How to Cultivate Humility
Most of our problems in life are self-inflicted by our egotistical natures. Cultivating humility and leading a humble life makes us live an easier, softer life with more possibilities, connections, and happiness. Humility is a virtue that makes us closer to who we are, helps us find our purpose and handle the hardships of life gracefully.
We would all agree that being humble is important, but we usually don't know how. Below are the steps I take to lead a humbler life. Please share the techniques and practices you have adopted to be humbler as well. We can and should always learn from each other!
1. Know Thyself By Keeping a Journal
Being humble starts with understanding who you truly are, especially through metacognition. Metacognition is the awareness of one's thought processes and an understanding of the patterns behind them.
Keeping a journal is an easy way to start reflecting on yourself. You can use your journal to reflect on a couple of things you are proud of from your day, a couple of things that bothered you, and a couple of things you could have done better. You don't have to write pages and pages of your life. You can write them in lists.
After writing these for a couple of weeks, you can look back at your notes and see the patterns that guide who you are, what you are doing, and what you don't like, unbeknownst to you until then. Looking at your past few weeks this way is a humbling act in itself. This journaling practice can show you how much you know about yourself, what you need to change in your life, and what your strengths are.
Moreover, this practice, like it did with me, can show you the egotistical behaviors that you logically despise but nevertheless sneak into your daily life. You can even recognize the selfish things you do and be proud of, without thinking about how selfish they are.
2. Use Strategic Pessimism to Avoid Overconfidence
Most of our egotistical problems are caused by overconfidence because we lack proper metacognition. We leave things unlearned because we think we have studied enough and understand things right now, but even after a day we don't remember them. We compare our best with other people's worst, and we think we are in good shape. As long as we are better at something than our perception of the average, we think we are great at it.
Overconfidence is debilitating. The easiest solution to overconfidence is to be strategically pessimistic about the things you feel confident about. Are you studying and feel that you now know the subject? Be pessimistic and study more. Review. Do you think that you are extremely skilled at a task? Be pessimistic and think about all the ways you can improve. Do you think that you are talented? Assume that you are not, and accept that you need to work hard.
In our current world, where everybody is a winner and gets some sort of participation reward, it is extremely easy to be overconfident. Don't slouch.
3. Learn Active Listening by Searching For the Interesting in Others
We all know that we should listen more and talk less, but that never stops us from thinking that we are the most interesting person in the room, and people should listen to us. After interviewing a lot of ordinary people for my job, I found out that everybody has an interesting story to tell. It is your job to find that story. You might think that you are a much more interesting person than the person you are interacting with. This might be factual. But you know yourself, and focusing on yourself in a conversation gives you nothing but a small ego boost.
Make every conversation interesting by focusing on the other person. Ask questions. help them find out their interesting story. Learn what makes their lives fascinating. Don't spend your time thinking about what you are going to say next. What you say doesn't matter. You are not in the business of showing off.
You are in a game and your quest is to find the best story the other person can tell.
4. Focus on the Present by Doing Things You Love
We live in a goal-focused world, even though research shows that focusing on goals makes us narrow-minded and, because of that, we miss opportunities. We admire Steve Jobs' talk about him trying out what he loved with no goal in mind, and all of them converged in the end to improve the first Mac, yet we fail to understand the lesson.
We think that we have to succeed, and to succeed we have to set goals, focus on them, and work hard. If we work hard enough, we will achieve our goals.
We usually achieve success by building habits that might or might not make us achieve something. The greatest habit we can cultivate is following our curiosity and doing what makes us happy. A lot of successful people end up miserable because they focus on their long-term goals so hard that they imprison themselves in a life they don't want to live.
You don't know what you will like to do, what your interests will be, or what you will be like in a decade. You are not a project. You are a mortal being. You don't even know if you will be alive. Just relax. We live on a rock that is travelling at 30km per second around another burning rock in a waste space. Nothing is serious. Follow what is interesting to you, and be surprised when you get what your heart desires.
Moreover, focusing on what you are curious about and doing what you love to do will make you live in the present moment and help you have a humbler, happier life.
