent a lot of time around children know that our reactions to external stimuli are not automatic. When a child gets hurt, it often takes them some time to process what happened. Before they start crying, they may look at their parents. Whether they cry or not is often determined by the parent's reaction.

By the time we're adults, we've already internalized many of our parents' reactions. What happens when we get hurt? We might scream in pain, curse, or even shrug it off. A lot depends on our personalities and role models. We may also react automatically when we experience emotions, believing that the emotion directly caused the reaction: "I couldn't help it. I was angry."

Mindfulness puts us back in the same situation we were in as children, except now we have the opportunity, not just to observe the situation, but to process it intelligently.

Underlying all of these processes is a disengagement from self-concern—the perceptions, thoughts, beliefs, evaluations, and related feelings people have about themselves that tend to channel and filter contact with reality in self-serving ways.

Further, when no longer ego-involved, a more fundamental “I” that is grounded in awareness has room to emerge and guide experience and behavior.Brown, K. W., Ryan, R. M., & Creswell, J. D. (2007). Mindfulness: Theoretical Foundations and Evidence for its Salutary Effects. Psychological Inquiry, 18(4), 211–237. doi:10.1080/10478400701598298

Emotions cease to be imperatives when we stop seeing them as such. We begin to stop viewing our self-judgments as reality. We recognize that they are transient. They are part of us, but only to the degree that we allow them to be.

Mindfulness is not the only way that we can accomplish this. The authors of a self-distancing study compared that intervention to mindfulness:

Placing negative events into a broader temporal perspective may heighten awareness of their impermanence in a manner similar to adopting a mindful, present-oriented focus.Bruehlman-Senecal, E., & Ayduk, O. (2015). This too shall pass: Temporal distance and the regulation of emotional distress. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 108(2), 356–375. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0038324

It would be remiss of me not to mention at least the basics of mindfulness. When eating mindfully, for instance, we focus on the experience: Look at the food on the plate. Observe the colors. Take in the smells. Savor the taste. Stay present and avoid being distracted. Researchers have used this method to "induce" mindfulness in studies involving it. 

Another strategy for fostering mindfulness is to instruct participants to describe their feelings about an event objectively and unemotionally.

Mindfulness training can be as simple as reminding someone to take a step back in a physically or emotionally painful situation. At some point in my life, someone taught me how to be mindful when I experience physical pain. It's unlikely they realized they were teaching me mindfulness, but it was effective. They said, "That'll feel better when it stops hurting." Even to this day, when I hit my thumb with a hammer or slam my hand in a door, I allow the pain to wash over me. I focus on exploring aspects of the pain rather than how much it hurts or how badly I want it to go away. In other words, I focus on the "cool" properties of the pain rather than the "hot."

Benefits

My usual approach is to start with the benefits, but here I made an exception. Scientific studies show:

  • Individuals with high levels of mindfulness have higher self-esteem that is secure rather than fragile.
  • Mindful people display less aggressive behavior.
  • They are less likely to think others are intent on hurting them.
  • Those who are mindful value people in general, and not just those in their own social circles.
  • Mindfulness and authenticity go hand in hand.The foregoing conclusions are based on the Heppner & Kernis (2007) study mentioned above.
  • Mindfulness plays a crucial role in self-compassion.
  • We get a chance to address what is causing us pain rather than ignore it.
  • Mindfulness counteracts the tendency to avoid painful feelings and thoughts.The next three conclusions are based on Neff, K., & Germer, C.K. (2017). Self-Compassion and Psychological Well-being.
  • It incurs protective benefits against distress when facing exclusion by a group.
  • Mindfulness practice can help decrease emotional and cognitive disturbances.
  • Mindfulness enhances executive function, self-regulation, autonomy, and interpersonal relations.
  • It becomes less important to achieve goals or change your circumstances to feel happy.
  • A person with higher mindfulness experiences less stress and feels more alive.
  • Our "more fundamental "I", that is, our sense of agency rather than our ego, has more control over our experience and behavior.The latter findings are all based on the Brown, Ryan, & Creswell (2007) study referenced above.

Downsides and dangers

With such an impressive list of science-backed benefits, what could go wrong?  Apparently, quite a bit.

Let's start with a quote from the Brown, Ryan, & Creswell (2007) study: 

Little is known about the longer-term consequences of either positive illusions or mindfulness, and investigations are needed to examine these processes and their outcomes side-by-side.

That's just the beginning. Here are a bunch more:

  • There is a simplistic view of human mind and of our inner lives that is prevalent in mainstream mindfulness interventions.Farias, M., & Wikholm, C. (2016). Has the science of mindfulness lost its mind? In BJPsych Bulletin (Vol. 40, Issue 6, pp. 329–332). Royal College of Psychiatrists. https://doi.org/10.1192/pb.bp.116.053686
  • In terms of depression, anxiety, pain, and quality of life, mindfulness practice only led to moderate improvements.Goyal, M., Singh, S., Sibinga, E. M. S., Gould, N. F., Rowland-Seymour, A., Sharma, R., Berger, Z., Sleicher, D., Maron, D. D., Shihab, H. M., Ranasinghe, P. D., Linn, S., Saha, S., Bass, E. B., & Haythornthwaite, J. A. (2014). Meditation Programs for Psychological Stress and Well-being. In JAMA Internal Medicine (Vol. 174, Issue 3, p. 357). American Medical Association (AMA). https://doi.org/10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.13018
  • Some participants experienced increased stress and depression.Dobkin, P. L., Irving, J. A., & Amar, S. (2011). For Whom May Participation in a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program be Contraindicated? In Mindfulness (Vol. 3, Issue 1, pp. 44–50). Springer Science and Business Media LLC. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-011-0079-9
  • The clinical outcomes of mindfulness-based interventions were no better than relaxation or psychoeducation in the medium- or long-term (3 weeks to 3 years after intervention).Khoury, B., Lecomte, T., Fortin, G., Masse, M., Therien, P., Bouchard, V., Chapleau, M.-A., Paquin, K., & Hofmann, S. G. (2013). Mindfulness-based therapy: A comprehensive meta-analysis. In Clinical Psychology Review (Vol. 33, Issue 6, pp. 763–771). Elsevier BV. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cpr.2013.05.005
  • About 8 percent of people experience negative effects from these practices, such as increased anxiety, depression, stress, and hallucinations.Farias, M., Maraldi, E., Wallenkampf, K. C., & Lucchetti, G. (2020). Adverse events in meditation practices and meditation‐based therapies: a systematic review. In Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica (Vol. 142, Issue 5, pp. 374–393). Wiley. https://doi.org/10.1111/acps.13225
  • For some people, the intensity of all their emotions becomes louder, as if someone turned up the volume. Eventually, becoming oversensitive to even slight changes might become a problem.Britton, W. B. (2019). Can mindfulness be too much of a good thing? The value of a middle way. In Current Opinion in Psychology (Vol. 28, pp. 159–165). Elsevier BV. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.copsyc.2018.12.011
  • In the presence of excessive prefrontal control over the limbic system, all emotions, both positive and negative, become blunted, so people no longer feel extreme joy or happiness. The study found that around 8% of the meditators experienced this unsettling sense of "dissociation" from their lives.Cebolla, A., Demarzo, M., Martins, P., Soler, J., & Garcia-Campayo, J. (2017). Unwanted effects: Is there a negative side of meditation? A multicentre survey. In R. K. Hills (Ed.), PLOS ONE (Vol. 12, Issue 9, p. e0183137). Public Library of Science (PLoS). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0183137
  • "Mindfulness meditation appears to reduce reality-monitoring accuracy."Wilson, B. M., Mickes, L., Stolarz-Fantino, S., Evrard, M., & Fantino, E. (2015). Increased False-Memory Susceptibility After Mindfulness Meditation. In Psychological Science (Vol. 26, Issue 10, pp. 1567–1573). SAGE Publications. https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797615593705

Though I haven't thoroughly examined all of the references above, it appears that most of them refer to mindfulness meditation as opposed to simple mindfulness inductions of the types I mentioned above.

Back to Michael

Michael's moment of mindfulness turned his potentially ego-rattling experience into a cherished memory.

Here's the rest of Michael's story, in his own words:

And then I'm looking around, and it's like, this is kind of cool. This is kind of cool. And then it came back to me like what the next piece was. And I was thinking, well, let me sit in this moment just for one more second. And then I launched back into my talk.

His lack of self-focus led him to wrongly assume no one in the audience had noticed the pause.  One of his family members assured him that wasn't the case - it was obvious.

This was a classic example of a benefit and a drawback of mindfulness: Michael had complete control over his emotions but he failed to notice something that was obvious to everyone else. In Michael's case, both worked to his advantage.

I hope this article can help you use mindfulness in a balanced way to improve the quality of your life.

Quiet ego, happy life

The ancient Greek philosopher Plato is known, among other things, for his Theory of Forms. In his view, you could understand a perfect pyramid, but you can never fully understand a pyramid that you see in real life because it differs from the ideal in too many ways for the mind to comprehend.

My goal is to find the perfect Form of a satisfying and distress-free life. While there is no ideal, perfect life, like Plato, I am intrigued by its shadow, that is, the best version of existence in our imperfect world.

I have discovered signs of such a Form in my research for these blog posts.  I've examined various theories about how to live a more satisfying life.  First, I looked at ideas about what makes a well-rounded person.  Then I discovered the concept of ego strength.  Finally, I did research to determine what self-esteem is and how it relates to a satisfying life.  In the process, I discovered many similarities among the three ideas.

Was that a coincidence, or are those three concepts different "shadows" of an ideal life mindset?

It is my intention to see how other methods of research confirm my discoveries, or, like any competent scientist, admit my mistake if I find contrary evidence.

Last week I mentioned my discovery that Nathaniel Branden's work on self-esteem is actually a blend of concepts. As I considered this, I wondered if other scientific theories would support similar conclusions. Recently, I found two that do, and I discovered a study that ties them together.

Shh, quiet, ego!

Heidi A. Wayment, lab director at Northern Arizona University, and her colleague Jack Bauer coined the term quiet ego in 2005 to describe "a self-identity rooted in balance and growth goals." After having written several articles on the subject of ego myself, this topic caught my interest.

According to Wayment and Bauer's extensive research on the subject, a person with a quiet ego:

  • Detaches their feelings of self-worth from their everyday affairs
  • Feels their worth is a given, not something that must be earned
  • Acknowledges and accepts their own shortcomings
  • Balances a strong sense of agency with concern for the well-being of others
  • Possesses higher levels of self-esteem, resilience, life satisfaction, and open-mindedness and flexibility
  • Is more likely to set compassion-oriented goals, have better self-control, and more self-compassion, which results in less perceived stress and higher life satisfaction

There are four aspects of a quiet ego, as defined by Wayment and Bauer.  The first two and the last two are closely related:

  1. Inclusive identity: the extent to which an individual identifies with others in terms of personal qualities
  2. Perspective-taking: taking the time to consider others' perspectives instead of one's own
  3. Detached awareness: mindfulness and a focus on the present without preoccupation with expectations or ideals
  4. Personal growth, or growth-mindedness

That's a brief overview.  We will look at more aspects of this theory later, when I compare it to the others, but first, let's examine a related theory.

Get real: authenticity

There are two popular models (among scientists, at least) of authenticity.  The first, developed by Carl Rogers in 1961,Rogers, C. R. (1961). On becoming a person: A therapist’s view of psychotherapy. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. centers on three factors:

  1. An individual's experience
  2. Their conscious awareness of their experience
  3. Their outward communication and behavior

Brian Goldman and Michael Kernis developed their own model of authenticity in 2002.Goldman, B. M., & Kernis, M. H. (2002). The role of authenticity in healthy psychological functioning and subjective well-being. Annals of the American Psychotherapy Association, 5(6), 18–20. Goldman and Kernis break down authenticity into four components:

  1. Awareness: The degree to which individuals are aware and trust themselves about their likes and dislikes, motives, standards, and other aspects of personal identity
  2. Unbiased processing: People do not ignore or deny information about their strengths and weaknesses
  3. Behavior: The degree to which an individual engages in actions that align with their core values, beliefs, and self-concepts
  4. Relational orientation: The extent to which individuals wish close others to know who they really are

As with quiet ego, I'm not going to delve further into the details here.  Let's do that in the next section.

