Humility has long been an ancient virtue to be praised, but in the age of social media, the trait is often overlooked and devalued. However, recent scientific research has begun to reveal what our ancestors already knew—that humility has the transformative power to change people’s lives, relationships, work, and society itself.
Humility is about seeing oneself as the right size—not too big (overinflated ego), but also not too small (timidly pusillanimous). It involves being aware of one’s strengths and weaknesses while being open to feedback and criticism. So, how can you develop humility? Start with these three steps.
Seek feedback: 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.
Set aside your defensiveness: 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.
Focus on empathy: Empathy is the key to humility, and it’s comprised of two parts: the ability to take someone else’s perspective and a genuine concern for the well-being of another person. 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.
These three steps can help you begin to cultivate humility in your own life. And as you do, you might be amazed at how your perspective can begin to widen and your relationships can continue to flourish.