Does your level of openness affect your ability to thrive? Here’s a little more food for thought as we ease into the rhythm of this new year.
I love tests! Back when Tickle.com filled a website with tests, I took a LOT of them! Personality tests are some of my favorites.
Like me, you may have run across personality tests that identify the big five traits – openness, agreeableness, extraversion, conscientiousness, and neuroticism. Dating sites sometimes use a measure of these characteristics to generate matches.
Some of us are very agreeable. Some of us are only slightly agreeable. (When I’m hungry, I can confidently say, I’m 100% DISagreeable, but that’s another conversation.) Where each of us fall on the spectrum of these traits appears to be 40-60% inherited, and 40-60% environmental.
There is no perfect combination of traits and possessing almost none vs. an extreme amount of any of them is neither good nor bad. You can easily get through life without knowing where you fall in any category.
But what if knowing could make it easier to thrive?
Let’s take openness for example, also referred to as openness to experience. Those who are more open to experience are more likely to be imaginative and spontaneous. They’ve also been characterized as curious and unconventional. They may feel practical, routine things are boring or unnecessary.
The idea of climbing Mt. Everest or being a space tourist could appeal to someone who’s open. Or they might marry someone they just met on a cruise. But it’s not as if you can pick someone out of a lineup and immediately know how open they are.
If someone has a high openness score coupled with a high conscientiousness score, the experiences they embrace will most likely be tempered by discipline. I would think that commercial pilots would have high scores in both openness and conscientiousness. They, in fact, do score highly in conscientiousness, but I haven’t found a correlation with openness yet.
That particular combination of traits would seem to be well-suited to careers in research as well. Someone who embodies curiosity and imagination as well as a careful, disciplined approach would be a natural fit for acquiring knowledge through adherence to the scientific method.
Of course, we all sail through life when our everyday circumstances fall in line with areas in which we are comfortable. It’s when we’re faced with something that feels foreign, unnatural, or hard that we struggle. It stands to reason that minimizing the clash between personality mismatches and life circumstances will increase our chances of thriving.
Since we can’t always control our circumstances, it’s important to understand that we can shift our basic personality to reduce our discomfort. The 40-60% of us that has been determined by environment, is more malleable than we sometimes recognize.
This malleability can have both good and bad results. In abusive relationships, the results will most likely be to the detriment of both the perpetrator and the victim. No one comes out of an abusive relationship unchanged.
I’m not suggesting that it’s possible to be your best when you’re embroiled in a toxic, or abusive relationship or that you should alter your personality in order to stay in one. On the other hand, shifting your traits for a short period of time may save your life.
Yes, the cost is huge and long-lasting. But if you must shift while you put an exit plan in place, the cost may be worth it. While this idea can create a feeling of shame, just remember that saving your life or the lives of your children is never anything to be ashamed of.
But malleability is not always detrimental. When we say we want to be better people, aren’t we saying we want to change something about our personality that isn’t measuring up? So many of us say we want to be better and then fail miserably at becoming better again and again and again. Perhaps that’s because we fail to get to know ourselves well before we begin the process.
That’s where openness circles back into the conversation. The more we are open to a new idea of ourselves, the more likely we are to be able to change toward that idea.
Being more open will also improve our comfort level when adapting to new jobs, new babies, new diets, new exercise routines, and new health requirements. Being curious can pull us collectively forward. Think of all the scientific discoveries that are the answer to someone’s curiosity. And being open to the ideas and interests of others will go a long way toward winning us friends.
I often think of openness as receptiveness. Am I receptive to learning, changing, feeling, and stretching my comfort level? Am I receptive to compliments, accolades, and praise? Am I receptive to novelty, the unexpected, and the beauty around me? Am I receptive to friendship, companionship, affection, and love?
Does my idea of myself allow me to be open to the idea that I deserve all of the above? If not, would my life be better if I were?
The answer to that question will answer the question that started this whole thought journey – does your level of openness affect your ability to thrive?
For me, the answer is yes.