How strong are the pillars?

As mentioned in the introduction, I've already compared two concepts to Branden's Six Pillars of Self-Esteem, but now I'm going to compare two more: Wayment and Bauer's Quiet Ego Theory and Goldman and Kernis' Authenticity Theory, both introduced above.  I'll use the pillars as the outline and we'll learn similarities and differences with our two newcomers along the way.  But first, one more thing.

I've already written quite a bit about self-compassion, but it's worth summarizing three points here:

  1. Self-compassionate people value self-kindness over self-judgment. 
  2. Instead of feeling alone and isolated in their feelings, they focus on their common humanity.
  3. Instead of overidentifying with problems, they perceive mindfully.

The first pillar: The Practice of Living Consciously

Branden emphasized:

  • Seeking and being eagerly open to any information, knowledge, or feedback that bears on our interests, values, goals, and projects
  • Seeking to understand not only the world external to self but also our inner world, so that we do not act out of self-blindness

These points harmonize both with the Awareness aspect of Authenticity as well as the Detached Awareness aspect of Quiet Ego.

Under this pillar, Branden also emphasized being present to what we are doing while doing it, the essence of mindfulness (included in Detached Awareness and Self-Compassion). One thing that all of the theories/concepts under consideration have in common is a strong focus on reality, accepting the world as it is and not denying it or wishing that things were different.

Awareness, as defined by Goldman and Kernis, includes being aware of one's emotions, core values, and goals. I'll need to look closer, but I haven't seen this explicitly mentioned by Branden under this pillar. I identified it in the other concepts I examined though, so it clearly belongs here.

The second pillar: The Practice of Self Acceptance

  • Owning, experiencing, and taking responsibility for our thoughts, feelings, and actions, without evasion, denial, or disowning
  • Giving oneself permission to think one’s thoughts, experience one’s emotions, and look at one’s actions without necessarily liking, endorsing, or condoning them
  • The virtue of realism applied to the self

As with the first pillar, these aspects all fall under Detached Awareness.  However, in Authenticity Theory, these clearly correspond to Unbiased Processing.  There is a difference between Unbiased Processing and Detached Awareness, however. Detached Awareness includes mindfulness - a suspension of judgment -while Unbiased Processing includes the idea of thinking critically about the self without being self-critical.

Yes, that is confusing, so I'll explain. As I see it, mindfulness involves observing thoughts, feelings, and events without judgment, whereas Unbiased Processing involves judging the thoughts themselves to make sure they are not self-critical. That's in line with the emphasis Branden puts on noticing and confronting impulses to deny or ignore painful or threatening realities. He placed this under the first pillar, not the second.  However, this is a minor point.

The third pillar: The Practice of Self Responsibility

So far, we've seen a fairly close correspondence between the three primary theories/concepts we're considering.  However, considering Branden has six pillars and the other two have four primary aspects, it's not reasonable to expect there will be a close correspondence, and indeed, that's what happens here.

For the correspondence to make sense, I need to introduce another concept. This is commonly referred to as being "above the line" or "below the line." It's a great metaphor for taking responsibility versus making excuses, transferring blame, etc. Thinking and acting above the line involves taking responsibility, being accountable, and so forth. Those who think and act below the line blame, offer excuses, and don't take action.

Neither Authenticity Theory nor Quiet Ego Theory explicitly mentions this concept. However, Unbiased Processing contains the concept of acknowledging one's weaknesses, which is very much above-the-line behavior. Relational Orientation also means caring for others, understanding their needs, and wanting to be counted on to do the right thing. Quiet Ego includes Inclusive Identity and Perspective Taking. People who feel as if they are part of a group are less likely to evade their duties. They can also understand the disappointment that others would experience if they engaged in below-the-line behavior.

So I would say the two theories implicitly, but not explicitly, support Branden's assertions:

  • The question is not “Who’s to blame?” but always “What needs to be done?”
  • The world doesn't owe us anything. If we need the cooperation of other people to achieve our goals, we must offer value in exchange

In addition, under the third pillar, Branden adds, "We are the author of our choices and actions; ... each one of us is responsible for life and well-being and for the attainment of our goals." I don't see this incorporated into either Quiet Ego or Authenticity. I think it logically follows, by extension from the above, but this idea falls under the Behavior aspect of Authenticity and the Personal Growth aspect of Quiet Ego, in my opinion. What do you think?

I think it's important to add that resourcefulness and a healthy sense of boundaries also logically fall under the umbrella of this pillar. I haven't seen any direct reference from Branden (again, I'll look further), but these are important enough that I'm repeating them again. All three of these primary concepts stop short, in my view, of articulating the importance of not only taking responsibility for one's own challenges but also being willing to allow others to handle theirs.Although you could logically place this under Authenticity/Behavior.  Furthermore, the point I'm trying to make here logically overlaps with the next pillar.

The fourth pillar: Self Assertiveness

While I'm on the subject of identifying missing pieces, Quiet Ego really misses the boat on this one. I haven't read everything Wayment and Bauer have written on the subject, so they may have touched on it somewhere, but it's not obvious. On the other hand, the Behavior aspect of Authenticity seems to fit this pillar hand in glove:

  • Being authentic in our dealings with others
  • Treating our values and other persons with decent respect in social contexts
  • Refusing to fake the reality of who we are or what we esteem in order to avoid disapproval
  • The willingness to stand up for ourselves and our ideas in appropriate ways in appropriate contexts

Moving on.

