Openness and Thriving

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.

Planning for a Win

Well, here we are smack dab in a new year and it’s time to start planning for a win. I’ve always hated the term strategic planning. It’s often thrown around in corporate settings along with an eyeroll that means we’re generating a big report no one will read and we have no intention of following. In spite of that, planning is critically important for improving our health, our enjoyment, and our lives!

B-O-R-I-N-G. I can feel your eyeroll reading this. The thing is, a lack of planning will rob us of safety, leisure, and time down the road. We know this so well we have the cliché: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. You can’t prevent unless you know what you’re preventing and make deliberate efforts toward doing so. In order to be deliberate, you must think through the process. This, is planning.

So, how can you motivate yourself to do something that seems useless until you need it?

Observe someone else

What’s difficult to see in ourselves is easy to see in others. Every time you tell your teen that cleaning her room would go faster if she’d organize, remember that organizing is implementation of planning logistics. Every time you tell your son that his homework will be easier if he’ll do his hardest subject first, remember that increasing efficiency by minimizing your weaknesses is planning.

Shop

If you love shopping, get yourself in planning mode by clicking through product pictures that will make your tasks easier. Always running out of printer ink at the most inopportune moment? Find a storage container you love to store extra. Eat too many chips because you forget to buy crunchy vegetables? Favorite a couple of crunchy vegetables in your grocery app so they’ll come up as suggestions next time you shop.

Use the shower

If you feel you can’t spare the time to plan, do the mental work while you’re in the shower. When I designed for clients, most designs started in the shower. I’ve solved a lot of problems there too. I often plan product production in the shower. The only problem is my autopilot isn’t perfect and I sometimes forget to use shampoo.

Find something pleasant

As you open your mind to planning in spite of internal objections, notice if there’s one tiny thing you enjoy about the process. For some of us, hand writing lists in a leather journal with a favorite pen is enough to bridge the gap between reluctance and progress. Planning while sitting in your favorite chair with your favorite beverage can also be pleasant (or fun or dangerous depending your favorite beverage and the amount consumed, no judgement).

When it comes to a workout plan, finding the specific activities that make you feel good will help you adhere to a schedule. In fact, if a workout makes you feel better there won’t be a need for a formal plan. You’ll seek it out. Swimming and yoga are my favorites. Truthfully, I’d rather be doing yoga right now that writing, but that does not fit my plan for today.

Solve a puzzle

Life is a puzzle that’s always adding new pieces. Solving a what-would-I-do-if puzzle can be a great mental exercise. When I see some disaster on TV, I devise a plan for what I would do if faced with that circumstance. I don’t get obsessed by this or start ordering 50 years of supplies. I just think through the possibilities and make a mental checklist. For instance, I have a procedure for the steps to follow if the bridge in front of me is suddenly gone and I can’t stop my car before it plunges. Disaster response is a puzzle to solve. Planning also seeks to put the pieces of life in order.

Reward yourself

A reward at the end of a task isn’t as motivational for me as the inherent benefits of planning that I will enjoy later, but not everyone is like me. If rewarding yourself with two hours of binge watching once you’ve finished the task at hand, then do it. Have food delivered rather than cooking another meal or order a pair of earrings you’ve been eyeing. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with incentives!

Be flexible

Any rigid plan can feel stifling at some point so allow yourself some flexibility. You may have saved planning for a rainy day that turns out to be sunny. Don’t strap yourself to your desk, get out and enjoy the sun! You’ll feel more invigorated and motivated later.

Run across an interesting article while you’re researching something? Go ahead and read it, then come back to the task. Too often we read the article, but then punish ourselves for not sticking to the plan. That just demotivates us for the next planning session. Incorporating flexibility instead, frees us to enjoy a digression occasionally without feeling bad.

Be honest

How many of us say we hate planning and then invest hours scoping out the perfect vacation spot with a smile on our faces? Do we really hate planning or is it tolerable when we’re doing something we consider leisure rather than work? Owning our individual quirks, motivations, and tolerances will make every decision easier and more understandable. And it will ease the internal struggle that prevents action.

Bring your sense of humor

No matter how much you plan, some things will go awry. The universe, family, or a boss will throw you an unavoidable curve ball. When plans fail in ironic and silly ways, it’s okay to laugh. If you recognize you’ve become too attached to a plan you didn’t want to make in the first place, it’s okay to laugh. It’s not so much about the plan. Plans often have to be revised. The thought process, expectations, and intentions that show us the path forward are what matters.

