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How To Live A Humble Life: 11 Proven Strategies That Work

Humility is often misunderstood. Find out why it's a super strength that can improve your life and the lives of those around you!

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There’s often a misconception about humility. People think it’s about being self-deprecating and meek, but in reality, humility is a super strength that improves your overall well-being and brings out the best in you and others. 

If you’ve grown tired of presenting perfection and an all-knowing ideal of yourself to the world (often associated with traits of narcissism), you might want to try humility for a change and see how it improves your life!

In this article, we’ll look at what humility is, including characteristics and examples, and dive into strategies to become more humble.

What is Humility? (Definition)

Humility stems from the Latin word humilitas, which means groundedness. While humility has often been portrayed as self-deprecation and modesty, research shows that true humility is an honest, grounded confidence in who we are and what we bring to the table. 

Humility involves curiosity that is willing to remain open to new ideas or ways of doing things. In curiosity, humble people have a great sense of self-awareness about their contribution and the contribution of others. Additionally, they tend to be at ease owning their mistakes and expressing gratitude, wonder, encouragement, and forgiveness.

“I’m here to get it right, not to be right.”

—Brené Brown, Ph.D., MSW

Humility is often a learned virtue modeled by parents, guardians, teachers, or others in our surroundings as we grow up. However, in some cases, an otherwise arrogant person can learn humility while being humbled by their circumstances. 

For example, people who are humbled by circumstances may face a hard reality when they are laid off, rejected by a potential employer or partner, face an unforeseen disaster or financial crisis, or experience public humiliation or embarrassment. All of these situations force someone to face the reality of who they are, recognize some hard truths, and seek help when they otherwise might not.

What Makes a Humble Person? 9 Key Characteristics

The nine key characteristics of a humble person include:

  • Self-awareness: understanding of one’s strengths, weaknesses, and perception
  • Authentic confidence: understanding of one’s true self and contribution
  • Openness to feedback: willingness to shift perspective in the face of new information
  • Curiosity: intentionality about learning new perspectives or ways of doing things
  • Gratitude: appreciation for the people, situations, and things in one’s life
  • Generosity: giving to or supporting others often from a place of gratitude
  • Not afraid to ask for help: willingness to know one’s weakness and need for help
  • Accountability for mistakes: willingness to own when one has messed up
  • Forgiveness toward oneself and others: understanding that we’re human and that people are usually doing the best they can

To cultivate and maintain a humble mindset, there are several strategies you can start practicing right away. Let’s see what they are!

How to Be Humble: 11 Strategies to Master

Ask for advice or help

Not only is asking for advice a great way to develop humility, but it’s also a great way to bond with people. This is what is known as the Franklin effect1https://www.brainpickings.org/2014/02/20/the-benjamin-franklin-effect-mcraney/—On the one hand, you acknowledge someone’s shared interest, and on the other, people will likely enjoy helping you because it makes them feel valued. 

In our article on how to ask for advice, we lay out four steps:

  • Make it personal: Let people know why you specifically chose them for support.
  • Ask something specific: Target their expertise on a specific problem you’re trying to solve.
  • Express your gratitude: Always thank people for their insight or support!
  • Follow-up with actions: Let people know how their support made a difference.

Celebrate and empower others

Being humble means acknowledging the strengths and beauty in those around you. It’s difficult to be arrogant when genuinely celebrating and empowering those around you! 

To celebrate and empower others, incorporate these practices into your daily life:

  • Write thank-you notes acknowledging specific acts or characteristics you admire in someone. Hand-written notes are awesome, but they can also be in a text or email.
  • Introduce like-minded people in your network together. It’s often very honoring to be introduced to someone else, especially if the connection will be mutually beneficial.
  • Call out people for their amazing work, ideas, or character. If it’s not too awkward for the person, share it in public, in meetings, or on social media. This makes people feel seen!
  • Ask people for their ideas on something they have expertise in. This makes people feel valued and honored for what they can offer you and the world.