The fifth pillar: The Practice of Living Purposefully

I'll just reiterate Branden's points about what this entails:

  • Identifying our short-term and long-term goals or purposes and the actions needed to attain them (formulating an action-plan)
  • Organizing behavior in the service of those goals
  • Monitoring action to be sure we stay on track
  • Paying attention to outcomes so as to recognize if and when we need to go back to the drawing-board

This seems to fall under the Personal Growth aspect of Quiet Ego. It's not too hard to see a connection with Authenticity/Behavior here. And the identifying and monitoring would logically fall under Authenticity/Awareness.

The sixth pillar: The Practice of Personal Integrity

  • Living with congruence between what we know, what we profess, and what we do
  • Telling the truth, honoring our commitments, exemplifying in action the values we profess to admire

There's no need for me to elaborate on the connection with Authenticity/Behavior. On the other hand, I don't see any connection with Quiet Ego.

Here's a table summarizing the connections:

The Six Pillars Quiet Ego Authenticity
Living Consciously Detached Awareness Awareness
Self Acceptance Detached Awareness Unbiased Processing
Self Responsibility Inclusive Identity/Perspective Taking/Personal Growth Unbiased Processing/Relational Orientation
Self Assertiveness no connection Behavior
Living Purposefully Personal Growth Awareness/Behavior
Personal Integrity no connection Behavior

Where's the science?

Most of my articles are based on scientific data, but we should have something solid to sink our intellectual teeth into. I have just that in the form of a recent study that includes all the aspects we have discussed so far.

The study, "The relationship among quiet ego, authenticity, self-compassion and life satisfaction in adults," was published Published May 22, 2021 by authors Ling-Choo Chew and Chin-Siang Ang.Chew, L.-C., & Ang, C.-S. (2021). The relationship among quiet ego, authenticity, self-compassion and life satisfaction in adults. Current Psychology: A Journal for Diverse Perspectives on Diverse Psychological Issues. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12144-021-01867-5  You can tell from the title that it encompasses several of the concepts I discussed above. A caveat or two: Self-esteem was not included in their study, although it was acknowledged as having a relationship with life satisfaction."the variables examined are based on dimensions of self that contribute low to moderate variance in capturing life satisfaction. Other dimensions of self-concept were not included in this study. For example, self-esteem, as an expression of perception and evaluation towards oneself, is positively associated with life satisfaction (Patel et al., 2018)." The reason I chose the topic and format of this article is that the factors considered in it are all related to self-esteem and more importantly, to life satisfaction, which is a major focus of this blog.My other caveat is this: Although the authors did discuss the Goldman & Kernis authenticity model, they used the Rogers model for their calculations instead because it shows greater "validity and factorial structure of authenticity measures." Nonetheless, the Goldman & Kernis model is widely used and considered valid.

The study involved 203 adult participants larger pool and a wider age range. The results were interesting:

  • Quiet ego was a predictor of life satisfaction
  • However, authenticity and self-compassion were much greater predictors, eclipsing the contributions of quiet ego

For the math-minded, the study identified quiet ego as having a .193 correlation with life satisfaction.  Authenticity (Rogers model) was .261, and self-compassion was .446.  Also, quiet ego had a .489 correlation with authenticity and a .298 correlation with self-compassion. (A correlation of .5 means the variance is 25% related.)This harmonizes with a previous study involving hundreds of participants: "Moderate to larger correlations were found between QES and authenticity, life satisfaction, and coping efficacy. Mindfulness, self-compassion, and authenticity were intercorrelated moderately, r(156) range: .332 to .554, average r(156) = .448." In that study, the Goldman & Kernis authenticity model was used. Wayment, H.A., Bauer, J.J. & Sylaska, K. The Quiet Ego Scale: Measuring the Compassionate Self-Identity. J Happiness Stud 16, 999–1033 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10902-014-9546-z 

The authors referenced a 2016 study illustrating "the underlying mechanism between self-compassion and life satisfaction with hope as a mediator."

A hopeful mindset enables individuals to identify desired goals in life and leads to increased confidence and motivation, and in turn promotes life satisfaction.

A bright outlook leads to increased confidence, motivation, and life satisfaction? Of course, you already knew that.

 

What is self-confidence?

I've been thinking about this question for a long time. Since the theme of this blog, Bright Outlook, is a synonym of confidence, it's only right that I should explore this topic carefully. After thoroughly examining what science has to say, I am confident to share this answer with you.

I'm certainly not the first person to wonder what "confidence" means. Albert Bandura, a Canadian-American psychologist and a professor at Stanford University, described the word as "a nondescript term that refers to strength of belief but does not necessarily specify what the certainty is about." In 1977, he coined the phrase self-efficacy to describe, more precisely, "belief in one's agentive capabilities, that one can produce given levels of attainment."Efficacy, a synonym of competence, is the power to produce an effect. Self-efficacy is the belief in one's efficacy, one's ability to succeed in a particular situation. He explained his reasoning as follows:

Confidence is a catchword rather than a construct embedded in a theoretical system. Advances in a field are best achieved by constructs that fully reflect the phenomena of interest and are rooted in a theory that specifies their determinants, mediating processes, and multiple effects. Theory-based constructs pay dividends in understanding and operational guidance. The terms used to characterize personal agency, therefore, represent more than merely lexical preferences.

By understanding 'constructs embedded in theoretical systems', we can more precisely grasp abstract concepts such as confidence.  Research based on such systems will help answer the following questions:

  • What's the difference between self-confidence and self-esteem?
  • What, exactly, is self-esteem?
  • What is the difference between self-esteem and self-compassion?

Why does it matter? Understanding these concepts will help us experience less distress and higher satisfaction in life. What could be more desirable than that?

What is self-esteem?

I've already considered this subject in a detailed blog post that carefully analyzed the subject based on the writings of "the father of the self-esteem movement," Nathaniel Branden. It is true that he has been among the foremost voices on this subject, but his word is not the end of the matter.

Modern science has given us the ability to break the concept of self-esteem into components. But first, we'll need to introduce another idea: self-concept.

