How to Become a Better Student of Life

As a psychiatrist, I have the privilege of sitting in the front row as people from all walks of life entrust me with their deepest thoughts and feelings. Their life stories provide me with a wealth of knowledge that cannot be found in journals or textbooks.

Our achievement-oriented society diminishes the life of everyday people by glamorizing the accumulation of wealth, fame, and power. It elevates star athletes, successful entrepreneurs, and professionals with titles next to their names, as if they are not flawed human beings who experience struggles like the rest of us.

Yet, we have so much to learn from people we encounter in our daily lives. Though painful, their slip-ups remind us of the landmines hidden from plain sight. The cost of not paying close attention is needlessly repeating the same mistakes.

Their achievements also leave behind crumbs that can help you reach your own goals. Studying their success can provide you with a blueprint to achieve your desired goals.

This is why it is important to be a lifelong learner. You need to be an active observer and learn from those around you.

The Virtue of Humility

How can you become a better student of life? It starts by cultivating the virtue of humility. Often confused with being weak or submissive, our society scoffs at this virtue. Yet, humility can be a catalyst for personal growth.

Humility is the acceptance that you are an inherently worthy human being who is no better or worse than anyone else. There is no amount of wealth, fame, or power that elevates you above anyone else. We are all mere mortals who await the same ultimate fate.

This virtue is an antidote to narcissism. Characterized by an exaggerated sense of one’s self and abilities, narcissists are prone to feeling entitled. They are often quick to dismiss others, which is a hindrance to cultivating healthy interpersonal relationships. When you think that you know it all, you are less open to the perspective of others, let alone learning from them.

At the same time, humility is an antidote to shame. Humility does not deny your strengths, abilities, or skills. However, it does emphasize opportunities for personal growth such as blind spots and biases.

Unlike conventional wisdom, which makes your self-worth conditional to achieving personal success, humility has the opposite effect. It is a powerful reminder to you that your self-worth is an inherent part of your humanity.

By sparing you from the maddening oscillations between narcissism and shame, humility creates the necessary space for self-reflection. It provides an honest assessment of your strengths and weaknesses. Its positive effect on self-awareness gives you permission to address blind spots, which cloud judgment and decision-making.

Being a student of life means that you recognize mistakes, accept responsibility, and apologize for them. High-quality apologies are effective in repairing relationships.

4 Ways to Develop Humility

It takes humility to become a student of life and accept you have a lot to learn. The good news is that this essential virtue can be developed. Here are four ways:

1. Accept feedback. Humility is developed by being open to feedback. You seek to understand and learn from others. You carefully listen to what others have to say even if you don’t agree with everything you hear. Maintaining a curiosity mindset with a dose of self-compassion can help you be more open to receiving feedback.

2. Ask for help. Achievers have a hard time asking for help. They are more likely to rely on their own abilities to solve a problem rather than admit they need help. As a result, they often find themselves spread too thin and overwhelmed.

Asking for help is a sign of humility. Expecting yourself to complete everything on your own is unrealistic. It also deprives others from an opportunity to feel helpful by making a positive contribution. Research shows that we underestimate how willing others are to help.

3. Admit when you’re wrong. It is easy to become defensive after making a mistake. Worse yet, you may deflect your mistakes by gaslighting others, a tactic commonly employed by narcissists.

Remember that no one is perfect. We have all made mistakes and will continue to do so. Admitting when you’re wrong is a sign of courage and integrity that will only elevate you in the eyes of others.

4. Recognize others. The truth is success does not occur in a silo. Consider the numerous people who have helped you along the way. You would not have achieved your personal goals without the grace and guidance of family members, mentors, teachers, and coworkers.

Take a moment to thank them. Their contributions have altered the trajectory of your life and continue to play an essential role in your success.

In summary, life is filled with endless learning opportunities that can help you become a better version of yourself. Cultivating the virtue of humility can help you become a student of life and capitalize on such opportunities.

Originally posted on Psychology Today

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