Modern science endorses the virtues underscored by scripture as beneficial; spiritually, emotionally and financially.
The Bible suggests we develop in ourselves the characteristics of gratitude, patience, humility and others. It tells us that these are traits through which we express love for our fellow man and for ourselves. Modern psychology backs this up with more specific details on how and why our lives are improved by cultivating these attributes, thus showing that the inspired biblical texts written thousands of years ago are relevant today.
Jesus’ most notable lessons in humility and serving others were his acts and words when he washed the disciples’ feet before he was arrested. “So, if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.”
So, I ask myself “Am I that humble?” Our self-evaluation is rarely what the world sees, so how would I know? And then I wonder if it is possible for people who are striving for excellence, or have reached excellence, to be humble. What do you think? Here is what the experts say.
What Humility Isn’t
Karl Albrecht Ph.D. in his Jan 2015 article in Psychology Today tells us what humility isn’t.
- It’s not letting others “push you around.”
- It’s not being a doormat, a sucker, or letting people “walk all over you.”
- It’s not constantly sacrificing your interests to those of others (and then feeling like a victim or a martyr).
- It’s not avoiding conflict or confrontation – not of your making, anyway – for the sake of “being nice.”
- It’s not about hiding your feelings or suppressing your views to avoid alienating others.
What Humility Is
True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less”- C. S. Lewis
Psychologically speaking, it is defined as a psycho-social orientation characterized by 1) a sense of emotional autonomy, and 2) freedom from the control by the “competitive reflex.” Sounds healthy.
It is about emotional neutrality. It involves an experience of growth in which you no longer need to put yourself above others, but you don’t put yourself below them, either. Everyone is your peer – from the most “important” person to the least. You’re just as valuable as every other human being on the planet, no more and no less. It’s about behaving and reacting from purposefulness, not emotions. You learn to simply disconnect or de-program the “competitive reflex” because it is not productive.
Therefore, humility is both a matter of self-restraint and a matter of self-esteem. The greater your sense of self-worth, the easier it is to appreciate others, to praise them, and to encourage them. It is also easier to be understanding and overlook minor infractions.
Competitive Reflex Self Diagnostic Test Questions
So how do we tell if we are humble? How often do we let our competitive reflex take over? Dr. Albrecht proposes some questions you can ask yourself to determine your level of humility.
- Do you offer unsolicited advice to others about how to live their lives better?
- Do you “damn with faint praise” when somebody shares their new idea or new discovery about life?
- If someone tells a joke, do you feel compelled to top it with a better one? Or, do you hold back on laughing, so the joke falls flat?
- Do you always have a better story, a better example, a better suggestion, or a better solution?
- Do you feel compelled to demonstrate how smart you are, or how much you know?
- Are you a back-seat driver?
- Do you like to tell people how to raise their kids better?
- Do you lecture or preach to others?
- When someone says something that’s mistaken or misinformed, how do you react?
- If you have a different opinion, do you precipitate a win-lose debate, or do you show respect for the other person’s view as you’re sharing your own?
- Are you angry when receiving criticism from others?
- Are you skeptical of others and convinced that you know better than everybody else what needs to be done?
How did you do? If not too well, here are some reasons to consider taking on a remodeling project to increase your humility.
Advantages of Humility
A recent set of studies show that humility is a consistent predictor of generosity. People who are humble tend to be more generous with both their time and their money and are, therefore, generally considered to be more valuable members of society. People see humble individuals as well-adjusted and kind. Humble people have better social relationships, avoid deception in their social interactions, and they tend to be forgiving, grateful, and cooperative.
Humility has been linked with better academic performance, job performance, and excellence in leadership said Michael W. Austin Ph.D. in a Jun 2012 article in Psychology Today.
Empirical evidence seems to show that humility can advance one’s fortune in the world, as it is a distinguishing trait of CEO’s of successful organizations. Humble leaders are honest about both their strengths and limitations. They are confident without being conceited; open-minded without being obstinate; and supportive without being submissive.
As leaders, we often regard admitting mistakes as a sign of weakness. In truth, it’s an admirable act of grace, generosity and gumption.