Become a forever student

Being humble means acknowledging that you don’t have all the answers and that there is always a new perspective to learn from. Being a student is also about having the willingness to adjust your beliefs when you’re presented with new information or a better way of doing something. 

To become a forever student, incorporate these practices into your life:

  • Listen to podcasts on topics you’re both interested in and may not be familiar with yet.
  • Take courses to learn a new skill.
  • Go out to lunch with a colleague you don’t usually interact with. 
  • Join a book club.
  • Travel somewhere new and ask locals what you should do or see.
  • Visit museums. 
  • Follow accounts on social media focused on topics you want to know more about.
  • Become a master question-asker to get to know people.

Own your mistakes

Humble people have the self-awareness to recognize where they went wrong, often before they’re called out. And when they are called out, their first instinct is not to be defensive but to seek to understand what happened and take accountability for their part.

To own your mistakes and apologize sincerely, take these steps:

  • Say, “I’m sorry”
  • Acknowledge specifically what you did wrong
  • Express regret for your actions
  • Take responsibility for your actions
  • Declare your intention to change future behavior
  • Offer to make things right
  • Request forgiveness

Forgive and seek forgiveness

Humble people lack arrogance and the need to defend what they might feel ashamed of. In their vulnerability and owning up to their mistakes, they can more easily ask for forgiveness when they mess up. Ultimately they know they are only human. Their gracious mindset also allows them to recognize others are often doing the best they can too, and are quick to forgive others without holding a grudge. 

To forgive others and let go of a grudge, get curious about where someone is coming from, and ponder, “How does my perspective change when I consider that they were doing the best they can?” While this doesn’t necessarily excuse the behavior, it can help you gain empathy and approach forgiveness with grace and the ability to let go of your grudge. 

Before you extend forgiveness, you often have to confront someone about how you’ve been hurt. This also takes humility because you are choosing instead to be vulnerable with your feelings rather than hold a grudge to begin with. 

Simon Sinek provides an effective approach to a confrontation he calls the FBI approach.

  • Feelings: State your specific feelings.
  • Behavior: Share the specific behavior that caused the feeling (refrain from using words like always and never).
  • Impact: Explain the impact the behavior had or will have on your life. 

For example, this approach in action might look something like this: “When you showed up late to my birthday party (behavior), it made me feel like you don’t care about me (feeling). My concern is that if you keep showing up late for important milestones in my life, I’ll slowly stop trusting you, and our relationship will deteriorate over time (impact).”

Practice the art of listening

Humble people know how to pull out the best in others. In the presence of a humble person, people often feel valued and honored. The reason for this is that humble people are usually great listeners who ask thoughtful questions because they are genuinely curious about others. In fact, 40% of effective communication2https://www.researchgate.net/publication/316277855_A_STUDY_ON_LISTENING_SKILLS_AND_PERSPECTIVE_TO_FIRST_YEAR_STUDENTS_AT_ENGLISH_DEPARTMENT_OF_ACADEMIC_YEAR_20152016 involves listening. If you’re not listening, you’re not communicating well!

To pull out the best in others, practice listening with these steps:

  • Avoid only talking about yourself (or risk coming across as arrogant.)
  • Incorporate open-ended getting-to-know-you questions into your conversation.
  • Re-state your understanding. “If I understand, you’re saying ____, is that right?”
  • Encourage and affirm them. “Wow. Tell me more about that!”
  • Empathize with what they share with you. “Really? I’ve experienced that too!”
  • Provide good eye contact when someone is talking to you.
  • Avoid other activities while listening to someone, like playing on your phone.

Stay open to feedback

Humble people are less likely to feel a need to fiercely defend their stance on a particular issue because they ultimately know there is always more to learn. This is not to say that humble people don’t have values or beliefs, but they also recognize that they may not know everything. 

Unlike a narcissist, whose insecurity compels them to defend and promote their “knowledge” for fear of appearing incompetent, humble people remain open to feedback and understanding new ways of thinking. 