5. Be of Service to Others
Ego is a disease of the never-ending desires. We look at others and think about what we can get from them. We try to manipulate every situation to our benefit. We hurt people to get ahead. We ruin lives so we can profit. We lie, we steal, we cheat. And one day, we look in the mirror to find out we hate the person looking back at us. Or maybe we like that person, but we wonder why nobody else does.
There is a simple solution: reframe success as the services you provide for others. I am not talking about capitalistic services here. I am talking about bringing an extra cup of coffee to your coworker. I am talking about lending a hand to somebody who slips and falls. Listening to somebody who is shy and weak of voice, when the entire table gets bored and starts looking at their phones. Letting somebody to take our place in a line when they are in a hurry and we are not. Opening the door for somebody. Laughing at somebody's bad joke. I am talking about going out of your way to help somebody.
The moment you start looking for opportunities, you will find that just by helping others, by being of service to others, you start living a meaningful life. By accepting that you are not the most important person in the room, and by making other people's lives easier, you will live a humbler but also more fulfilling life. You will look at the mirror, and the person in the mirror will smile.
6. Share the Credit and Take the Blame
Ego is always quick to take the credit, and if there is a problem or a failure, it is always somebody else's fault.
Usually in reality, if there is a success, there are also people who helped us succeed, make our lives easier, solve our problems, or just give us advice. And, if there is a failure, even though it might seem that we were completely passive in it and it happened because of some outside factors, there is always something we could have done better, changed the course, or even just to lessen the cost of failure.
Even though it is against our instinct, sharing the credit with those who helped us along the way and, in the case of failure, taking all the blame is not only humbler, but in all possibilities, a better way. Think about the great leaders you have met along the way. Think about the moments when you thought they were such great leaders, and you will see them doing a great feat and sharing the glory with others, or taking all the blame when somebody else in their team was guilty of a colossal mistake.
Make this a habit, and you will soon see that others start to see you as a leader.
7. Apologize and Atone
Whenever you make a mistake, hurt somebody, cause some harm, be quick to apologize. But apologizing by itself is never enough. You have to atone for your mistake. If you break something, mend or replace it. If you hurt somebody, make them feel better. If you make a mistake, do anything within your power to fix it. If you cause a misunderstanding, clarify things and make sure there is no bad spirit between the parties. And you can go one step further and start mending your past mistakes as well.
8. Compliment Others and Appreciate Their Successes
Jealousy and ego go hand in hand. If you are jealous of something or someone, just dismiss the thought and compliment the others about it. If you see someone succeed, appreciate and congratulate them. Even if their success was defeating you. Don't let negative thoughts grow in your heart. Don't think about what other people will think when they see you complimenting people or congratulating them. Just do it and let the jealousy dissipate.
9. Seek Criticism
We are all the same. We are quick to criticize and extremely defensive when others dare to do so. Our brains are hardwired to overlook our shortcomings and exaggerate our successes. Without the help of others, it is so hard to understand where and why we fail. They might not give the right advice, but if they think that we are falling short on one or two facets, we most likely are, and it is worth thinking deeply about it.
A lot of people will criticize but keep it to themselves to not to hurt us. There is an art to seeking criticism. A trick I find useful is asking for criticism as early as possible. Consider this text. If I ask you to criticize this text at this moment, you might think that I spent hours thinking and writing it, so you are more likely to say it is great. But if I asked for your criticism when there was just an intro and a couple of bullet points, you might be more inclined to tell me what you really think about this, especially if I insisted that your criticism would make the writing better.
Start seeking criticism as early as possible. Find people who are willing to give criticism and go to them over and over again, being appreciative of their time.
10. Be and Remain Teachable
In everything you do, there will always be people who are better, wiser, more naturally inclined, and more skilled than you. When you meet those people, your instinct might be to act defensively. You might want to show people how great you are at this and that. You might deflect criticism no matter how constructive. In that case, the other party will just shrug and go on their way, thinking that you are just insecure.
You could have changed everything by being teachable. You could have listened to the other person even though you know most of the things he or she is talking about. You could have found out the parts you didn't know really well and that person knew a lot. You could have asked questions. You could have turned that person into a mentor and improved fast. You could have met that person's mentors even. Worked with great people in your field.
But you didn't. Why? Because when you meet someone who is better, your ego gets bruised.
Don't let your ego get in the way.