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Openness to Experience

Human Personality in the Five Factor Model

By Chris Dunmire

Last week the lesson from my creativity coach training course with Eric Maisel focused on personality trait work. Our class was given a list of 75 different personality traits, and our assignment was to choose one to work on for the entire week and report back to our class why we chose it, what we "tried out" to work on the trait, and what transpired through our efforts.

My report:

The personality trait I chose was: Openness to Experience

For some background on this personality trait, Wikipedia describes Openness to Experience:

Openness to experience is one of the domains which are used to describe human personality in the Five Factor Model. Openness involves active imagination, aesthetic sensitivity, attentiveness to inner feelings, preference for variety, and intellectual curiosity. A great deal of psychometric research has demonstrated that these qualities are statistically correlated. Thus, openness can be viewed as a global personality trait consisting of a set of specific traits, habits, and tendencies that cluster together.

Including the psychological relationship with creativity:

Openness to experience correlates with creativity, as measured by tests of divergent thinking. Openness has been linked to both artistic and scientific creativity as professional artists and scientists have been found to score higher in openness compared to member of the general population.

I chose this trait because: I often find myself wanting to experience the secure comfortableness and routine of my life. I am most comfortable when I know what my day plans are, what I need to do, where I need to be and when. I’m flexible when sudden changes in my plans occur, but I’m much more at ease when things stay smooth and diversions are to a minimum.

I find the ability to be open to experience especially important in the thick of my workday, when I’m intensely focused and it’s easy to forget about the simple things that can refresh my perspective and give me joy.

Openness to experience has at least two meanings to me:

  1. Being open to experiencing new things outside of my comfort zone.
  2. Impulsively creating new experiences on the fly in the middle of my day.

What I decided to try out as a way of “working on” this trait was: Well, for one, I embedded in my mind that my “project” for this week was to work on Openness to Experience (OTE). This humored me, as I found the idea of this self-experiment fun.

After that, I wrote the words “Openness to Experience” on yellow square sticky paper and hung it right in front of my workspace. I proclaimed my assignment of “Openness to Experience” out loud to my significant other. I wrote the letters “OTE” on the back of my hand with a blue ballpoint pen after deciding Friday afternoon to put my work aside and head down to a local bike path for a mid-day 45 degree winter walk in the sun (the experiment was working).

This is what transpired: My intention of working on the trait of Openness to Experience this week was successful. When I decided in my mind that ‘this was what I was going to do’ and put forth effort to stay mindful of my task, I did things to support my intention. Declaring my task on paper, to someone else, and to myself held me further accountable to follow through.

Having the idea in mind of being more Open to Experience somehow had the effect of giving me further “permission” to be impulsive in creating new experiences, as I did when I dropped my work and joined my companion in a mid-day walk Friday. While on the walk, I looked at the big blue “OTE” on the back of my hand under my glove and decided to create more new experiences.

The cold day and melting snow didn’t deter me from scooping up a few handfuls and lobbing some friendly snowballs at my companion as we walked. I soon found myself in a snowball battle of wits thoroughly enjoying myself. The snowball fight continued in our driveway after we came home from our walk. I haven’t had as much playful fun in months. If it weren’t for this assignment, I’m sure I would have worked through the afternoon intensely as usual, tired and exhausted by 5:00 p.m. Not this day.

.... The act of focusing on one particular personality trait for a week, two weeks, or however long it takes, and taking steps to work on it in whatever ways are relevant can be life altering. Progress is always an option… as long as we’re willing.

Just think, I have 74 more traits to experiment with. I better go get me some more stickies. •

© 2006, 2012 Chris Dunmire. All rights reserved.

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