To practice staying open to feedback, try some of these approaches:

  • Ask people how they would approach a problem you’re facing.
  • Ask others how something you’ve created or done makes them feel or think.
  • Ask people how they would have handled something you’ve done.
  • Seek perspective on the context for where the feedback is coming from. 
  • Nod and tilt your head to show people you’re listening and to encourage people to continue sharing. 
  • Always say, “Thank you for sharing.” Rather than explain or defend your position, ask questions to understand where they’re coming from. 

Accept praise and criticism with grace

Accepting both praise and criticism with grace is a definite mark of a humble person. It shows others you’re willing to listen and are not too proud to receive support. People often enjoy praising or giving feedback to them because the humble person makes them feel valued. 

When accepting praise, try these practices:

  • Rather than deny or downplay the praise, simply say thank you! When you reject someone’s praise, you likely unintentionally tell people they are wrong
  • Affirm their expression of kind praise by acknowledging their kindness, attention, and ability to call out the best in others. “Wow, thank you for noticing. I worked so hard and appreciate your encouragement more than you know!”
  • Draw attention to what contributed to your success by acknowledging the people (maybe the person praising you) for their support. “Thank you! I have to say. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without your help!”

When accepting criticism, try these practices:

  • Remember that people often simply want to be heard and that their feedback is not necessarily a personal attack on you or your character. 
  • Stay grounded in the truth of who you are to accept both good and bad feedback. This might mean giving yourself a pep talk or connecting with a trusted friend who can affirm your value. 
  • Thank people for their intention, acknowledging it is usually to help you get better. Remember, thanking them doesn’t necessarily mean you have to accept their help. “Thanks for offering your help. I’ll take that into consideration!” 
  • Evaluate the input and measure it against other feedback or criticism you’ve received. Are there any patterns or themes? What might be true or untrue? Does their feedback go against my values? Make a note of what’s helpful and filter out what’s not.

Practice generosity

Humble people often have a glow about them due to their generous nature. It turns out this is no coincidence. Research shows3https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5508200/ that generosity makes people feel happier!

Even if humble, generous people are of little means, it does not deter them from being generous with their kindness, support, praise, and curiosity. This is not to say that they feel taken advantage of. On the contrary, humble people tend to have healthy boundaries because of their deep sense of self-awareness and security. Receiving support from a humble person feels genuine, without obligation or manipulation. 

Here’s how to start practicing generosity:

  • Keep a gratitude journal. It’s often out of gratitude that we become more generous.
  • Pay attention and take notes when people mention things they like, need or wish they could have or do. Maybe keep a notebook filled with your friends and family’s names with things you notice! 
  • Surprise friends and family with a gift. This might look like buying something they need or babysitting their kids so they can have a night out (refer to your notes!).
  • Don’t hold back your praise when you notice something good, creative, genius, or beautiful. Letting people know the impact they’ve had on you, even if it’s small, goes a long way!
  • Create a budget that incorporates generosity. If you have a tight budget, start small and work your way up. Donate to causes or people in your community you know are in need. 
  • Volunteer your time on causes you care about or by supporting a friend or family member with a project or through a difficult season.

Experience wonder

One of the marks of a humble person is their ability to recognize that they are a speck of life in an infinite universe. This is not to say that a humble person does not feel like they matter. On the contrary, it is their acknowledgment of their existence in the midst of the greater universe that compels them to awe, wonder, and gratitude. 

By stepping back, even if it’s just a little bit, to witness and understand things outside your immediate purview, you can get out of your own head and self-centeredness. It’s difficult to be self-centered or selfish when you think about who you are in the context of a wider history, the greater population, or a bigger universe.

