Consider using more neutral statements

November 10, 2021

For the longest time, I’ve wondered why I’m consistently self-deprecating. Verbally beating myself up doesn’t benefit me in any way, and it often can make those around me feel a bit uncomfortable hearing it.

But recently, I think I’ve finally figured out the hidden purposes of my self-deprecation, and a better way to address them through what I call neutral statements.

I think figuring out whether or not you genuinely believe your self-deprecating statements is an important first distinction to make. If you do, then that’s a whole other issue to tackle. Hopefully some of the insights within this post will still be useful.

Personally, I don’t really believe my self-deprecating statements; I mostly just say them to say them, which makes me think that something else is going on. Here are my two guesses.

First, it’s a verbal excuse. It’s mentally easier to be self-deprecating than to accept the consequences of my actions.

Saying I can’t do this thing because I’m so bad implies that there’s something inherently wrong with me, and therefore there’s not much I can do about it. Compare that to saying *I can’t do this thing because I didn’t study hard enough and slacked off when I shouldn’t have* — and now I don’t have an excuse. And that’s not fun, because it forces me to face the truth that I could have (quite easily, I might add) put myself in a position to succeed.

Secondly, I think we use self-deprecating statements to signal something to others.

I noticed that when I’m alone, I’ll just yell dammit in response to a mistake; but with friends, I’ll say *dammit I’m so trash*.

Again — I don’t fully think that I’m trash, which makes me think I’m trying to signal something. Sometimes it’s confusion, frustration, or vulnerability. Sometimes it’s to acknowledge a mistake I’ve made. Sometimes it’s because I want reassurance and validation. Personally, I think I try to signal humility a lot (I hate coming off as arrogant, so I put myself down).

So: if I don’t actually believe what I say, and if I’m just using self-deprecating statements as a verbal excuse or a means to signal something else entirely, then maybe there’s a way to address those sentiments that doesn’t involve putting myself down.

The solution I’ve come up with is using neutral (or objective) statements.

Instead of saying:

  • I missed that shot. God I’m so trash at basketball.

I might say:

  • I missed that shot, but I’m not quite sure why. Maybe my feet weren’t set right, or maybe I rushed my release.

Or instead of:

  • I don’t know how to do this because I’m so bad at math.


I don’t know how to do this because I don’t fully understand matrices. Neutral statements are believable when you say them, prevent you from having an excuse, and most of all, allow you to signal sentiments (especially ones like frustration or doubt) without unnecessarily compromising your own self-esteem.

Take the math example. Does not fully understanding matrices make you bad at math? Maybe, maybe not — but you don’t even need to conflate those two beliefs together in the first place. You can just treat your lack of matrix knowledge as a simple matter of fact, and then go from there.

Ok, so I don’t understand matrices.

(Now shift into problem-solving mode.)

What don’t I understand, and how can I go about understanding it right now? What can I do to retain future material better? What worked, and what didn’t work when I tried learning matrices the first time?

Self-deprecating statements enable you to dwell on your perceived shortcomings. Neutral statements encourage you to face reality how it is and focus on moving forward.

At least, that’s the mindset I’m trying to cultivate: one that’s less self deprecating and more forward looking. One that minimizes the frequency of mentally lazy I’m so bad thoughts and increases the frequency of critical How can I be better? thoughts.

In other words, have no excuses, and go next.