According to William W. PurkeyProfessor of Counselor Education at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, self-concept refers to “the totality of a complex, organized, and dynamic system of learned beliefs, attitudes and opinions that each person holds to be true about his or her personal existence.”

Simply put, self-concept is an individual's answer to the question, "Who am I?"

One thing that makes understanding psychology so difficult is the number of synonyms and near-synonyms in use. Self-concept is also referred to as self-image, self-construal, self-construction, self-identity, self-perspective, or self-structure.

Self-concept is what a person thinks about themselves, and self-esteem is what a person feels about themselves.I can't help but compare this to the concept of perspective-taking. Cognitive PT is called ToM, and emotional PT is called empathy. I wish we had terms that made it easier to see these connections. While self-concept is descriptive, self-esteem is evaluative, which means it represents a value judgment.

Self-esteem is the most fundamental core evaluation of the self, because it is the overall value that one places on oneself as a person.Judge, T. A., Locke, E. A., Durham, C. C., & Kluger, A. N. (1998). Dispositional effects on job and life satisfaction: The role of core evaluations. Journal of Applied Psychology, 83(1), 17–34. doi:10.1037/0021-9010.83.1.17

According to Robert Jackson Ruddell, "There is still no consensus regarding a single definition of self-esteem in the literature."Ruddell, R. J. (2020). Validity and reliability evidence for the Rosenberg self-esteem scale with adults in Canada and the United States. University of British Columbia. https://doi.org/10.14288/1.0394068  However, as with critical thinking, we can identify patterns in the theories of experts.

Carl Rogers, among others, regarded self-esteem as a component of self-concept.Carl Rogers is widely regarded as one of the founders of psychotherapy. In his view, self-concept consists of three components: self-image, self-esteem, and ideal self.

Many believe that self-efficacy is a component of self-esteem.  In other words, they define self-esteem as the judgment of how worthy and competent one is. Indeed, self-esteem and self-efficacy are so closely linked that it's difficult to distinguish between the two. Still, it seems worthwhile to do so.

Researchers connect self-esteem with comparing one's self-concept to one's ideal self. The greater the difference, the lower the self-esteem and the greater the level of distress.

When we look at the relationship between an activity and a person's identity, we can see how self-efficacy and self-esteem are related. A person who considers themselves a baseball player has a high ego involvement in the sport. They will likely have high self-efficacy at playing baseball. However, if they play poorly, their self-esteem will suffer.

However, a person who does not consider themselves to be a baseball player might perform poorly but not experience a drop in self-esteem.  Their identity isn't closely linked to baseball.

Self-esteem and self-compassion

The effects of self-compassion have often been conflated with self-esteem.Leary, M., Tate, E.B., Adams, C.E., Allen, A., & Hancock, J. (2007). Self-compassion and reactions to unpleasant self-relevant events: the implications of treating oneself kindly. Journal of personality and social psychology, 92 5, 887-904. Indeed, self-compassion does have beneficial effects on self-esteem. As I explored the literature on self-compassion, I discovered that Branden's view of self-esteem includes self-compassion, along with self-efficacy.

Here are some differences between the two:

  • In contrast to self-esteem, self-compassion does not involve judgment or evaluation.
  • Self-compassion promotes emotional regulation, while self-esteem does not.
  • A threat to self-esteem can lead to defensiveness, but self-compassion has the opposite effect.

A person who engages in self-compassion is able to take responsibility for their own actions while being kind to themselves. They are less afraid of failure, and will often try again if they fail. Typically, they are more emotionally resilient, have more accurate self-perceptions, care more about others, and exhibit less narcissism and reactive anger. In addition, they show a greater desire to improve, participate more in learning, repair past harms, and avoid repeating past mistakes.

How does confidence fit in?

It's clear now that confidence is a broad concept that's difficult to analyze theoretically. It overlaps with self-esteem and self-efficacy. Still, there are some obvious things we know about confidence.

To be confident means to have a strong belief in something.In fact, if you look carefully, you'll notice that all of the elements discussed in this article have to do with beliefs about oneself. Self-confidence means trusting in your own judgment, capacities, and abilities.The fact that confidence involves trust is no coincidence. The word confidence comes from the Latin con fidere "with trust."

Typically, self-confidence is associated with a positive public image. It is an important part of assertiveness. Often, a person's public image involves a grandiose view of themselves without a lot of substance. It is easy to get sucked into the trap of overconfidence. It can lead people to become rigid and even dogmatic.

I hope that the information in this article will help you increase your own self-confidence more effectively.

Listening well is a superpower

Most of the successful people I’ve known are the ones who do more listening than talking. —Bernard M. BaruchIn addition to being a financier and statesman, Baruch played an important role in the management of World War I, influencing Democratic congressional leaders from 1918 to 1948, and consulting with Democratic presidents on occasion. For half a century, Bernard Baruch was one of the wealthiest and most powerful men in the country, according to historian Thomas A. Krueger.

If you want someone to meet you where you are, meet them where they are first.

The way to find out where they are, is to listen.

Why is listening such a powerful skill?  What challenges make it difficult?  And how can you master this super useful skill?

Why it's important

  • There are very few genuine listeners in the world. The rarest gem is not worth as much as someone who truly listens and tries to understand.  
  • There are many amazing and interesting stories out there. Few conversations will be boring. In fact, you can tell whether you are really listening by the way the conversation goes. If it is boring, chances are you aren't.
  • The skill of "active listening" is considered one of the skills that makes you more employable in the most desirable jobs.
  • Active listening helps you negotiate more effectively.
  • It builds better relationships with family, friends, and colleagues.
  • The quality of your life improves.
  • The benefits extend beyond any particular profession.
  • You gain trust by understanding others' perspectives.
  • You can prevent misunderstandings.
  • You become a better team player.
  • It makes you a better partner.
  • All around, you become a better person.
  • When you open yourself up to listening to others, they will be more open to listening to you. In fact, not listening to others could result in our ideas and opinions being completely ignored.
  • Everyone wants to feel valued, understood, and accepted. Listening lets us give that to them.
  • It is a valuable relationship-related currency.
  • When people feel valued, they tend to perform better.

