Coaching & Development Solutions

The Pride Of Space Business And Refusing Biscuits

At a presentation about the UK space industry I was struck by the sense of pride in what's been achieved. British people aren't proud of their country very often, but should they be? Psychologists generally don't view pride as a primary emotion but research has defined two types of pride: "authentic" pride due to achievement and "hubristic" pride based on conceit and ego. Which is useful to have?

Alasdair Graham, 8th March 2016

Last week I heard the UK Space Agency give a description of the activities going on in this area which:

  • Contributes 12 £bn to the UK economy, is growing at 8% per year and employs nearly 37,000 people
  • Builds strong international collaborations with roughly double the average level of UK exports
  • Deploys miniature satellites ("Cubesats") made by Clyde Space in Glasgow which carry multiple advanced sensors for space research

It was a very positive picture and there was an infectious sense of pride at the achievements on show. This presentation was made at the Harwell Campus which houses over 200 organisations and 5,000 people many of whom use the UK's synchrotron ("Diamond Light Source"). This accelerates electrons to near light speed to emit light 10 billion times brighter than the sun that allows researchers to learn more about everything from Parkinson's disease to new electronic materials. There are only 50 synchrotrons in the world so it's natural to feel pride at the cutting-edge research it allows us to do in the UK.

One reason the sense of pride struck me so strongly is because I think that British people don't feel proud very often. A NatCen survey of 2013[i],[ii] showed that only 35% of British people felt "very proud" of their nationality compared to 65% of Americans and 48% of Irish. We were ranked 21st out of the 33 countries included in the survey, and our levels of pride had fallen since 2003 and were lowest among 18-29 year olds and in graduates. As we study more and discover about other cultures does this make us less proud to be British? We are prouder when we do well in sport which resonated with me as a fan of Andy Murray and Mo Farah. My neighbours probably wished for industrial sound proofing when we lifted the Davis Cup for the first in 79 years in 2015.

Feelings of pride can create mixed reactions in people. Psychologists generally don't view it as a primary emotion such as anger, happiness or fear, and its benefit to people has been harder to determine. Research at the University of California[iii],[iv] defined two types of pride. The first was "authentic" pride due to achievement and was linked with self-esteem and conscientiousness. The second was "hubristic" pride based on and was connected to conceit and ego. Individuals with authentic pride view hard work as key, but those with hubristic pride believe their success is predetermined.

Both types of pride shared the same universal expression: a smile with head tilted back, chest puffed out and hands on hips or raised in the air. It's tempting to just think that authentic pride is positive and hubristic pride negative, but life seems more complicated than that. A 2015 study at the Universities of Cincinnati, Florida and Miami found that when a group of students were proud that they were making progress towards a self-control goal then, paradoxically, they were more likely to weaken their self-control.[v] If the participants had been demonstrating good discipline at a diet they were then more likely to accept a biscuit because they felt their progress gave them a license to indulge. However, if they felt proud about themselves then their restraint improved and they were better at refusing the biscuit. So when should we feel pride?

As a coach I often invite my clients to reflect on what they've achieved in the past and the strengths they have. Not only can they consider which ideas or qualities could be effective to meet their goals, but they will bring a sense of pride into the coaching session. When a client is facing a particularly stressful or frustrating time then helping them build back their self-belief is critical. For me the value of pride is not when you are on top of the world, but when you struggle to take a single step. That is when to be proud of who you are and what you've done.


[i] John Bingham, "Cooling Britannia: why are we losing our national pride?", Daily Telegraph, 16th January 2016

[ii] "'Great Britain'? How people in Britain feel about this country", NatCen Social Research, November 2015

[iii] Beth Azar, "The faces of pride" American Psychological Association, March 2006, Vol 37, No. 3, page 24

[iv] Wray Herbert, "The two faces of pride", June 15, 2007

[v] Dawn Fuller, "Pride can keep you on track or send you off the rails", University of Cincinnati News, 9th September, 2015

About The Author

Alasdair Graham is the founder of Apex Discovery and a coach who helps leaders and businesses grow. If you found this blog post useful then please share it.

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