The Best Way to Brag

Adam Washburn
6 min readApr 16, 2021
Source: klimkin on

Not too long ago, I bought a copy of a book entitled The Ultimate Brag Book About Yourself: A hundred questions about how awesome you are! Written by my friend Marla Albertie, this book gives the readers a framework to pull out personal preferences, strengths, and successes.

When first reading the title, I have to admit — I was intrigued, but also a bit surprised. A brag book? No one likes a braggart — will this book take me down that path?

I opened to the book to see what exactly it meant. As Marla writes in the introduction:

How often do we brag about ourselves, take time to think about what makes us happy, or do the things we like? If I had to guess, not as often as you would like.

The book provides several prompts for the reader compiling topics such as:

My 5 favorite holidays…

Happiness defined in 5 words…

10 cars I like

The topics range from favorite foods, shows, and even airlines to listing your greatest accomplishments and your plans for the next 5 to 30 years. I’ve found the topics in the book are fun to reflect on and also provide some good ways to spark conversations with others.

But what about the bragging?

What about the bragging?

In my Christian religious tradition, I grew up learning the Two Great Commandments: #1 “Love God” and #2 “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” In addition I was taught many injunctions on the need for humility. Not only did I learn these principles, I have come to apply them and feel their power in inspiring a great and good life.

Perhaps you are not of my religious background, but most religions and moral philosophies promote selflessness and humility. As a result, you have probably heard similar admonitions through your life, regardless of background.

So where does a brag book fit in this?

I had a recent insight after listening to Gifford Nielsen, an NFL player and sports anchor turned ecclesiastical leader. He made this statement about those two commandments I grew up with.

Says Nielsen:

I don’t know about you, but when I read these two great commandments, I detect a third, implied commandment: to love thyself.

As I’ve thoughts about those words and Marla’s book, I’ve realized there are 2 ways you can brag about yourself.

The Wrong Way

You’re well aware of the wrong way to brag. No one enjoys the self-promoting individual who looks down on others. We despise an individual like the Topper character portrayed in Scott Adams’ comic strip Dilbert.

Boss: Dilbert, meet Topper. He’s amazing. No matter what you say about yourself, he’ll top it.

Dilbert: How are you?

Topper: I can’t go first. It ruins my system.

No one enjoys being around a Topper.

Of course, there are more subtle ways to accomplish the same task. The humblebrag has gained its place in our lexicon as a new form of false modesty that has gained particular prominence on social media. These are the statements that look like complaints or self-deprecating comments, but we know what the writer is really trying to say.

Four weeks of vacation in Hawaii is just so long to be away from home.

I have to buy all these new clothes now that I’ve lost so much weight.

I’m not sure why the boss always comes to me with these difficult and prominent assignments.

I’m just so busy after my last promotion this year.

While seemingly more innocuous than outright bragging, the humblebrag apparently inspires people to despise you even more than just regular bragging, or even a complaining.

So should you just pick a regular old brag in place of a humblebrag? How about trying to avoid both!

These wrong ways of bragging might help us feel good in the moment, but in the end, they make everyone else feel less. And bragging really doesn’t help us grow, develop, or become better.

The reality is that this way of self-promotion is a symptom of some degree of self-loathing. We don’t feel justified as individuals as we are and so we need to tell ourselves stories that make us better than someone else.

Another Way

Does that mean my life has to be spent hovering in self-deprecation and self-despising? Must I always be like the deferential Uriah Heep in Dickens’ David Copperfield?

“I suppose you are quite a great lawyer?” I said, after looking at him for some time.
“Me, Master Copperfield?” said Uriah. “Oh, no! I’m a very umble person.”
. . .
“I am well aware that I am the umblest person going,” said Uriah Heep modestly, “let the other be where he may. My mother is likewise a very umble person. We live in an umble abode, Master Copperfield, but have much to be thankful for. My father’s former calling was umble; he was a sexton.”

Source: Hablot Browne (David Copperfield), Wikimedia Commons

This mistaken form of humility — despising oneself, or at least pretending to it — is really a form of pride in and of itself. This is pride ‘from the bottom, looking up.’ It’s the complaining version of Topper you’ve probably met before. No matter how bad you’ve had it — they’ve had it worse!

Fortunately, there is a way we can truly appreciate all that is great and good about ourselves, and also make others around us feel good. We don’t have to depreciate our own selves or others to do it.

What is the secret sauce? A dash of gratitude.

Take a minute and think about one of your top strengths. On one hand, you can think about your strength and compare yourself to others. You can think about how much better you are than other people.

On the other hand, you can think about this same strength and feel grateful that you have this strength. You can also feel grateful that others have different strengths that can compensate for your weaknesses.

With a healthy dose of gratitude, we can appreciate ourselves, our preferences, and our strengths without it going to our heads.

Thus, when I read Marla’s book and think about “My 10 favorite restaurants” or “10 charities I give to or volunteer” or “5 Sports that I like” I can choose a path. I can take the braggart’s path of trying to self-justify my existence by lifting myself up and pushing down others.

Or, I can recognize that I have intrinsic value. Intrinsic worth. Intrinsic beauty in heart and mind. Intrinsic potential.

When we realize that, with gratitude, there is a corollary thought. Others must also have intrinsic worth. And thus, by loving myself in a true, authentic, and grateful way, I pave the way to love others as myself.

Two Week Challenge

Here’s the 2-Minute, 2-Week Challenge, a challenge to stretch your Spirit:
Take 2 Minutes each day to write down something you appreciate about yourself. Think about it with gratitude.

Your appreciation can be for a strength, a personal preference, or a past accomplishment. You may look for lists like those in Marla’s book. You may want to create you own little notebook of ideas.

As you compile your list of appreciation, allow yourself to be grateful for who you are. Appreciate who you can become. And appreciate that there are other beautiful people out there in the world with their own unique and wonderful lists.

Keep getting better!

Would you like to continue and stretch your Body, Mind, Heart, and Spirit in small ways that make a difference? Sign up here to learn new, small habits that can give you even more to appreciate about yourself.



Adam Washburn

PhD Chemist, father of six kids, and local bishop in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.