I tend to take myself a bit too seriously at times, especially when I get stressed, irritated, or scared. How about you?
I’ve noticed that sometimes taking myself too seriously not only makes me less effective in dealing with a difficult situation, but it also causes the difficulty itself, or at the very least exacerbates it.
In these low moments, it’s easy for me to become self-important and to think that the weight of the world is on my shoulders (which is often a bit of an overreaction and rarely helpful).
Here’s Why It’s Important Not to Take Ourselves Too Seriously
When we take ourselves less seriously, we’re able to see the humor in situations, find the silver lining when things don’t go how we want them to, and navigate through the ups and downs of life a bit easier.
Many of us underestimate how important finding the humor in things is.
Here’s an example.
A number of years ago, I was in the airport in Seattle. I was eating pizza and maneuvering my food around my temporary front tooth. I was in the sixth-month process of getting an implant tooth replacement and had to use a temporary at this time.
I took a normal bite of my pizza without thinking about it. The next thing I knew, I looked down, and the temporary tooth had fallen out of my mouth and into my left hand.
Oh my God, it’s 7 p.m., and I have to speak at 9 a.m. I’m in Seattle, and I now have a missing front tooth. What the heck am I going to do?
Valid question, right?
With the tooth in my pocket and my mouth shut tight, I got my bag and made my way to my hotel as fast as possible. I was pretty freaked out. Thankfully, my dentist, Shaya, happens to be a friend of mine whom I’ve known since middle school.
I was able to call her that night and tell her what had happened. She told me not to worry and to put the tooth in some water to soak. After that, I needed to find a drugstore and call her back. Luckily there was one just around the corner from my hotel.
I called Shaya back as I walked into the store with my heart racing. She directed me to find the aisle with denture adhesive and told me which one to pick. I followed the instructions on the box and did what Shaya told me to do the following morning: stick the false tooth back into my mouth using the denture adhesive.
I took a few deep breaths, said a prayer, and went down to the hotel ballroom to deliver my keynote speech.
As I was speaking, I could hardly pay attention because I was so preoccupied with my tooth, how I sounded, and my fear of what might happen.
During a discussion session I initiated during the keynote, I looked around and watched everyone talking in pairs as I had invited them to do.
I thought, “this situation is so ridiculous that it’s funny. I hope my tooth doesn’t fall out, but if it does, these people won’t forget me or my speech anytime soon. It would make a great story.” I laughed to myself, gathered the group’s attention, and went on.
While I decided not to let the audience know what was going on inside my mouth (and my head), I was able to embrace the ridiculousness of the situation and not take it so seriously.
Thankfully, my tooth stayed in my mouth, and the speech went well. I was able to make it back home and then back to my dentist’s office the next day without too much embarrassment. A few months later, I got my permanent implant, and, thankfully, I don’t have to worry about my tooth coming out anymore.
How Often Do You Add Unnecessary Stress to Your Life?
There are clearly times in life and specific circumstances that are genuinely serious. However, far too often, we add unnecessary stress, pressure, and negativity to situations with our attitude of “seriousness.”
One of the best things we can do is laugh—at ourselves, the situation, or in general. It’s important for us to allow ourselves to experience the moment as it is and bring some levity if we can.
As Emily Saliers from the Indigo Girls said, “You have to laugh at yourself because you’d cry your eyes out if you didn’t.”
Laughter is important on many levels. It helps shift our perspective and alter our mood. Research shows that it also has quite a positive impact on our physiology—relaxing our muscles, boosting our immune systems, releasing endorphins, decreasing stress hormones, and increasing blood flow to the heart.
I’m not advocating that we laugh ourselves into denial or avoid dealing with the serious aspects of our lives. As we all know, sometimes laughter can be used as a way of deflecting or in other unhealthy and harmful ways.
However, being able to bring lightness, levity, and laughter into our lives and relationships in an authentic and healthy way is one of the best things we can do to take care of ourselves and keep things in perspective.
Teeth will fall out. All kinds of frustrating things (both big and small) will occur in your life—find the humor in the situation, and your outlook will change.
In other words…don’t take yourself too seriously.
Do you take yourself too seriously at times? How can you practice finding the humor in things when you’re stressed? Feel free to leave your thoughts and ideas in the comments below.
Mike Robbins is the author of five books, including his latest, We’re All in This Together: Creating a Team Culture of High Performance, Trust, and Belonging. He’s a thought leader and sought-after speaker whose clients include Google, Wells Fargo, Microsoft, Schwab, eBay, Genentech, the Oakland A’s, and many others.
Liked this article? Here are three more!
- This, Too, Shall Pass
- The Power of Patience
- Keep Your Head in the Clouds and Your Feet on the Ground
This article was originally published on April 23, 2014, and updated for 2022.