Our brains make us naturally defensive, but if we take steps to cultivate more humility, we’ll become less defensive, writes Daryl R. Van Tongeren of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley.

But first, why are we so defensive?

We have a desire to be right. We want our views about the world to be validated by other people. Usually, this means that we become friends with people who share our beliefs, and we tend not to surround ourselves with people who hold different opinions than we do. When we’re wrong, we seek ways to prove that we’re right, even at a cost to our relationships. And we twist evidence to confirm that we’re indeed correct. Our drive to be right makes it hard to receive feedback.

Here are four ways to help cultivate humility by reducing defensiveness.

  1. Affirm areas of meaning. When our worldview is threatened– like when someone challenges our political ideology or suggests our religious beliefs are wrong – we’re quick to shift to defending our sense of meaning in other areas of life. Working to affirm areas of meaning can help us feel more secure and be less likely to respond out of self-protection. The next time you feel like you want to respond defensively by arguing, putting other people down, discounting the views of others, or doubling down on your way of seeing the world, take a moment and remind yourself of what you find meaningful in life.
  2. Acknowledge your own limitations. Humility involves an accurate perception of both strengths and weaknesses. Admitting that you have some flaws will help reshape your ideas and self-perception, which will make seemingly challenging information – like negative feedback or constructive criticism – less threatening. After all, if you know that you have limitations and can own them, when you receive feedback that contradicts the way you see the world, you can fit it more neatly into how you make sense of things. Admitting that you are often wrong makes it easier to be wrong, because it’s less unexpected to be wrong.
  3. Diversify your social investments. Because our defenses are often sharpened by people who share our beliefs, you need a network of friends, family and colleagues who hold different ideas from yours. By weaving together a rich tapestry of voices in your life, you will engage with divergent viewpoints, which should reduce your defensive responses by familiarizing you to different ways of seeing the world that are held by people you like.
  4. Seek to prove yourself wrong. Finally, and perhaps most challenging, you can develop an open mind by intentionally seeking to prove yourself wrong. This counterintuitive approach involves going out of your way to find information that goes against your beliefs.

The goal of this exercise is not for you to change your cherished beliefs and switch political parties or religions. Rather, the point is to realize that other smart, decent people believe differently than you do, so it’s possible ­­­– even likely – that you’re wrong about a few things.