Religious and folk traditions have taught us that pride impacts success.
But how? And what does it mean to suggest that pride impacts success? Is it a negative force or a positive force? Dr. Jessica Tracy is a professor at UBC in Vancouver, and she’s made a career out of studying pride.
And recently, she wrote a book on this subject called Take Pride: Why the Deadliest Sin Holds the Secret to Human Success
So what’s the answer? Is pride a positive or a negative factor for success? Well, as with most psychological and emotional phenomenon, it’s not quite as simple as that.
Dr. Tracy’s Own Pride Experience
After completing her undergraduate degree, Dr. Tracy moved west to San Francisco without concrete plans other than to enjoy life for a while before making long-term career choices. But it the experience of missing something that ultimately led her to make choices for her long term success.
While in college, along with some friends, Dr. Tracy created a political news magazine. They ran the publication for a couple of years. This endeavor was meaningful, and while living a fun and interesting life in San Francisco, she realized that her life was lacking the pride that she derived from the magazine.
Dr. Tracy describes how the publication didn’t gain widespread notoriety or huge success, but she felt proud of the work she did with the magazine.
It was this experience of lacking pride that made her realize she wanted to go back to grad school to study psychology. More on the difference between lacking and having pride below. But first…
Hubristic vs. Authentic: Two Types of Pride
We need to make a most important distinction. One that’s probably the greatest insight Dr. Tracy shared on the podcast.
This is the distinction between hubristic and authentic pride. The names are fairly self-explanatory. Authentic pride is that quiet satisfaction we take from our work, our relationships, our fitness, or even the cleanliness of our homes. Hubristic pride, on the other hand, is that ego-driven pride most of us have felt at times. It leads us to brag and compare ourselves to others.
Here’s what’s interesting: both types of pride can help drive us to more success. But only authentic pride results in other people liking us. People know when we’re full of hubris, and it leads them to dislike us.
Dr. Tracy shares a good example of how to know when we’re feeling hubristic pride vs. authentic pride. Have you ever achieved something and been so proud that you decided to post about it on Facebook or other social media platforms? Chances are that what you originally felt was authentic pride. But often, once the posting is done and the accolades come pouring in via likes and comments, we feel regret.
That’s a sign you were experiencing hubris. You were bragging. Think of it this way: if it was authentic pride would there be any need to brag about your accomplishment?
Then think about authentic pride moments. When others recognize you it kicks in that pride feeling. You know they’re correct in their assessment. You probably thank them for recognizing you, but you still don’t feel any compulsion to brag about it. You’ll wake up the next morning and continue without need for accolades.
Someone else recognizing you for your actions won’t cause you to do more or less next time you’re given the choice. This is authentic pride.
Why Lack of Pride is More of a Motivating Factor Than Presence of Pride
Dr. Tracy’s research has proven that pride is an important emotion. She’s also shown the difference between positive (authentic) and negative (hubristic) pride. She’s shown that pride is a positive factor of success.
It must follow that people chase success in order to feel pride, right? Wrong.
This was the hypothesis she and her team started with when studying undergrad students in relation to their test results. But the results proved that the causation is backwards.
Dr. Tracy studied levels of pride in students just after taking exams and again after they knew their scores. She found that excellent students didn’t experience a boost in pride based on great results. For those excellent students, study habits are like brushing teeth. It’s a habit they would never change. And they expect excellent results.
But the students who underperformed their own expectations did feel a distinct lack of pride. And that missing pride was found to be a major factor in how they responded the next time they had the choice whether or not to study hard.
Spoiler alert: they did.
Students who experienced a lack of pride due to a poor result buckled down and worked harder the next time. It seems the lack of this emotion regulates people’s behavior to work harder, not the presence of it. We miss the feeling of pride so much that we seek it out the next opportunity we get.
Perhaps in this way we form those habits so vital to our success.
Are you someone seeking success?
Of course you are. You could be watching Netflix right now. Instead you’re reading this and listening to a podcast discussing the psychology of success.
If so, this podcast is a must listen. Dr. Tracy has a unique lens on success — through the eyes of one of our most fundamental emotions.
Give it a listen now.
Guest Bio — Dr. Jessica Tracy
Jessica Tracy is a professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, where she also directs the Emotion and Self Lab. Her research focuses on emotions and emotion expression, and especially on the self-conscious emotions of pride and shame.
She has published over 90 journal articles, book chapters, edited volumes, and reviews, as well as the recent book Take Pride: Why the Deadliest Sin Holds the Secret to Human Success (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt).
Her groundbreaking work on pride has been covered by hundreds of media outlets, including ABC’s Good Morning America, NPR’s All Things Considered, the New York Times, the Economist, and Scientific American.
Tracy was born and raised in Washington, D.C., and now lives in Vancouver with her daughter and partner.
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Editing & Mixing by: Aaron Johnson