What does humility mean?
How can someone be more humble?
Rev. Connie L. Habash, MA, LMFT
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Awakening Self | Yoga and Meditation Teacher | Minister | Author
To be truly humble, the mind becomes quiet. There are no thoughts of me, myself, or I – and actually no thoughts of she, he, they, and them.
Most of the time, our mind is constantly thinking about how we’re coming across, what others think of us, how to win an argument, worrying about the future, or fretting over the past. And if we try to figure out how to be more humble, we put ourselves into a “Catch-22,” because the very thought itself may hinder our natural humility within.
Humility means that we don’t need to “know” – we can be open to what arises in the next moment. We are present with whoever is with us, whatever we’re doing. We stopped worrying, figuring out, or trying to prove anything. It’s a state of inner quiescence.
When we’re in that quiet mind, we’re simply present, open, and receptive. Love is naturally there when we’re in that inner silence. Thus, we are naturally humble, which means we’re “close to the earth.” We’re simply being here, as we are, with everything as it is, open-hearted.
It’s challenging to quiet our minds, even when we’re trying to meditate. So just do your best to be fully present and mindful in each moment. The more you practice, the more the thoughts will calm down and humility will arise of itself.
Dr. Craig April, Ph.D.
Licensed Psychologist | Director, April Center for Anxiety Attack Management
Remind yourself that you have strengths and weaknesses like everyone else. Work on being more aware of your weaknesses. Identify them. Working on weaknesses or limitations is a humbling experience!
Get in touch with your humanity. Being human has its challenges. On that point, we are all the same. Practice being aware of what makes us human. Remind yourself that you’re not alone and that we all want roughly the same things.
Know that arrogance is a defense mechanism. Arrogance defends us against insecurity, fear and even sadness. Unfortunately, it’s an unhealthy way to get needs met. Lack of humility can damage relationships on a business and personal level. It moves us away from practicing empathy for our fellow human beings and distances us from self-awareness.
Adina Mahalli, MSW
Mental Health Expert, Enlightened Reality | Family Care Professional
The act of gratitude is integral to humility because it inherently allows you to recognize others, rather than focus on yourself. The ability to look outside of yourself is fundamental to acquiring humility. If you want to be more humble, start by saying “thank you”.
While on an interpersonal level, humility is described as the ability to be ‘other-oriented’ as opposed to ‘self-oriented’, on a personal level it means that you have an authentic and true self-perception. This means that you’re able to accept criticism gracefully, rather than as a personal attack on your capabilities.
Know Your Place
While you have your talents, recognizing that you also have faults allows you to cultivate humility. Humility isn’t about dismissing your talents, it’s about embracing them but acknowledging that they don’t make you superhuman. Focus on how to keep moving and growing rather than the grandeur of your accomplishments.
Katie Bailey, MA, LPC
Licensed Professional Counselor | Owner, Lime Tree Counseling
I’d like to offer the following tips.
Learn to kindly disagree with others. Not everyone will share your opinions on everything. If someone disagrees with you, recognize that doesn’t necessarily mean your point is invalid.
Be secure enough in your own choices to give other people the freedom to have their own thoughts. Not everyone has to agree with you.
If you mess up, own it. We all make mistakes, hurt other people, or just flat out screw up. When you are in the wrong, admit it, and apologize. Don’t make excuses like, “I’m sorry I didn’t show up when we agreed, but you do it all the time.” That’s not a real apology.
Simply say you are sorry, you know you messed up, and ask for forgiveness. Then work hard to make better choices next time.
Caroline Artley, LCSW-C
The only assumption one should ever make is that it is impossible to know everything. By seeking more information about a divisive topic–even if we think we already know our position–we train our brains to be inquisitive rather than rigid.
The old phrase most often used, “You don’t know what you don’t know” comes to mind. Here are some statements and questions that invite dialogue:
- “I’d like to hear more about that.”
- “I’m not familiar with that [subject/show/blog/podcast/news story]. Can you tell me about it?”
