Humble thyself!

Yep, it turns out ego and confidence not only makes you unpleasant on social media, but it can also slow your progress and learning.

In this episode, John looks at how adopting intellectual humility and a growth mindset can be critical in rapid growth as a singer, voice teacher, musician, and yes, human being.

Links mentioned in this episode:

The Benefits of Admitting When You Don’t Know:

Episode Transcription

Episode 45 – Intellectual Humility

Hey, this is John Henny. Thank you for listening to yet another edition of the Intelligent Vocalist. I really do appreciate you spending this time with me. And I like to think that if you are regular listener to this podcast, we kind of share a like-mindedness. Like-mindedness. Boy, that was hard to say, as opposed to San Francisco, which is fun to say. But being like-minded is, I would like to think that we all want to learn and to grow. And I was reading a really fascinating article which I will link to in the show notes,  if you go to for Episode 45. Just the number 45 will get you there. I’ll put the link in there to this article. It’s talking about intellectual humility.

And what they found was, they took students – researchers took students – and they had one group read an article that said, “If you’re more questioning about a subject, you’ll do better”. And then the other group was told, “The more confident and sure you are of a subject, the better you will do”. Then they tested them. And the ones that they told to be more questioning and more humble, actually did better in the testing. They learned more quickly. They were more open to learning. No big surprise there. But if you think about it, there may be a bit of a surprise because confidence is something we’re always told we need to have. “Be confident. Be confident with your music. Be super confident.” I even tell students they need to get up and be confident. But there is a balance. And we also need to practice this intellectual humility and this humbleness, I believe, in everything we approach in terms of our singing, in terms of our teaching, our performance. What can we learn? How can we grow? And they found when this is combined with something they called a growth mindset, it’s even more powerful.

Now, what is a growth mindset? Growth mindset is the belief that abilities and talents can be learned and acquired, as opposed to fixed mindset which believe that you were born with these talents, with these abilities. The fact is, it’s kind of a combination of both. Nothing is quite that simple. But you know, we need to adapt certain modes of thinking and certain belief systems in order to do what we do. And I believe that we need to adapt useful fibs that we tell ourselves; a really useful, very slight fib, but you can tell yourself that you can acquire skill that you need, and you can get good at anything that you want to get good at.

Now, do you need innate talent as well? This is debated. I believe I’ve seen it. There is such a thing as talent, but talent often wasted. And when things come easier to people, they don’t cherish them. And the students I’ve seen that aren’t as gifted but worked harder end up excelling and doing better. So you need to tell yourself that you can learn to do anything. And then, you need to combine it with humility, knowing that you don’t know everything. And that it’s okay to ask questions, and it’s okay to have your beliefs challenged and your knowledge challenged.

Now, that doesn’t mean that you don’t have some bearing on what it is you do know and what it is that you do, do. This is something that I occasionally struggle with because I will be challenged as a teacher. And I welcome it. But sometimes, I’m challenged, and I look and I go, “No. I really don’t think that this is legit.” And other times, I’m challenged, and I have to stop and say, “Okay.”

And recently, late last year, I was on a teaching trip, and I will, couple of times, do these long teaching trips where I go to another country and I do master classes and I also do teacher training. And I was working with a group of teachers, very good teachers, from a couple of different countries who traveled to this location, and they were questioning me – they’ve been watching me teach all day, and then at the end of the day, they had the opportunity to ask me questions. And somebody challenged me on some of the exercises that I was doing and asking why didn’t I do these other type of exercises, specifically these non-finished sounds. And I was explaining, you know, why recently I haven’t been using as many of those exaggeration. And he pushed back and said, “You know, I find, when I use these and then get out of them rather quickly, there is a benefit, and I can get to finish sound more quickly.” With all these teachers watching, I had this very quick internal dialogue and said to myself, “ You know, I can either posture and try and hold my authority and be the big shot voice teacher, or I can be really honest.” And I said to him, “You know what, that’s a really excellent point. Perhaps, I need to revisit this and start using those exercises a bit more. You may be right.” And there was a general look of surprise, and one of the teachers said out loud, “Wow, that’s really humble.” And that actually was maybe the best compliment that I got on that trip. And I know right now I’m bragging about being humble, so it’s a little bizarrely ironic, but the point is, as a teacher, I’m constantly trying to allow myself to be reasonably questioned and to be challenged in ways that aren’t trolling or blanket criticism, but that are meaningful and help me to grow as a teacher, as an educator, as a business person, all of these things.

And for you, whether you’re a singer, whether you’re a teacher, you really need to look for those opportunities. You need to look for those learning opportunities where you can be challenged, and your belief system challenged, and how you do things challenged, so that you can have an opportunity to grow and to learn more quickly. And then constantly keeping growth mindset, and this belief that you can learn to do things in a new way. You can master new skills, you can master new styles of music and styles of singing, all of these teaching different styles. These are all available to us. We just need to stay open, receptive, humble, eager, excited, motivated. All of these things create this amazing soup of passion that will continue to drive us and inspire us.

And if I can impart anything from this podcast, I want you to be inspired about what it is that you do. I want you to be inspired about music. I want you to just take a moment once a day, and just consider how blessed you are to even be able to stick your pinky toe into this world of music, into this form of expression that I don’t think we have dreamed of anything better. I think that music is the greatest art form. I think it has enriched my life more than any film or TV show, play, painting. Nothing has enriched my life to the point that music has. Nothing is attached to memories the way music is. It is just an incredible incredible blessing to be involved with it. And we need to keep this passion and this humility driving us forward.

So, today’s podcast is going to be a short one. I’m up against the clock. But I really want to get in here and just talk to you about how this article has really inspired me, and just reminded me to keep myself open and to keep myself humble.

So, hey.  I really thank you for taking the time to listen. Again, you can all have the show notes linked to the article on for Episode 45. When you are on the website, please do join my email list. I do send out emails pretty regularly. I will occasionally make offers for different products, for different opportunities to work with me. But mostly, I give out a lot of good information. And some of my podcasts actually spring from these emails that I really do enjoy writing, and the people seem to enjoy as well. Also, if you are interested in private lessons with me, I do have some extremely limited availability, but I always hold some time open for very dedicated people I have worked with before. I’ve always loved working with new people.

So, until next time. To better singing. Thank you so much. Bye.