Humility comes easy when you are kneeling down and vomiting into a bucket while a crowd cheers you on. That’s what I discovered when I went to a temple here in Thailand called Thamkrabok to give up alcohol. The treatment process involved an evening ceremony where I had to drink this herbal mixture that triggered projectile vomiting. This medicine helped to speed-up the detox process, but the main benefit for me was it made me feel humble.
I used to be incredibly arrogant. I could be lying in the gutter and still feeling a bit superior to everyone else around me – I know this because it happened. My arrogance was an attempt to hide my low self-esteem, but I actually started to believe my own bullshit. It meant that I didn’t like other people telling me what to do. One of the reasons my school career ended at fifteen was I much preferred teaching people than listening to them. My arrogance seemed to protect my fragile ego from the big bad world, but it also put me beyond helping hands and wise heads.
One of the nice things about being so desperate that you are willing to projectile vomit for twenty minutes, in front of a crowd of cheering strangers, is it puts your life in perspective. My way of living had led me to this low place, and I couldn’t kid myself anymore. I developed humility fast, and it meant I became teachable.
It is a huge mistake to equate humility with being weak like I used to do. It’s not about embracing a life of poverty and mediocrity but instead about living as honestly as possible. Here are 4 reasons humility could transform your life:
1. Learning Starts with Humility
“Sit down before fact like a little child, and be prepared to give up every preconceived notion. Follow humbly wherever and to whatever abyss nature leads, or you shall learn nothing.”
Cognitive bias is a bitch. It means that I’m always going to favor those ideas that fit in with what I already know. Another person could be telling me something that could really benefit me in a big way, but all I hear is ‘blah, blah, blah’ – or worse, I could be getting argumentative because this suggestion conflicts with one of my cherished beliefs. If I can’t approach these conversations with humility, I’ll never walk away richer from these encounters.
2. Beliefs Become Your Prison without Humility
The need to be right is one of the most unappealing of all human characteristics. It turned me into a puffed-up toad who was incapable of listening to anyone else. My arrogance allowed my beliefs to become my prison as I wasted time trying to defend the walls of my cell.
I lived in fear of shame because I believed that any wrong ideas would mean there was something wrong with me. It is only now I see that ideas are just tools and what works for me today might be poison for me tomorrow. I now accept that enjoying peace of mind requires the humility to be always willing to let go of unhelpful beliefs.
3. Humility Means Thinking More about Other People
“Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.”
The more time I spend thinking about other people, the happier I become. Self-obsession is a horrible way to live because it means being cut off from the real source of joy. Developing deep connections with other people means a feeling of togetherness – my happiness becomes our happiness and there is far more of that to go around.
4. Humility Means Being Able to Live with Uncertainty
“A fool thinks himself to be wise, but a wise man knows himself to be a fool.”
Nobody really knows what this life is all about – all we have is opinions. The egocentric predicament means we can never understand reality beyond our own perceptions. It is not possible to experience the world directly, all we have are our imperfect senses, and it is obvious by now that we can be easily fooled. We believe the world is real because it feels real but compared to what? Maybe we are living in some type of clever dream or computer simulation? The truest answer we have to all of the big questions in life is ‘I don’t know’. These are the most liberating three words we can ever say, but it requires humility.