Listening is not the same as agreeing. Listening does not obligate you to take any particular action. If anything, it will lessen the intensity of people's insistence that you take a specific action. Most often, they want proof that you've heard them. Therefore, if they feel you've truly heard them, their need for action diminishes.

Researchers have found that people who ask more questions, particularly follow-up questions, are better liked by their conversation partners.Huang, K., Yeomans, M., Brooks, A. W., Minson, J., & Gino, F. (2017). It doesn’t hurt to ask: Question-asking increases liking. In Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Vol. 113, Issue 3, pp. 430–452). American Psychological Association (APA). https://doi.org/10.1037/pspi0000097

Author Eric Barker asked John Gottman, a renowned expert on love and relationships, what the best way to improve a relationship would be. His answer? 

Learn how to be a good listener.

According to author Tim Hast,Powerful Listening. Powerful Influence. Work Better. Live Better. Love Better: by Mastering the Art of Skillful Listening, about half of all employees leave their jobs because they feel that their boss is not listening to them.

Types of listening

There are many kinds of listening. Enjoying the sound of a song, for example, is an example of appreciative listening. Biased listening occurs when the listener only hears what they want to hear.

In most cases, what determines our mode of listening is whether we listen (1) to strengthen a relationship, (2) to help someone, (3) to gain information, or (4) to protect ourselves.

I won't list all the types of listening I know here. Our main focus will be on listening modes that support one of the four goals above.

In evaluative forms of listening, we tend to make judgments as we listen. In some cases, this can be useful and in others, it can be unhelpful.

Self-protection through biased listening is maladaptive. Instead, listen critically, analyzing what is being said and relating it to your existing knowledge and rules, while also taking in what the speaker is saying. It is important to decide which of the speaker's words to accept and which to treat skeptically.

As a result of our desire to protect ourselves, we can be less effective when we listen. At times, this is a worthwhile tradeoff. In contrast, for us to strengthen our relationship with someone or help them, trust is crucial. This requires us to suspend judgment for a time.

Modes of listening that aid us in these goals are:

  1. Comprehension listening, also known as content listening, informative listening or full listening
  2. Deep listening
  3. Empathetic listening
  4. Relationship listening

Let's briefly consider what each involves.

Comprehension listening means focusing on understanding what is being said. This is more than just waiting for the other person to finish so you can continue talking. Other levels may also be included:

  • Making sure you fully understand the message
  • Identifying underlying meanings
  • Carefully observing body language

Deep listening includes all aspects of comprehension listening. It is grounded in a solid understanding of psychology. It also includes aspects that go beyond comprehension listening. For example:

  • Identifying the needs and goals of the speaker
  • Understanding the preferences and biases of the speaker
  • Recognizing the speaker's values and beliefs

Understanding, and even feeling, the emotions of the other person is the aim of empathetic listening. Empathetic listeners strive to understand the other's perspective. They ask questions in a way that encourages self-disclosure.

Relationship listening is closely related to empathetic listening, but it's also about creating and nurturing connections. It contributes to close relationships. The same approach is also useful when dealing with relationships involving influence, such as in negotiation and sales. During relationship listening, you are focused on things you have in common with the other person.

Challenges and principles

We instinctively want to voice our disapproval when someone says something that we don't agree with. Keeping our opinions to ourselves takes patience and courage. This is because we feel threatened when someone says something we don't agree with. 

Good listeners don't agree with everything they hear, but they do seek ways to validate the other person: "I can see why you feel that way." "I think that's a common viewpoint." They reserve the right to challenge what they hear, but they wisely wait until they fully understand the other person's perspective first. Listening is challenging because it requires restraint, which is a superpower in itself.

Silence is golden, not awkward

The concept of "awkward silence" often prevents effective listening. A person may need time to think about what they want to say next. Perhaps they want to say something, but struggle with the desire to protect themselves. If you are silent, you give them a void to fill, and they will tend to say what they are thinking.

Read my lips, not my mind

While it is obvious that we can't read another person's mind, to listen effectively, both speaker and listener should be aware of this fact. Instead of assuming, the listener should be asking questions. And sometimes the speaker needs to be reminded, kindly, of this fact.

Curiosity is the key

One of the most important aspects of listening is genuine curiosity. There is a story, a bit of wisdom, or a potential opportunity hidden in everyone we meet. By focusing on finding those rather than sharing our own perspective, we can listen well. In The Sales Acceleration Formula, Mark Roberge writes:

Great salespeople are naturally curious. They ask great questions, listen intently, and probe into points of interest.

You should aim to learn something new about the other person each time you speak with them, regardless of how long you've known each other.

Curiosity is the key to avoiding most of the common bad listening habits:

  • Interrupting
  • Getting distracted
  • Making the speaker feel they are wasting the listener's time
  • Finishing the speaker's thoughts for them
  • Topping the speaker's story ("That reminds me...")
  • Obsessing over the details
  • Understanding the words but missing the real meaning

How to become a better listener

Let's put these principles to work.

Give complete attention to the other person

If possible, eliminate distractions. Turn your phone off and try to talk somewhere you're less likely to be interrupted. 

Be determined not to make any statements or add your own opinions. You can do that later. This is the time to really understand the other person first.

Be a detective. What is the other person's story? What is their point of view? What can you learn from them?

Strive for mutual understanding

Don't assume the other person knows the purpose or subject of the discussion.  Make sure you are on the same page by asking questions.

Try to gain the other person's perspective

What is the listener thinking and feeling? Strive to see their point of view without any judgment. Look for ways to validate their thinking and emotions. Try to put yourself in their shoes. Where are they coming from? Ask, "What is it like to be you?" but not in those words.

Meeting the person where they are means exploring with them what they are feeling. Embrace any pain or discomfort you are feeling and focus on understanding their feelings. For as long as it takes, let your world revolve around them.

