5 Steps to Strengthen the Quiet Strength: Humility

By Dr. Ryan Niemiec
Woman standing with eyes closed with a tree surrounding her

Humility is sometimes referred to as the quiet virtue or the quiet strength. Rightfully so, as humility involves thinking less of ourselves and the noisy internal “ego” in our head and quietly focusing on others. Humility can be a challenging strength to boost – for many of us it is a “lower strength” (in the bottom five of our VIA strength profiles and is not something we often (or ever) try to deliberately improve. But, you can do it.

Examples of Humility in Every Day Life

Start with the reality that you have used humility in your life many times, often in small ways. Consider these examples:

  • Humility is when you listen more than you speak.
  • It occurs when you point out someone else’s success over your own.
  • Humility is when you secretly find ways to get others to share about themselves and their stories.
  • It’s when “I” becomes second to “we” and third to “you.”
  • Humility is found when you place your pointer finger on your lips and say, “Shhhh,” to your ego.
  • It occurs when someone shares their personal insight and you don’t tell them it originated from you.
  • Humility happens when you feel your feet grounded to the earth, and you walk.
  • It’s when you sit confidently and simultaneously see how small you are in comparison to all the people and beings in the world.

We are challenged to stick with humility because we are hardwired with something called the self-serving bias. This has many expressions. For example, research shows:

  • We are quicker to notice what we offer in a marriage as opposed to what our partner offers.
  • We perceive that we work harder and make more contributions than others.
  • We view ourselves as smarter and more virtuous than others.

This means – setting aside raising a child – we do not naturally place others’ needs ahead of our own. We are more accustomed and comfortable with “I” and “my” and “me,” as opposed to “you” or “we.” Humility helps us let go of some of that “I” and think about and care for the “you,” or if a relationship is in play, the “we.”

In a previous article, I wrote about the importance of “returning to humility” after any action we take. This is because our biases, defaults, emotions, and passions will take over and carry us back to our old ways. Returning to humility involves come back to quieting our ego, settling our inner chatter, and getting back to listening and back to placing “you” before “I.”

I offer a few steps to engage in the practice of “a return to humility".

  1. Prime your humility. Tell yourself you are wanting to take a mindset that places the attention on the other person. Researchers show we can boost humility by priming it. One way is to ask yourself to recall an instance when you were humble. Think of when you were behaving in a genuine, down-to-earth way with another person or group.
  2. Enlist your curiosity. Be curious about how you can go deeper to listen with your full presence. Start by listening to others in your standard autopilot way (i.e., “listening-as-usual”). Then, move from half-listening or biased-to-your-own-agenda-listening and turn to genuine curiosity where you ask questions to learn, not critique, the other person. Many people can notice a big different from curious listening over autopilot listening.
  3. Use self-honesty. Realize there is more you don’t know about other people than what you do know. That is absolutely true for what you don’t know about Black people and what it’s like to walk 5 steps in their shoes (yes, it is also true for all people in that we cannot truly know any person’s full experience). Be honest with yourself about your own prejudices. All our brains are wired with bias. Write down biases you become aware of to enhance your clarity so you can decide whether or not you want to keep them.
  4. Don’t forget your kindness. Be gentle with yourself as you reflect on your biases and mental clutter. Most of us are quick to judge ourselves and others. Self-kindness and gentleness go a long way to help us be true to ourselves and enact positive shifts.
  5. Return to humility. After any physical, mental, or emotional strategy, return to that warm, down-to-earth, open and friendly expanse within you. That’s your humility. Let humility do the walking. Let it be your guide.