Just do it

There is a lot of wisdom to the Nike slogan. Sometimes the first step is all we need to get us going. If you can muscle yourself through one step, just do it and see what happens. Often, the second step is easier and by the 10th you won’t even remember your objection.

Now, get out there and win 2021. It’s going to be a tough one, but that’s no reason not to excel and thrive! Planning now will help later as challenges appear.

Winning is being informed. Winning is showing up. Winning is stretching yourself. Winning is being kind. Winning is embracing change. Winning is seeing the opportunity in every challenge. Winning is loving your flaws. Winning is learning. Winning is understanding your value. Winning is listening. Winning is contributing. Winning is speaking your truth. Winning is granting yourself grace. Winning is granting grace to those you do not like or understand. Winning is accepting love.

Winning is giving. Winning is…limitless.

Need Some Tools To Help You Thrive?

Need some tools to help you thrive? Cooking is a tool for some. Biking is a tool for others. Gardening, yoga, meditation, gratitude journals, and volunteering are tools. Some people can just pick those up on their own, but some of us need help getting started.

So many things in the world are out of balance right now that it’s hard to focus. I’m usually good with efficient time management and plowing through a to-do list but right now there are days that I feel distracted and restless. I don’t really care whether I accomplish anything.

I think it’s that I just don’t want to push myself. I need to leave plenty of time and space to be and to process the myriad emotions brought on by distance, separation, virus threats, work changes, and added everyday tasks. While I believe that’s a reasonable response, it’s creating distress for me because I feel like I’m not accomplishing enough.

Fortunately, there are many tools available to help me through difficult moments. You may find some of them useful as well.

If you are inspired by books, here are some to consider:
The Gifts of Imperfection and Daring Greatly by Brené Brown
Fearless Living by Rhonda Britten
Waking the Tiger by Peter A. Levine, PhD
The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D.

If you prefer workshops, here are some venues:
The School of Life
Classes can be attended via Zoom and include:
How to Enjoy Life, How to Fail, How to Develop Self-Knowledge, How to Be Confident, How to Be Serene

Onsite
Workshops include:
Centered Living, Grief and Loss, Healthy Love and Relationships

The Yoga Center Retreat Workshops online include:
Yoga for Anxiety, Detox and Restore, Yoga for Larger Bodies, Slow Flow Bliss

There are also apps that can help:
Calm, Headspace, Aura, Inscape, as well as Stop, Think & Breathe

Exploring new ideas is a great tool for thriving:
Ted Talks
Whatever motivates you, there’s a Ted Talk for that. With over 3500 talks readily available you won’t lack for options.

Documentary movies and series can also change the way you see the world. Here are a few to explore:
I Am a Killer
Phil’s Camino
For Sama
Fire On the Mountain
The Man Who Saved Ben Hur
Fed Up
Just Eat It: A Food Waste Story
42 Grams

Spending a few minutes using a tool to calm your mind can sometimes get you past feeling restless so you can focus again and get back to work. For this, I sometimes work Sudoku puzzles. I also like the New York Times Mini Crosswords number game 2048.

I sometimes see inspiring or funny tweets, but social media is more likely to suck you into a vortex of its own rather than giving you new tools to navigate life. Even a long thread does not allow the space for the depth of thought a book yields. Medium.com, podcasts, and full-length blog posts are more likely to be good sources.

With so much in flux, it’s not surprising that we all need a little extra support. Whenever you find yourself needing some tools to thrive, just come back here and grab whatever best fits the moment!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. One 3 Squares Productions, Inc. shareholder was paid for contract work on the films Fed Up and The Man Who Saved Ben Hur. He will not receive additional compensation from this post. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

This is Where I Draw the Line

With boundaries, this is where I draw the line. In general, I am patient and willing to work with people to find a reasonable solution. While I can be accommodating, I am not a pushover. There is a point at which I draw the line.

That’s the definition of a boundary–the point at which you draw the line. Living a calm, peaceful life requires good boundaries. Making decisions becomes easier once boundaries are well-defined. Children behave better when authority figures maintain and reinforce consistent boundaries. I’ll go so far as to say strong boundaries are critical to thriving.