There are many ways to experience more wonder in your life. Here are a few ideas:

  • Study history, including your ancestry. Discovering how you got to be where you are today is truly inspiring!
  • Spend time in nature. Not only does time in nature develop wonder, but research also shows4https://www.apa.org/monitor/2020/04/nurtured-nature that time in nature improves mental health.
  • Explore the wonder of other cultures with travel or even by experiencing new restaurants or neighborhoods.
  • Spend a day, week, or month taking pictures of anything that sparks joy. Don’t overthink it. (Maybe it’s your colorful socks!) When you feel joy, snap a photo. Then look back on the moments and recognize what you might have taken for granted in the past. 

Practice gratitude

Humble people are full of gratitude, often because they recognize that who they are and what they have are not realized by their efforts alone. Humble people know that others often contribute to their success and are quick to genuinely express their thanks. There are scientific benefits5https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/giving-thanks-can-make-you-happier to gratitude as well, including increased life satisfaction. 

One simple trick that Vanessa Van Edwards uses to be more grateful is called the gratitude totem. She describes the totem as a symbol in your daily life that serves as a reminder to express gratitude. 

To use this trick, choose an object or a person you see every day, and every time you see that object or person, stop to think about what you’re grateful for at that moment. Here are some totem ideas you might use to remind you to be grateful:

  • Your morning coffee
  • Your stop at a red light
  • A flower or plant in your home or office
  • A specific time of the day, like 11:11
  • Your partner walking in the door

Get out of your comfort zone

When you get out of your comfort zone, you often have to rely on others for help. This creates a situation where you may not be able to resort to your own knowledge or competence and may even put you in situations where you become embarrassed. This isn’t always a bad thing and can be a great way to develop humility while also gaining a new experience. 

To get out of your comfort zone to build humility, try some of these ideas:

  • Take a class in something you’re not skilled at. (Ballroom dancing, anyone?!)
  • Ask your kids (or a kid in your life) to show you how to play their favorite game.
  • Learn a new language. There are some great apps like Duolingo to get you started!
  • Travel to a city without a map and rely only on the locals to get around to restaurants and activities. 
  • Apply for that job you’ve been thinking about but don’t think you’re qualified for. 
  • Think of that thing you’ve always wanted to do but have been afraid to start. Put yourself out there and ask someone who’s done it before for advice on how to get started and take the next step. 

Celebrate who you are (without bragging)

Part of being humble means being honest about who you are. One of the reasons people become narcissists is because they have a false sense of self and a deep sense of insecurity. 

By growing in your self-awareness and learning to celebrate your strengths and acknowledge your weaknesses, you can improve your self-esteem and self-worth. Not only will you find more enjoyment in life, but those around you will be able to better connect with you and your authentic self. 

To celebrate who you are and build your self-esteem, try some fun ideas:

  • Start a gratitude journal.
  • Try a new activity you’ve always wanted to experience.
  • Create the ultimate playlist that represents your life journey.
  • Throw a party just because.
  • Spend a weekend doing only things that bring you joy.
  • Create an inspiring vision board and set inspiring goals.

Want to become more humble? Learn how to use science to accomplish your goal with this helpful resource!

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Is Humility a Weakness?

Some common misconceptions about humility include equating it with weakness or lack of confidence. On the contrary, true humility involves having an honest perspective and understanding of who you are and what you bring to the table. 

Humility is not about having low self-esteem or letting people take advantage of you. It involves understanding both your strengths and your weaknesses while not beating yourself up or putting yourself down for things you may not know or know how to do. 

What Are Good Examples of Being Humble?

Here are a few examples of what it means to be humble in various contexts.

Example of humility at work

In the workplace, humble leaders6https://www.forbes.com/sites/eriklarson/2019/11/11/new-research-how-humble-leaders-unblock-decision-making/?sh=5d23219d66ca are open-minded, which ultimately leads to making quicker, more effective decisions. For example, a humble leader will choose not to exert power over people but rather focus on defining the problem and welcoming input from various perspectives on how to solve the problem. 