Find out what's important to them

People usually provide "free information" during conversations. For example, if you are discussing the weather and someone mentions a recent, weather-related incident, you can bet that the incident has meaning for them.  Asking questions about it will help you discover things that are important to them. Author Mark Goulston writes,Just Listen: Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone

Eventually, one of your questions will click and you’ll see the person lean forward eagerly to tell you something with enthusiasm or intensity. When that happens, do the right thing: Shut up. Listen. Listen some more. And then, once the person reaches a stopping point, ask another question that proves that you heard (and care about) what the person said.

Look for the underlying message

  • Watch out for implicit assumptions in the speaker's words.
  • Watch for non-verbal messages. Observe their body language. Does it match what they are saying?
  • Try to detect emotional content in their speech. Respond to their emotions rather than what they say.

Keep them talking

Because your curiosity is motivating you, you want to hear all they have to say on the topic.

The less you say, the better.  Adding short responses occasionally is helpful: "I see," "Uh-huh," "OK," etc. Make sure your body language reflects your interest (which is easy if you are genuinely interested). Nods and smiles encourage the speaker to continue.

When they pause, you can ask clarifying questions.  Examples:

  • What did you do next?
  • How did that happen?
  • What do you mean when you say...?
  • Who said what to whom?

Note that these questions involve the words "who, what, where, when and how," which encourage brief, factual answers. Avoid asking "why," which can derail the person's train of thought.

Sometimes we don't have a question in mind.  We can ask, "What happened after that?" or simply say, "Tell me more."

A skilled listener is not only good at keeping the other person talking, but at keeping themselves from jumping in too early. Remember, silence can be very useful. Use a pause to:

  • Leave a gap for the other person to fill
  • Think about what you have just heard
  • Get your emotions under control

Summarize to make sure you understand

This is the only part of listening where talking is truly valuable. Words have multiple meanings, and our current perspectives color what we hear.  So it's wise never to assume we understood the message.

The most effective way to assure understanding is to summarize what we heard in our own words:

  • "If I understand you correctly, you are saying..."
  • "Let me see if I've got this straight."
  • "So your main point is. . . Am I correct?"

When they are making a general argument, ask them for, or suggest, relevant examples.

If you succeed in expressing the other person's viewpoint better than they can, you will know you are listening. You should aim to impress your audience not with what you have to say, but by how well you comprehend what they are saying.

Depending on the circumstances, you may need help to determine whether you have heard everything the other person has to say. A skilled listener will often ask, "Are there any other questions I should have asked?" 

Choose the right time to respond

Take a deep breath. Congratulate yourself for waiting for the right time to speak. You earned this opportunity because you have:

  1. Given your complete attention to the other person
  2. Sought to understand the other person's perspective
  3. Looked for what is important to them
  4. Given thought to any underlying messages
  5. Allowed the person to be fully heard
  6. Let them tell the story their way
  7. Summarized their points to make sure you understood correctly

Now that you've heard the other person out, you can share your viewpoint with them. As people naturally tend to reciprocate, they will be much more likely to listen to you.

Listening to gain information or to promote a relationship may not require adding your own perspective. It is enough to thank them for sharing their thoughts with you. 

If your motive is to help or persuade the other person, you are now well-equipped. Nevertheless, you will find that listening will continue to play an important role in your efforts. 

Perhaps you went into the conversation feeling that the other person had a problem you could help them solve, or perhaps an opinion you could share. As you listen, you may realize that your approach needs to be changed. However, you are now qualified to offer a description of the problem, not a solution. Even if the other person agrees with you, you need to work together to find a solution. A person is more likely to implement a solution if they feel that it came from their own ideas. 

Give it time

As you can see from the above, listening effectively takes a lot of time. That's one reason it is such a rare skill. We are in a hurry today, and we tend to determine our success by how quickly we see results.

Listening carefully to others may yield immediate results. For one thing, they'll be much more likely to listen to us. Most of the benefits, however, will come over time.

A person who feels like they're being heard is more likely to accept the information you share with them, but not necessarily right away. They often need time to think about it, and it may take several sessions before what you have to say to them starts to sink in. But when it does, you will feel incredibly powerful. Changing someone else's mind is a rare event.

We also need to be patient with ourselves. Even the best of listeners sometimes get distracted, thinking about what to say next, getting emotionally derailed, or even jumping in with their own story. This is not failure. It's normal conversation.

Change happens slowly, so don't get impatient with yourself.  Try this:

  • Congratulate yourself any time you follow one or more of the steps above. You are making progress!
  • If you catch yourself judging someone, ask yourself why you feel threatened by what they are saying.
  • Try practicing listening to others talk on subjects you don't agree with.  Instead of arguing with them, ask them how they came to believe what they do.  You may discover that you didn't know as much as you did about the issue, or the other person may realize as they explain their beliefs to you, that they didn't understand them as well as they should.  Either way, it's a win.
  • Try to find people who are good listeners and spend time with them. Observe what makes them effective. Benefit from their training and express appreciation for what they do.

Giving makes you happy

Health, wealth, and happiness.  These three, along with love, are considered "pillars of the good life."

The theme of this blog implies that without each of these, no outlook would be bright. All of this, in my opinion, is achieved by living a virtuous life.

A person without a bright outlook may assume that the present is all they have and focus exclusively on satisfying their hedonic sense of well-being. Seize every moment of pleasure that you can. To that end, anything that makes that possible, including riches, power, status, and influence, is highly desirable.

There is another aspect of wellbeing, called eudaimonic wellbeing. It focuses on finding meaning and purpose in life rather than pleasure. In the end, even those with the means to fulfill every desire find life to be empty without also fulfilling this side.

In addition, we weren't born in a vacuum. We enjoy every gift, including life itself and the ability to enjoy the fruits of our labor, at a cost to somebody.

  I love the way Chris Herd, founder of FirstbaseHQ, put it:

If you are giving back, you've already taken too much.

As it turns out, we can satisfy our need for eudaimonic wellbeing while simultaneously paying back our debt to the universe: We can be generous toward others.

What are other reasons to be generous? And what are some ways to give value to others?

Why be generous?