Knowing or believing this doesn’t mean it’s always easy to draw a line and stick with it. There are enormous social pressures that can erode our resolve. There’s the fear that our parents or children will no longer accept us when we require them to respect a new perimeter. There are concerns that we will be ostracized by co-workers or disparaged on social media. And those things can happen. But when you are true to yourself and set well-thought, well-reasoned boundaries designed to create a positive, healthy environment in order to take care of yourself, it will improve your life. Period.

That will remain true even if a particular family member abandons you. If that happens, it is likely that you do not have a healthy relationship with that person now. Having to face that reality brings an opportunity to redefine your interactions or move on without guilt.

If a group chooses to ostracize you when you intentionally take care of yourself, that group does not have your best interest at heart. It may be time to reflect on the quality of your work in such an environment. Are you able to do your best? If not, it may be time for a change.

Your life will be enhanced by limiting contact with negative forces on social media in favor of positive experiences in person.

On Gluten-Free Labeled Foods
If I have experienced more than one dermatitis herpetiformis rash from a specific food that is labeled gluten-free, I do not eat it again whether or not it is recalled.

The great thing is, you don’t have to begin with terrifying boundaries to improve your life. You can build courage and strength by being true to yourself in everyday situations. I practice such boundaries daily. In fact, this is where I draw the line…

I do not eat anything a company labels gluten-free if that company has frequent recalls or more than one gluten-free product that triggers an autoimmune response.

For Restaurants
I will try any restaurant. If I encounter repeated errors in my orders, an eye roll if I ask for a new salad instead of one off which the croutons were removed, resistance in accommodating my shrimp allergy, a language barrier so great I do not believe I can communicate my dietary limits, an adverse response from a seemingly accommodating kitchen, or a refusal to make any necessary substitutions, I no longer patronize that restaurant regularly and may choose to stay away altogether.

I also stay away if the food is not enjoyable or is both mediocre and expensive.

With Physicians
If a physician will not willingly release my records to me, I will end our relationship.

If the office staff is consistently difficult, rude, and/or incompetent, I will move to another clinic.

If the doctor consistently does not listen and/or is not willing to discuss possible treatment plans, I will move on to another physician who includes me as part of the team. While Patient and Family Centered Care is the goal of many healthcare providers, it is not uncommon for a doctor to fail to include the patient’s input when forming a treatment plan.

If I discover a physician has lied to me regarding test results, we are done.

If a doctor diagnoses the cause of recurring pneumonia as something all-in-my-head, I will find a doctor who is willing to test that theory with an actual regimen of diagnostic tests.

Unfortunately, I have had each experience listed here. I no longer trust that the doctor is always right so drawing a line to improve my health and safety is not difficult.

For Vendors
I will not use a vendor’s service more than once if he raises the price on a quoted job after the job is done even though no changes were made on my end (including deadline). If he honors the quote, but informs me that he erred and cannot do that or a similar job for the same price again, then I will happily send him additional business.

If a vendor misses a critical deadline without giving me a heads up, we are most likely done. I understand that problems arise, but rarely is it impossible to communicate that problem.

When a company deliberately or repeatedly misrepresents product quality, specifications, or safety, I will think and research carefully before choosing any item from its product line.

With Family and Friends
I hope for straightforward, genuine interactions. I am willing to give wide berth when I recognize someone is under duress. I will let temporary lapses or inadvertent mistakes and bad decisions slide unless and until a pattern emerges that is violent, destructive, toxic, or otherwise harmful to me or to children who cannot defend themselves. That is where I draw the line.

A Deal is a Deal
There are times when I cannot consciously explain in the moment why the line is where it is because it is not an intellectual decision. It is visceral.

I once sold a gas kitchen range because I was about to move to another state. The range worked the morning that the buyer unhooked it and hauled it away. The next day, the guy showed up at my door and told me I had sold him a broken stove.

I was in my early 20s and home with only my grandmother and infant son. I did not open my screen door, but I remember talking to him through it as though it were made of steel.

I calmly, but strongly assured him it had worked prior to him moving it. There was a prolonged conversation in which he argued the opposite and I did not budge. Finally, he left.

After he drove away, my grandmother looked at me and said, “I didn’t know you had that in you. I would never cross you after hearing that!”

I don’t remember feeling angry. I just stood there thinking I knew I had done nothing wrong and there was no way some stranger was going to convince me I had. I suppose you could call it the courage of conviction. I’m not sure. I just know there’s a point beyond which you cannot push me. Period.

And that is where I draw the line.