A great example of a humble leader is the character Ted from the award-winning show Ted Lasso. As a coach, even after making a decision, Ted welcomes feedback and seeks to understand people’s concerns or alternative ideas. He then continues to communicate and listen as things change. It doesn’t have to be his way or no way.

Ultimately, effective leaders know that remaining open and flexible allows them to manage crises well and build trust. 

Examples of humility online and on social media

Being humble online and on social media can be tough, especially when there are so many others to compare yourself to. There’s often a behind-the-scenes persona that people hesitate to showcase to the world. However, some people can connect with others and gain quite a following simply by being vulnerable and humble. 

For example, Elyse Myers is a popular influencer who seeks to be honest about herself and her experiences while expressing awe for and gratitude to her community. Her grounded personality has attracted a large audience, including many celebrities. 

Ultimately, being humble online and on social media comes down to being real, not just to gain more likes and attention but to connect with others in a way that makes people feel seen and understood. This might mean being honest about your mistakes and sharing stories about your journey, not just the highlights. 

Example of humility with friends

Humble friends are great friends! They have a great sense of self-awareness about who they are while at the same time seeking out and empowering the best in those around them. They are also unafraid of asking for advice when they feel stuck. 

One great example of a humble friend is the character Leslie Knope from the comedy series Parks and Recreation. As a humble friend, Leslie expressed deep gratitude and honor for the people in her life, and they felt honored to support her when she was in need. She not only would return the favor, but generosity was also her natural state of being—she was generous with her encouragement and support, as well as her listening ear.

Example of humility with a partner

In a romantic relationship, humility looks like putting your partner’s interest ahead of your own, standing up for them, even when you disagree, and being willing to acknowledge your mistakes and ask for forgiveness. When people in a partnership are mutual in their generosity and commitment to each other, they can experience a truly beautiful relationship.

The characters Beth and Randall from the TV series, This Is Us are a great example of a humble partnership. While they are no strangers to conflict, they still back each other up and trust one another, often supporting one another even when the decision is hard or compromises their comfort or desires. 

Example of humility with family

In a family, humility looks like a group of people who not only have mutual respect and belief in one another but who are also generous towards others and willing to learn together. 

For example, a humble family will often be seen inviting friends, old and new, to share meals together. They may also volunteer or make giving back to their community a part of their regular routine. And because they are open-minded, they also enjoy learning new things, exploring new restaurants, and traveling to new places to experience new cultures and places. These activities keep them grounded and aware of the best ways to contribute to society.

The Importance of Being Humble

Being humble is an important virtue and a sign of strength. In various contexts, humility can take you farther longer than any amount of arrogance or narcissism can. Whether you develop humility the hard way or with intention, humility can be learned. This is great news because research shows7https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9296045/ that humility contributes to many positive outcomes. 

Some of the benefits of humble leadership7https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9296045/ in the workplace include:

  • More employees voicing their ideas and opinions
  • More proactive behavior
  • More feedback-seeking behavior
  • More gratitude
  • Better well-being
  • Improved job performance
  • High rates of inclusion8https://hbr.org/2014/05/the-best-leaders-are-humble-leaders

Key Takeaways on Humility

In summary, take note of these tips to benefit from being more humble:

  • Ask for advice or help. You make people feel valued when you ask!
  • Celebrate and empower others. Notice and bring out the best in people.
  • Forgive and seek forgiveness. Remember, we’re all human. 
  • Practice the art of listening. Ask open-ended questions and give people attention.
  • Stay open to feedback. Remember, there is always more to learn.
  • Accept praise and criticism with grace. Don’t be too proud to receive support.
  • Practice generosity. Increase your well-being and improve others’ lives.
  • Experience wonder. Step back to see things outside of yourself.
  • Practice gratitude. Remember, what you have is not realized by your efforts alone.
  • Get out of your comfort zone. Get into situations where you need to rely on others.
  • Celebrate who you are. Keep an honest perspective of who you are.

If you or someone you know struggles with humility, check out our article Survivorship Bias: Why You Might Not Be As Above Average As You Think.

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