- “I’m interested in hearing your opinion on the matter.”
- “This is certainly a tough issue with many sides. Would you like to share your perspective?”
- “Tell me more about your personal experience that informs your position.”
A person lacking in humility tends to think themselves superior to others. By placing oneself in a position of subservience, you’ll likely knock yourself down a few notches on the superiority scale.
If you can, visit non-tourist destinations. Go without a tour group so you can freely converse with locals. Use local forms of transportation. Hire a translator only if necessary (the challenge of communicating in another language is equally humbling).
Example: I once shared a rocky slab of a seat with another mother in Peru while nursing our babies. In limited English and Spanish, we conversed about parenting beliefs and trends in our countries.
We could have stared at each other from across the rock, me making arrogant presumptions about the woman hounding tourists to buy her hand-made jewelry; her making similar assumptions about the American who had enough money to fly her family over for the tour but turned her jewelry down citing price.
But instead, this hours-long conversation joined two strangers from different cultures, occupations, and social-economic backgrounds over the common need of feeding for our children.
I started out at my firm as a temporary worker, so you don’t get lower on the totem pole than that. I had a motto that I still strive to live by: Never ask someone to do something you’re not willing to do yourself.
As the CEO, I take out the trash if it’s full and make coffee if the pot is empty, for instance. But more than that, it’s remembering that my staff has important jobs, just as important as mine, and our firm couldn’t function without them.
They’re the glue that holds this place together, and showing gratitude and the utmost respect for their positions is paramount.
Related: Building Strong Work Relationships
Co-Founder and Realtor, Chance Realty, LLC.
As both a fellow athlete and a current entrepreneur, I know from first-hand experience how staying humble can mold you into the perfect cookie cutter shape for success. This discipline does not come easy however, it is extremely necessary in order to ground yourself instead of allowing success and achievements to get to your head.
One of the best ways I continue staying humble is by surrounding myself with people who are better than me.
Implementing this into your own daily practices will remind you that you’re not special and there are always higher levels for achievement in this game called life.
No matter how high your achievements reach, if you’re constantly seeking out friends, coworkers, or mentors who are high performers, then their presence alone will keep you more humble than running with each succession on your own.
Founder, MAXiM Hair Restoration
Humility can come from both successes and failures, as well as age. It also has roots in our upbringing. My favorite approach to it comes from an article I once read on an entrepreneur who, upon learning that his company had completed a successful exit for an exponential valuation, picked up a mop to clean the floor of his office kitchen in order to experience a sense of humility.
In my own experience, having a very fundamental outlook towards life brings me down to earth.
Life and death are both unpredictable and one could be worth a hundred million dollars, get hit by a truck while crossing the street, and it’s all over. We do not take our worldly possessions with us when we leave this world. This thought alone should make us feel humble.
In our daily lives, we are surrounded by others who are likely less fortunate than ourselves, and we should be thankful for being alive and our health and well-being. A very large percent of the world’s population lives below the poverty line and is fighting conflict, death, and disease only a daily basis. Having a roof over our head, a steady income, and eating/living well are daily blessings that we should be thankful for.
Sometimes, it just takes a multitude of experiences in life over time that brings humility to us. The unexpected loss of loved ones, sudden illness, unemployment, financial crisis, losses, and other events can humble us perpetually over time. Even the tremendous success of a few can contribute to one feeling of being humble since our own success and accomplishments could pale in comparison.
Examples of showing humility and being humble can include self deprecation, selflessness, charity, acknowledging and recognizing others and their contribution, treating others with respect and dignity regardless of their socioeconomic stature, participation and contribution to local causes and community service, deferring to others, and downplaying one’s own accomplishments, education and ambitions.
Co-Founder, Kono USA
What has worked for me is waking up every morning and spending a few minutes starting my day on what I’m truly grateful for. One of the keys is to keep it simple and you don’t have to make it a huge deal.
