Humility—the word can elicit various reactions from different people. For a long time, many considered it as an important attribute but not as valuable as fairness, sincerity, and authenticity.
But the virtue is becoming a highly attractive trait everywhere in the world, especially in social groups where the concept of hierarchy is so deeply entrenched.
In Duke University’s 2018 research on humility, participants were asked to rate themselves about their characteristics, accomplishments, and how others should be treated by others.
Lead researcher Mark Leary, a Duke University professor emeritus of psychology and author of The Curse of Self, discovered that humble people don’t underestimate their abilities, they just don’t think that they become a basis for special treatment or entitlement. Humble people see themselves like other people—with weaknesses, failures, and hang-ups.
Leary added that in people and interpersonal relationships where egoism is low, there are also low levels of conflict and negative emotions resulting from belief superiority and escapism.
Can We Be Confidently Humble?
If it’s possible to be both humble and confident at the same time, just as Leary’s study suggests, why is it hard for us to be more of both? Psychologists say we are unable to assess ourselves properly.
There is what we call the Dunning-Kruger effect in psychology, wherein people think they are better than they really are. On the other side of the spectrum, we have the impostor syndrome.
Individuals with this state of mind believe they don’t deserve their achievements and instead think they are frauds. They believe that their accomplishments were a matter of luck and timing.
Knowing Your Confidence Level
In their book Confidence Code, Katty Kay and Claire Shipman say that one’s gender, culture, and location in the world affect confidence levels. Men usually rate themselves a lot higher than their actual performance. Also, self-esteem is more important in Western culture than in the East, where self-improvement is emphasized.
The authors even created a quiz to help people assess their level of confidence. The quiz’ indicators for people with “low-confidence” include: a belief that everyone’s eyes are on what they have done, whether it be a success or failure; a low view of their worth (particularly in a corporate setting); having a list of all the things they wish they tried or done; and a hesitation to initiate action during key moments.
Overconfidence bias can show itself through over-ranking or having a higher estimate of oneself (Dunning-Kruger effect).
People with this bias may possess an illusion of control or the belief of having more control than what one actually has; a timing optimism or overestimating the amount of time needed to complete a job; and a desirability effect or the belief that a certain outcome will be achieved because that is the desired result.
Overconfident personalities may also exhibit behaviors such as expressing no curiosity for the person with whom they are interacting with, not focusing on what one doesn’t know yet or is seeking to learn, inserting one’s accomplishments into conversations, joining interactions due to potential self-interest, and treating service personnel differently than professional colleagues.
Striking a Balance
Becoming aware of the way you perceive yourself is the first step to moving forward in humility and confidence. How can you achieve a good balance?
1. Build your emotional intelligence (EI).
Humble people can keep their emotions in check.
To help train your EI, EQ Applied author Justin suggests that you reflect on your emotions as you give out typical responses to everyday situations like traffic or arguments.
Ask people close to you about how your response comes across to them; be observant of your emotional response; think first before you act; try to learn why someone reacts to you in a particular way; and ask yourself “what can I learn?” after being criticized.
2. Have an attitude of gratitude.
Being grateful means recognizing how other people contribute to your life and being appreciative of them.
3. End the blame game.
Pointing fingers not only exposes the fragility of your ego but also de-motivates the people around you. Own up to your role in a bad situation and accept the lesson you learned from it.
4. Adopt a growth mentality.
Whereas a fixed mindset sees intelligence and talents as that—fixed, a growth mindset sees these qualities as being able to increase and improve through persistence, effort, and coaching.
You can have this mentality by looking at challenges as opportunities, taking risks, and responding appropriately whether you succeed or not.
The following quotes will inspire you to appreciate the wisdom and strength found in being humble: