Rule 10 of the Personal Kaizen 10 Rules for Life is to Practice Radical Humility.
I read Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People after finishing my undergraduate engineering degree. Covey encourages us to “put first things first” and live by the values and principles in your life. Humility became my top value, where it has remained for over 25 years.
Below are four ways you can practice radical humility.
Understand your insignificance in the universe.
We all live in an insignificant place in a brief moment of time. We are not the center of the universe. We’ve already covered this in our video for Rule 10, but I love this quote from entrepreneur and investor Naval Ravikant:
“There is no legacy. There’s nothing to leave. We’re all going to be gone. Our children will be gone. Our works will be dust. Our civilizations will be dust. Our planet will be dust. Our solar system will be dust. In the grand scheme of things, the Universe has been around for ten billion years. It’ll be around for another ten billion years.
Whenever I get caught up in my ego battles, I just think of entire civilizations that have come and gone. For example, take the Sumerians. I’m sure they were important people and did great things, but go ahead and name me a single Sumerian. Tell me anything interesting or important Sumerians did that lasted. Nothing.”
Understanding my insignificance is the best way I have found to minimize stress. My three favorite places to appreciate my insignificance are:
- Hiking in the mountains
- Looking out the window of an airplane
- Looking up at the stars on a clear night
Stop worrying about what others think . . . they are mostly thinking about themselves.
I still remember feeling nervous and worried as I waited to speak in my college class on public speaking. As I looked at the student who was speaking ahead of me and the other students, I had a revelation; everyone was (like me) nervously looking over their notes and focused on themselves. Nobody was paying any attention to the speaker, or me!
With this understanding, I calmed down and gave a fine speech. I’m sure I made lots of mistakes, but nobody in the room probably noticed them or remembers them – including me.
All of us judge ourselves more harshly than we are judged by others. Most people don’t even notice us. When we are noticed, we can all benefit from a sense of humor – laughing about ourselves and our imperfections.
Develop a thicker-skin by laughing at insults. If anybody makes fun of you do your best to one-up them by insulting yourself even more. I have found this does a few good things:
- The humor diffuses the situation and ends any potential argument (since you agreed with their point).
- It forces you to ignore the insult in the moment so you can attempt to learn from it later. Most insults and barbs have a kernel of truth to them. Is there something you want to do about it?
- It encourages people to give you honest, direct feedback (accurate or not).
Lead others by listening, considering, and respecting.
Humble leaders are better leaders.
A core principle of Lean continuous improvement is to respect people. The “bosses” do not know more than the “workers” who run the process. The Leanest companies have servant leaders who understand the importance of the employees and believe their role is to provide their people with vision, guidelines, and support.
Jim Collins, the author of the bestseller Good to Great, discovered that the most outstanding leaders are also the most humble. The best leaders blend professional will with personal humility. They are often “self-effacing, quiet, reserved, even shy” – putting the organizations they serve over their egos. These “Level-5 leaders” are relentlessly trying to improve and learn from their failures.
An easy way to become a better leader is to practice radical humility. Ask more questions and carefully consider the answers and feedback you receive. Respect people and seek to . . .
Learn something from every person you interact with.
We are all humans and all far from perfect. The differences between us are much smaller than we think. We can all learn from one another.
The Greek philosopher Socrates believed that wisdom is knowing what we don’t know. His Socratic method freely acknowledges the gaps in our knowledge and humbly seeks to address our blind spots. Humility is intricately related to learning and teachability – a way of being that embraces constant self-correction and self-improvement.
“The unexamined life is not worth living.”Socrates
Everybody you meet (from the most successful to the least) has knowledge and perspectives you can learn from.
Ask questions and seek to learn from others.
Be willing to change when presented with new ideas and perspectives. This is the only way to grow.
The Personal Kaizen 10 Rules for Life
I am a white-male who was raised in a small town in the state of Maine. My background, education, and family and career choices have given me a unique perspective on the world. Everybody reading these words has knowledge and a perspective on the world I can learn from.
I have chosen to share my beliefs and values with others to begin a conversation that will help me learn from the feedback I receive.
Please provide your feedback on these four ways to practice radical humility and all 10 of our Rules for Life in the comments.