I’m grateful for my home, kids, a sunny day for that matter. I think the small things are just as important than the big ones. The small things we are grateful for are more frequent.
I also try to be intentional with helping people with no expectations and focus more on what I’m gaining and less on what I’m losing.
Chief Executive, Black Beards Media
When I was a younger man I was full of Bravado and covering up the fact I was very insecure while hiding the emotionally damaged person I truly was. As the years ticked by, I found my life suffering from my inability to honestly look at or consider other people struggles and positions.
Although I have grown and matured extensively over the years, one special skillset has truly given me the ability to humble myself and learn the art of just letting go of insecurities, even personal ego, while considering others before myself.
And that Is the physically demanding martial art Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. My professor, Michael Graeber, tells me it has worked for others throughout the years as well. You learn extremely quickly that a 17-year old fit young woman with a Blue belt will effortlessly manhandle you, a 40-year-old man, while simultaneously choking the life right out of you.
That’s enough to change anyone that has the unfortunate position of being a narcissistic, insecure, know-it-all person!
Accept others as they are while looking for the good or positive in everyone. Treat others emotionally & physically without judgment while being unassuming. It’s a genuinely easy way to yourself how to be humble. If you apply this tip, then emotionally your life improves.
Gracie Jiu-Jitsu has changed me for the better. I stopped being sorry for myself and I have developed the ability to let go of my perceived insecurities that could cloud my judgment.
It has changed me for the better over the years making me a better Jiu-Jitsu training partner and businessman simply because I learned to be humble.
Attorney at Law
My father taught me at a young age a very important lesson. We were walking through my elementary school and he pointed to the maintenance man who was cleaning something in the hallway, and told me, “Son, no matter who you turn out to be, or what you accomplish, always remember that you are no better a person than him, or anyone else, and you are no less a person than anyone, even the President.”
He made sure I understood that everyone in life is important and has a purpose and that we are all vital parts of a great big structure called humanity. My father’s wisdom to me as a child has given me the gift of this perspective:
That everyone matters, everyone is important, and we should all respect one another, no matter what path we are on in our journey through life.
Richard Matzkin, MA
A cure for thinking how great and important you are is to look at the “big picture” of time and space and contemplate. You cannot help but feel humble.
Go outside at night and look up at the stars. You will get a sense that you are a passenger riding, with billions of others, on a tiny mudball in a vast, infinite universe. Hard to keep believing how great and important you are.
Another cure is to read the poem by Percy Shelley that he wrote while staring at the shattered ancient remains of what was a giant statue half buried in the sands of the Egyptian desert. The poem reads in part;
“…and on the pedestal, these words appear: ‘ My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings, Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!’ Nothing beside remains. Round the decay of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare the lone and level sands stretch far away.”
No matter how great we think we are, time will eventually erase our greatest accomplishments and render us a footnote in an obscure reference book.
Communications Specialist, Veterans United Home Loans
Develop wise confidence. Strive to be confident in your ability to know and understand yourself- both strengths and weaknesses. Knowing those things allow us to enhance the lives of those around us by being helpful and also seeking guidance.
Related: Why is Self Confidence Important?
Just listen. Listening is key to knowing yourself and understanding how to best help and serve those around you. Listening helps us care for those around us, learning what’s underneath the surface of their words and taking action.
Be mindful of your story and know your “why”. In a world that tells us (the majority of the time) that it’s all about us and we should do what makes us happy, it’s easy to get distracted.
As humans, we let every little thing bother us which causes us to shift our “why” to align with our selfishness. To quote Viktor Frankl, “Those who have a ‘why’ to live can bear with almost any ‘how.’
Founder, Lead Peep
I find that a great way to humble myself when success may be getting to my head, and it happens to us all, is to take a walk around town and see what the world is really like without the rose-tinted glasses on.
Another is to re-visit my memories from childhood because I grew up on a council estate, just remembering those struggles and having so little humbled me every time. It’s very important in business to keep your feet firmly on the ground.
Founder, Honest Marketing
There is no better way to feel humble then realizing how small you are in this universe. Sometimes you need to look at night at the starry sky.
Whatever you do or someone else does, we are here for a period of time and all the wealth won’t matter in the end.
I’m a huge fan of servant leadership. Serving your team members will serve you and your organization’s goals well.
If you want to learn how to be a more humble person, look around you and see who you can serve. How can you empower others?
Part of this is being a good listener. Be empathetic. Try to understand what others need. If you can help, do it. If you can’t, be honest with yourself and others, if they asked – and, see if you can refer the person to someone who can.
Being humble is about knowing your limitations, both in terms of your capabilities and when you should get involved.
Related: 24 Best Leadership Books of All Time
Attorney & Real Estate Professional, House Heroes
Find a quote about humility that moves you, and read it daily.
I have this quote by Issac Newton taped on the outside of my laptop: “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.”.
Each time I open my laptop for work or otherwise, I am reminded that everything I do and everything I have achieved has been possible because of the people who have come before me. I think of the people who fought for women’s rights, my parents, teachers, and mentors who took the time to invest in me – and the list goes on and on.
Partner & Executive Client Manager, Oakleaf Technologies
Having gratitude is perhaps the first step to being more humble.
When you are grateful and appreciative of life, you realize that there is room for improvement. Understanding this concept is so important to self-growth. When you have humility, you are more open to receiving and connecting with the universe and people. Humility opens doors while arrogance closes them.
As an assistant aikido teacher (Fukushidoin) and with over 20 years of experience, I am always reminded to leave the ego in the trunk. Aikido is a martial arts that focuses on connecting, feeling and awareness. This connection allows you to redirect the opponent’s energy towards a positive outcome.
Aikido teaches you humility because there is no competition. It is only you against yourself on the mat. Physically, you can see and feel the disconnect when the ego gets in the way. When you practice the true art of aikido with humility, you and your partner are aligned and there is no destructive or aggressive behavior. The result is harmony.
In business today, aikido is used in leadership strategies. The concepts of aikido parallel the concepts of leadership. When you are faced with challenges, being humble and open minded allows you gain strength to overcome life’s struggles.
Humbleness can also be gained if one practices meditation and grounding. The process allows you to be more in tune with nature and present. Being present allows him to have a natural confidence and appreciation that does promote humility.
Public Speaking Expert, On-Speaking Terms
One of the first steps is to recognize that constantly taking pictures of yourself and posting them online is the exact opposite of being humble. When you put the focus only and always on yourself you’re blocking out the entire rest of the world, which is way more interesting than you, you and more you.
Put your phone down, walk around and notice what’s going on around you. Let your awareness be raised by what you observe about others, about nature, about animals, about architecture.
It wasn’t until I worked with someone with a disability that I suddenly became aware of disabled people all over the place. I’d never noticed them before. Once I spoke with my client about what her life is like, I was much more aware and grateful for my own good fortune.
Humble and kind people are a pleasure to be around with and they enhance the energy, rather than depleting it with ego, insecurity and showing off. It’s not something you can fake, either…you either get it or you don’t.
You can learn it, and that’s why I’m taking the time to give my thoughts on something that I see has an important social value, the non-selfie, and unselfish citizen.
When I was growing up, my parents strongly emphasized not to think you’re better than someone else.
No matter if you have more money, a fancy job or if you go on luxurious vacations, one way to be more humble is by having patience and treating people with respect especially when traveling to another country.
It’s easy to get angry if a waiter brings you the wrong food or if it rains on your vacation. Though it isn’t always ideal, in the big scheme of things, most things aren’t worth getting upset over.
On a trip to Martha’s Vineyard, we were stuck in traffic on a shuttle. The driver of the vehicle explained that we were on island time. He meant that things may not happen as quickly or as accurately as you’re used to, and that’s how it is. I think people should adopt that attitude in everyday life to be more humble.