How to Stop Taking Yourself Too Seriously

Do this instead.

Posted Nov 07, 2018

What happens when you ask a group of kids to draw? 

They start drawing. And if you ask them to dance? They just dance. However, if you ask the same question to an adult, they usually reply, “I don’t know.” Instead of jumping into action, they connect with their logical brain.

We are afraid of being ridiculed: Shame kills our drive. 

Adults are desperate for approval—the fear of rejection prevent us from doing what we want. Kids draw and dance not because they are good at it—they simply don’t know what they don’t know. Kids play and do what they feel like—that’s how they learn.

When we fear being laughed at, we stop...

  • Doing what we want
  • Having fun
  • Learning

That’s the problem with taking ourselves too seriously: We choose to look good over learning new things. Fear makes our lives boring and repetitive. 

 Jonathan Hoxmark/Unsplash
Source: Jonathan Hoxmark/Unsplash

The Fear of Being Ridiculed

Fear is an emotional response to a threat in the present—it’s a natural reaction to an attack, real or perceived.

The fear of ridicule is anticipation—we worry about something that might happen. It’s like walking through a crowd and worrying that people won’t like you or might laugh at you. 

Where does the fear of ridicule come from?

It all starts by letting expectations determine how we live. We start taking ourselves too seriously and then seek for approval—we allow people to become our judges. 

As Brené Brown explains in her book Daring Greatly, shame makes us feel disconnected. Women are expected to be naturally perfect. Men live under the pressure of not being perceived as weak. The author captures the need for worthiness in the sequence “pleasing, performing, and perfecting.”

External expectations are a moving target, as I wrote in this post. By trying to please everyone, we end up pleasing no one—ourselves included.

We wrongly believe the world is a stage. Our self-worth is tied to how our audiences receive our performance. If they love it, we are worth it. If they don’t, we feel worthless. Living our lives as an endless performance is exhausting—we are always playing a part.

Perfectionism is the enemy of change. The bar is so high that we never rest to have fun. Who you should be. What you should be. How you should be. We want to do everything the right way—one single mistake could ruin everything we’ve built.

Sound familiar?

When we take ourselves seriously, we take others seriously, too—that’s why their opinions can hurt us. Labels don’t define you unless you allow them to. People can call you whatever they want, that doesn’t mean you should make those labels yours.

The solution lies in finding balance: Take life seriously, but not yourself.

How to Take Yourself Less Seriously

1. Confront the fear of being ridiculed. End the vicious cycle—fear fuels more fear. Face it and get over it. As Seth Godin said, “Dance with fear. As you dance, you realize that fear is, in fact, a compass—it’s giving you a hint that you are onto something.” Use that fear as energy to leap forward. 

2. Drop the ball on purpose. I don’t mean this metaphorically. Just let something fall through the cracks. This will not only help you realize that one mistake won’t kill you—but it will also help you regain control. If someone complains, simply smile and tell them you did it on purpose. Erring on purpose prepares you for unexpected mistakes. 

3. Change the tone, change the conversation. The best way to overcome pressure from perfectionists is by not taking them too seriously. Perfectionists tend to think in right-or-wrong terms—either you succeed or fail. Use humor to disarm their approach; show them life’s shades of grey.

4. What’s the worst thing that could happen? This simple question can help you, and others, put things in perspective. I’m not telling you not to aim high, but to find balance. Write everything that comes to your mind. Are you worried about real things? Or are you taking small things too seriously? Reflect and separate worries from facts. 

5. Become shame-resilient. Learn to acknowledge the voice of shame when it’s calling your name. Face that emotion. Brené Brown suggests talking to your shame: “This is disappointing, maybe even devastating. But success and recognition and approval are not values that drive me. My value is courage. You can move on, shame.”

6. Add more humor to your life. Surround yourself with funny people. Turn off the news and violent shows; watch a comedy instead. Use self-deprecation instead of nasty labels. Smile. Especially when you feel nervous or upset. Find the humor in something serious. Getting used to laughing at yourself will make you immune to your audience’s laughter. 

7. Let go of your reputation. Your image is not you. It’s just what people perceive. Don’t let your self-worth depend on your audience’s applause. When your self-worth is not on the line, it’s easier to take more risks and be courageous. You stop thinking about whether you know how to dance or not. You just start swaying. 


Brené Brown (2015). Daring Greatly. Avery.