Accepting that you did something wrong or that you don’t know everything, relinquishes ego for the sake of personal development and business growth. Asking for help not only displays a willingness to learn but empowers others to shine. Moreover, it builds trust. Acknowledging a slipup today prevents it from swelling into an insurmountable challenge tomorrow.
As the great Jim Collins said, “The X-factor of great leadership is not personality, it is humility.”
Can You Strive for Excellence and Still be Humble?
Is it wrong to try to win at bridge, or improve your tennis game, or work to get ahead in your workplace? Of course not – those are parts of a separate dimension of your life where your talents and abilities become evident. Humility is a matter of social intelligence and building relationships, which involve inviting people to move with and toward you, instead of away and against you.
The Apostle Paul was a great example of a leader with humility. He was unwavering in his efforts to spread Christ’s message, yet encouraged Christ’s followers to be as humble as he was.
Regarding his work he wrote:
Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.(Phil 3:13-14)
And about humility, he wrote:
Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, (Phil 2:1-3)
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. (Col 3:12)
Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. (Eph 4:2)
Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. (Rom 12:16)
Mark Leary Ph.D. (in a December 2019 article in Psychology Today) gives a modern day example of success with humility: A renowned actor may know that he is exceptionally skilled, have a highly successful career, receive many awards, and be adored by millions of fans but not believe that he should be treated special overall, as a person, because of his exceptional ability and accomplishments.
The phrase “as a person” is critical here. In certain areas of life, people who perform at a high level or who have exceptionally positive characteristics deserve special attention, respect, deference, rewards, and privileges — in the domain in which their accomplishments or characteristics are relevant. For example, the best athletes should be given more playing time than less skilled players, accomplished scientists may deserve higher grant funding, the best actors and authors are entitled to more recognition, and the best employees are entitled to higher salaries, better offices, or other perks.
In Leary’s study he found that “humble people didn’t downplay their accomplishments or characteristics; they simply didn’t think they should be treated special because of them.”
How to Increase Your Humility
If you find yourself expressing more “competitive reflexes” than you’d like, or if you are successful in one area of your life, and therefore believe you are an expert in everything, here are some observations made by Frank Sonnenberg that you may find helpful.
Success is temporary. Success is a journey, not a destination. When you become successful, don’t rest on your laurels. As soon as you take your eye off the ball, you risk losing your edge.
Stop feeding your ego. Don’t isolate yourself from reality by building relationships with people who stroke your ego. Surrounding yourself with “yes people” is just like talking to yourself.
Compete against yourself. When you compete against others, it’s easy to emphasize winning over self-improvement. However, when you compete against yourself, you both win.
Even experts have room to learn. Never stop growing. Know your limitations and admit when you don’t know something. It’ll help to keep you grounded.
Listen up. Discover what others have to offer and ask for their opinions before opening your mouth. It shows that you value their opinions as well as their insight.
No one’s perfect. Don’t let success go to your head. Be quick to apologize for your mistakes. You’ll never learn anything or impress anyone by making excuses and diverting blame. To err is human. To admit that you erred is humility.
Share your success. You may be successful, but there’s a good chance that others helped you along the way. Find creative ways to share the credit and pull people up the ladder of success along with you.
Remember your roots. Remember where you came from and what you’ve learned along the way. Help others by mentoring them.
Get off your high horse. Treat everyone with dignity and respect. You may be successful, but that doesn’t make you better than anyone else.
Bragging is ugly. There’s a difference between excitement and bragging. We know you’re thrilled about your new “toy,” but others may be cutting back on their basic needs — be sensitive.
Trust me. Money and success can’t buy a person’s trust or guarantee a good reputation. You earn these through your words and actions. There’s nothing more valuable in life than integrity.
A humble person is not one who allows themselves to be pushed around. He or she is one who may distinguish, or strive to distinguish, themselves in a particular area based on their skills and talents. However, they recognize that their exceptionality does not extend beyond their area of expertise.
To the extent we become humbler, we improve our relationships with others and advance our goals.
As John Wooden said, “Talent is God given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful. ”So, what did I decide? Am I humble? I confess, I still have a little remodeling to do.
Before a downfall the heart is haughty, but humility comes before honor. (Prov 18:12)
When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom. (Prov 11:2)
For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. (Matt 23:12)
For the Lord takes delight in his people; he crowns the humble with victory. (Psalm 149:4)