Intellectual Humility Fuels Inner Strength, Critical Thinking & Success

Humility is a powerful virtue, which has become misunderstood.  Humility is a noun and is defined as a modest opinion or estimate of one’s own importance.

As a society, we seem to over-index on the “modest opinion” portion of the definition, which has led to the belief that humility is insecurity about our abilities.  In reality, the key part of the definition is “one’s own importance.”  When we shift our attention to this part of the definition, we understand humility to mean:

To be no more important than others and no less important than others.

Simply put, humility is about mutual respect, for ourselves and others.

Humility enables us to tame our ego.

Humility is one of the most important and necessary factors to job and career success because it empowers us to change our minds, and more importantly, knowing when we should.  This cognitive process is known as intellectual humility.

Intellectual humility powers far-reaching benefits, including in-depth thinking, higher-quality problem-solving and decision making, and creative, innovative ideation.

Intellectual humility is a mindset that frees our thinking because it removes the burden of needing to be right.  Intellectually humble individuals are curious and want to get all of the facts on a topic, to come to a well-informed opinion or decision.

In more psychological terms, intellectual humility is a non-threatening awareness of our intellectual weakness or shortcomings.  It is the ability to recognize we could be wrong.

Intellectual humility guides the way we think or consider facts, information, and the opinions of others.  It is an open-minded approach, powered by a desire to learn. Intellectually humble individuals see life as school, and they welcome new ideas, advice, and feedback on how to improve.

It enables us to objectively evaluate information, which may differ from our current opinions or views, and avoid forming incorrect beliefs that are not supported by facts. Intellectual humble individuals do not dismiss an idea base on who is presenting the information. They think deeper, with a desire to understand the facts.

In 2016 Pepperdine University professors, Drs. Liz Mancuso and Stephen Rouse identified 4-interrelated components of intellectual humility:

  • Respecting other viewpoints: Being open to ideas that are counter to our own and actively trying to understand those ideas or perspectives.
  • Not being intellectually overconfident: Recognizing that although we are smart, we may not always be right.
  • Separating ego (self-worth) from intellect: Attempting to separate our ideas from our identity so that we do not feel personally attacked or disrespected when someone disagrees with our perspectives. Separating our intelligence from our ego helps to open our thinking to consider the points of view, opinions, and ideas of others.
  • Willing to revise or change our opinions: Actively considers new facts and how they might change our opinions as we learn.

It is possible to possess some of these components and not others.  But complete intellectual humility includes a high degree of each.

Humility can be one of the hardest traits to develop because it starts from a recognition that we are not always right, which is especially hard in a world where being right is rewarded.

As C.S. Lewis said, humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking about yourself less.

intellectual humility

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