Another year begins and another set of promises are made that most people will fail to keep. Whether it’s managing debt, losing weight or quitting a nasty habit when the calendar turns to a new year many people set out to turn ourselves into the people we would rather be. Advertisements for programs and products designed to aid resolution-makers in their quest for a better self are inescapable. What most people fail to recognize is that there is no easy fix. Change is hard work that starts with possessing the right disposition. One component of the right disposition is humility. Humility forces individuals to acknowledge that their bad habits are not the fault of circumstance but choice. Through humility one can accept responsibility for their choices which will then allow them to make meaningful changes.
Think about the young person who thinks he deserves a trip abroad as a reward for graduating or the professional who thinks she can splurge on a night out because she just got a promotion. Both of these people overestimate their worth and accomplishments. Humility forces one to properly situate their accomplishments within a broader context. The new graduate does not recognize that there is nothing particularly unique or special about what they have accomplished. Since 2008 around one million people have graduated from a U.S. college or university every year. This makes each college graduate in a given year one in a million. That hardly makes one worthy of special recognition or reward beyond the degree one earns. Likewise, the person who receives a promotion needs to recognize that all she deserves is the promotion, not a celebration or indulgent purchase. Once the person who receives a promotion recognizes how many people are professionally more successful than she is this becomes easier to do. Recognizing that you do not deserve anything beyond what you have earned takes humility and will help many people control their spending.
Similarly, if you are one of the millions of Americans trying to lose weight, eating a healthy breakfast doesn’t mean you have earned a little piece of dessert after dinner. Going for a morning jog doesn’t mean you have earned a burger at lunch. How many times have you or someone you know eaten just a couple of french fries and dismissed it as an insignificant amount and then the next day enjoyed a piece of cake to celebrate a friend’s birthday and excused the indiscretion because it’s a celebration after all? These little bites add up and most of us don’t recognize how often we use these excuses to cover up our bad behavior. That’s because most of us lack the humility that would allow us to objectively evaluate our behavior. Making excuses for our indiscretions is just one way we lie to ourselves to make ourselves think we are better than what we are. No one wants to think they are a bad person or does bad things. But, to change behavior a person must admit that what they are doing is wrong and therefore must accept their actions as being bad. Humility allows us to properly situate our normative value.
Humility does not require that one becomes self-abasing or self-loathing. It is rather the middle point between the two extremes of self-abasement and conceit. Humility allows individuals to be honest with themselves about who they are and ultimately what they must do to improve.