How to Be the Best at Being Humble

Photo: Heide Pinkall, Shutterstock
Photo: Heide Pinkall, Shutterstock

At a time when we feel pressured to “sell” and “brand” ourselves to get ahead, it can be hard to see where — and how — humility fits into the picture. With everything from jobs to dating to travelling feeling like a competition, we can spend a lot of time and energy playing up our strengths in order to stand out in the crowd. Then there’s the current political climate, where many people are thoroughly convinced that they’re right about something, and have no intention of learning more, or even engaging with those on the other side.

As Daryl R. Van Tongeren, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at Hope College, writes for Psychology Today, humility is a trait that has been increasingly overlooked and devalued, despite being something that we need now more than ever. Here are his tips for developing humility.

What is humility?

Though being humble can be perceived as being passive and/or timid, Van Tongern says that’s not accurate. “Humility is about seeing oneself as the right size — not too big (overinflated ego), but also not too small (timidly pusillanimous),” he writes. It requires self-awareness, open-mindedness and empathy. If these are things you need to work on, he has a few suggestions.

Ask for feedback

If you’re looking to develop your humility, Van Tongern offers three strategies. The first is asking for feedback. He writes:

Start by seeking out honest feedback from a trusted source in your life (e.g., family member, romantic partner, trusted friend, valued colleague). Ask them how humble they perceive you to be, where your blind spots are, and how you could be more aware, open, or empathic. To build humility, you need to be aware of your own areas for growth.

Don’t be tempted to get defensive

No one likes being wrong, but it’s also not necessary to constantly defend yourself after receiving criticism, or getting in an argument with someone. And remember that if you follow the suggestion above and ask someone for feedback, go in accepting that it may not be glowing praise. Per Van Tongern:

You might not like the feedback you hear, prompting you to respond defensively by denying any wrongdoing, displacing anger on your source of feedback, or projecting how arrogant other people are. That’s counterproductive. Take a moment to affirm yourself, and embrace this process as the chance to learn and grow, understanding that developing humility requires time and effort. Building humility requires this openness to learn.

Be empathetic

Unsurprisingly, empathy is a major — and necessary-component of humility. It requires two things: the ability to receive feedback and accept another person’s perspective on something, and genuinely caring about a person’s well-being. Here’s Van Tongern again:

Building empathy helps us cultivate humility. Before you respond, ask yourself two questions: (1) Why might other perspectives be right? (2) How would I respond if I treated the other person as if they were trying their very best? Empathy can help break our pattern of self-focus and connect us with others.

Like so many things, humility takes practice and patience. But being open to new or different points of view provides you with a learning opportunity, including insight into what motivates other people.

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