Moral debts aside, self-interest largely drives our decisions. So let's look at it from this angle first: What's in it for me?

In Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success, Professor Adam Grant describes three types of people. "Takers" exploit people for their own gain. “Givers” focus on acting in the interests of others, even when doing so costs them more than it benefits them. "Matchers" operate on the principle of reciprocity.

According to Grant, people with a "giving mindset" are the most successful. For one thing, they are more motivated by a sense of purpose. For another, others they have treated kindly are more likely to help them.Interestingly, Grant points out that people with a "giving mindset" also end up among the least successful.  This is apparently because they fail to set boundaries and allow others to take advantage of their generosity. Says Grant:

Whereas takers tend to be self-focused, evaluating what other people can offer them, givers are other-focused, paying more attention to what other people need from them.

In The Magic of Thinking Big, author David Joseph Schwartz claims to have done "hundreds" of little experiments and discovered that "conversation generosity" is a characteristic of nearly all of the most successful people. They encourage the other person to discuss their concerns rather than dominating the conversation. It's not difficult to see how this could make them more likable.

In The Laws of Human Nature, Robert Greene discusses ways to use human nature to our advantage. We all want to be seen as generous. Rather than focusing on what we have done for them, Greene advises, your goal should be to remind them of the good things they have done for you in the past. They will feel validated once they do this: "Yes, I am generous." And once reminded, they will strive to maintain this impression and do yet another good deed.

Furthermore, giving makes us feel good. FMRI studies show similar patterns of activation when a person makes donations in the same way as when monetary rewards are obtained.  They also show that the anterior prefrontal cortex (the "higher brain") is involved in "altruism tied to abstract moral beliefs."Moll, J., Krueger, F., Zahn, R., Pardini, M., de Oliveira-Souza, R., & Grafman, J. (2006). Human fronto-mesolimbic networks guide decisions about charitable donation. In Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (Vol. 103, Issue 42, pp. 15623–15628). https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.0604475103 

Many research studies support the idea that giving others happiness leads to greater subjective well-being than seeking happiness for oneself.Titova, L., & Sheldon, K. M. (2021). Happiness comes from trying to make others feel good, rather than oneself. In The Journal of Positive Psychology (pp. 1–15). Informa UK Limited. https://doi.org/10.1080/17439760.2021.1897867 It is more satisfying to spend money on others than on oneself.Aknin, L. B., Dunn, E. W., Proulx, J., Lok, I., & Norton, M. I. (2020). Does spending money on others promote happiness?: A registered replication report. In Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Vol. 119, Issue 2, pp. e15–e26). American Psychological Association (APA). https://doi.org/10.1037/pspa0000191 Spending money on others can increase happiness more than spending money on oneself.Dunn, E. W., Aknin, L. B., & Norton, M. I. (2008). Spending Money on Others Promotes Happiness. In Science (Vol. 319, Issue 5870, pp. 1687–1688). American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1150952

There is more happiness in giving than in receiving. - Acts 20:35, Good News Translation

According to preliminary research, demonstrating moral characteristics (e.g., generosity) has a role to play in achieving status.Bai, F., Ho, G. C. C., & Yan, J. (2020). Does virtue lead to status? Testing the moral virtue theory of status attainment. In Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Vol. 118, Issue 3, pp. 501–531). American Psychological Association (APA). https://doi.org/10.1037/pspi0000192 

Considering all of this talk about altruism and moral characteristics, is it possible to value generosity for its own sake? Yes.

Paul Piff at the University of California, Berkeley, studies human kindness and cooperation, and the implications of economic inequality. He has found that some people care about others in a genuine way:

Across these experiments, the main variable that we find that consistently explains this differential pattern of giving and helping and generosity among the upper and lower class is feelings of sensitivity and care for the welfare of other people and, essentially, the emotion that we call compassion.

David Meltzer wrote in Entrepreneur, "Providing value by being of service creates a void that the universe will fill for you."

Give, and you will receive. A large quantity, pressed together, shaken down, and running over will be put into your pocket. The standards you use for others will be applied to you. - Luke 6:38, GOD'S WORD® Translation

Generosity seems like a good thing all around.  So,

What are ways to give value to others?

Here, in no particular order, are some ways:

  • Give someone attention, approval, and acceptance
  • Find ways to make people's lives easier
  • Help them accomplish tasks faster and more efficiently
  • Help them by sharing what you know
  • Make key introductions
  • Give genuine compliments freely
  • Serve as a sounding board
  • Make people feel good about themselves and about interacting with you
  • Empower people to make good decisions and take the right action
  • Solve problems
  • Create a great experience
  • Express gratitude for the ways people enrich your life
  • Give a gift
  • Volunteer
  • Spend time with someone who needs a friend
  • Let someone know they've made a difference
  • Be cheerful and positive
  • Show interest in others
  • Be open and vulnerable
  • Offer motivation, support, and encouragement
  • Let your friends know how much you value them
  • Spend the time and effort needed to build lasting friendships
  • Look for unsaid words and emotions rather than focusing on only their words
  • Try to understand their perspective without judging it
  • Instill a sense of inner security in people
  • Mirror their values
  • Praise the qualities they are most insecure about

Give someone unexpected positive feedback on a task. Edward Deci found that providing positive feedback increases people's intrinsic motivation to do it since it satisfies their need for competence.Deci, E. L. (1971). "Effects of externally mediated rewards on intrinsic motivation". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology18: 105–115. doi:10.1037/h0030644.

Greene encourages showing respect for others' wisdom and experience, and offers some more suggestions for doing this:

  • Ask them for advice
  • Let them prove you wrong

He also recommends lowering your own status by committing a relatively harmless faux pas and then asking for their forgiveness.

Speaking of forgiveness, there's a reason the word "forgiving" includes "giving." Letting a minor offense go unpunished is in itself an act of generosity.

Give people the benefit of the doubt. Brené Brown suggests always assuming people are doing the best they can.  Her colleague Dr. Jean Kantambu Latting would ask, "What is the most generous assumption you can make about this person’s intentions or what this person said?"