Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

How Humble Are You?

Getting to confidence through humility: five steps

“Always be humble and kind,” says the lyrics by Tim McGraw. Do you read this line and think being humble and kind means being a doormat? Does it connote ideas of putting everyone else first and never getting anything for yourself? A research study outlined in Psychological Science gave this insight into the definition of humility:

“On the intrapersonal level, humility involves an accurate view of the self. On the interpersonal level, humility involves a stance that is other-oriented rather than self-focused.” Humility, by this definition, leads to strength, as we see in this quote by Lao Tzu:

“Knowing others is intelligence;
knowing yourself is true wisdom.
Mastering others is strength;
mastering yourself is true power.”

Most people spend a great deal of time trying to figure out others –“What did he mean by that?” “What was she thinking??” “Why would he make that choice, versus another choice?” People do this and think of it as “knowing others.” You might say, “I get people – I am wise.” But knowing one’s self leads to mastery of one’s self, and that is where true power lies.

In order to achieve that power, humility is a must-take step. If, as the authors of the study say, it involves an accurate view of the self, how do you get that accurate view? Unfortunately, many people have grown up with someone – parents or other adults – who have conveyed a sense of “you’re not worth it.” Having an accurate view of the self takes energy and discipline. The voices in your head may tell a story that doesn’t belong to you. Humility isn’t about taking these voices and using them as a chance to beat up on yourself. It means seeing your own humanity, knowing you have both strengths and areas for improvement, and being fair and balanced with yourself. It’s only when one sees their own self accurately that the second part of the humility equation, as the researchers outline it, can happen. Being “other-oriented,” in a humble way, means seeing the connectedness between all things. It means recognizing that the other person is also a fallible human being and, knowing this, having compassion for them. It may mean that rather than promoting your own agenda (being “self-focused”), you spend time understanding the other person’s.

It’s not easy. Humility is probably one of the most elusive states. It doesn’t seem to come naturally to most people, but the rewards are rich. If you want the confidence and the “true power” and strength that come from being a more humble person, try these six steps:

  1. Step outside yourself from time to time in relationship to others. What does this mean? People get into a rut, or a dance or groove, in the way they operate with other people. Your spouse says this and you immediately reply with that. You hear your mother’s voice as she starts to say something and you just know what she’ll say and you are ready to react. Instead of reacting in the rote way you always do, pause. Step outside the situation and observe what’s happening. Become more objective in your dealings with others. You may be ready to filet them, but what role do you play in the exchange? Just observe and see what you can learn.
  2. Listen. Instead of listening to speak, put your attention on the other person. Don’t just listen to the words; listen to what’s underneath. What do they need from you in the moment they are speaking? Get focused on the other person.
  3. Watch your emotions and understand your triggers. When you get angry – what provokes the anger? When you are sad – what stimulates the emotion of sadness? When you feel joyful – what contributes to your joy? Become interested in your own emotional response. Instead of just responding next time, consider your response and what it connects to. Every emotion has a learning inside it.
  4. Give joyfully. Many people give out of guilt or responsibility or a connection to being “a nice person.” This can lead to resentment and frustration when others don’t give to you, or you think you give too much. When you give, let go and give with abandon – be a cheerful giver.
  5. Start over every day. Most people aren’t taught humility. It can be confused with simply putting ego to the side, or giving so much of one’s self that there is little left! True humility is knowing who you are and having the calm confidence in yourself that you are able to be other-focused, without sacrificing all that matters to you. It’s not easy. It takes practice. Look for ways each day to practice “being humble and kind.”