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The Art of the Humble Brag

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If you haven’t heard the word humble-bragging before, you’ve definitely seen it in action. It was recently coined to label the type of boasting-slash-complaining that’s so common on social media. (Think: “Just rolled out of bed from a nap, hair in a ponytail, wearing sweats, and some guy at the supermarket still asked for my number. Really??”) In fact, researchers from Harvard University even studied why people seem to hate it so much. Their finding: Humble-bragging is seen as insincere, deceptive, and annoying. No surprises there. So why can’t we stop doing it?

Well, for one, it feels good. Celebrating your accomplishments lights up the reward centers of your brain, making you feel good, earlier Harvard research shows. Bragging can also help boost your self-esteem, and even get you ahead at work. The following strategies will help you reap the rewards of self-promotion, without ticking off your entire friends list.

Know Your Audience
There’s a big difference between calling up your BFF and gushing about a promotion, and doing the same thing to someone you just met at a party, says Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D., a professor of psychological and brain sciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. We know—duh. But that’s why you should exercise caution when you’re thinking about posting a self-congratulatory social media post, she says. There’s a good chance that your friend list includes close friends, casual acquaintances, professional contacts, and maybe even total strangers. When bragging on social media, consider adjusting the privacy settings on that post to only let your closer connections see it, or be extra-aware of your language. (Psst… Did you know there was a scientific reason you’re so addicted to social media?) 

Be Nice
Too often, people try to defuse their brag by couching it in a self-deprecating remark, like “These thunder thighs actually managed to carry me 13.1 miles—not bad!” (Whitbourne says she often sees this happen when parents want to brag about their kids’ accomplishments—eek!) But that’s just comes off as a one-two punch of negativity. 

Show Some Love for #Blessed
Saying outright that you’re thankful for your good fortune helps you avoid falling into the humble-bragging trap. People are going to be happier for you when you’re acknowledging you’re fortunate for your good fortune. Plus, showing gratitude can improve your mental and physical health

Be Upfront
Let’s face it: Sometimes, we want to brag about things that are straight-up shallow. If you’ve been working hard at the gym and your abs look great, maybe you want to take a six-pack shot and share it with the world. Honestly, who wouldn’t want to document that? Saying you’re thankful or grateful might feel a little awkward too. In that case, just own it! Acknowledge that you’re about to brag by saying, “Sorry, but I’m too proud of myself not to share… I’ve been killing it at CrossFit and haven’t touched refined sugar in weeks, and it’s finally paying off!” Then share the snap. Showing that kind of self-awareness feels honest, which people appreciate.

Be Honest (with Yourself)
Social media has fostered the mindset of, “If I don’t document it, it didn’t happen.” One of the dangers with that is that how you experience events can be impacted by how people respond to your posts about them. Meaning: If you post a picture of your travels (or your marathon) to Instagram and it garners a measly five likes, suddenly you’re obsessing about that rather than savoring the joy you felt that prompted you to take and post the picture in the first place. Ask yourself, “Is this really something worth bragging about? Or would I be happier keeping it to myself?”

Give Back
Fact: We love to talk about ourselves. In fact, we spend about 60 percent of all conversations talking about number one, and up to 80 percent of social media posts are about ourselves. So share the wealth. Talk up your friends’ and coworkers’ big achievements. You can even help promote people you don’t know personally, but follow for whatever reason (like bands, blogs, or brands you love). Getting happy about other people’s success makes them happy, but it also feels good.

Show, Don’t Tell
In certain situations, like a performance review at work, you have to brag. But that kind of self-promotion makes women feel anxious, research from Montana State University shows. Rather than just saying that you’re a team player or take initiative, tell a brief story that illustrates that, suggests Whitbourne. Sounds 101, but this move will help bolster your confidence by reminding you (as well as your boss) that, yeah, you have done some pretty noteworthy things. (4 More Ways to Ace an On-The-Fly Performance Review.) 

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