Openness to Experience
Have you had any firsts this week? Y’know, firsts: things you’ve never done before, new experiences, new experiments. We’re at the beginning of a new year, a perfect time to remember the importance of firsts.
Firsts help you to cultivate openness to experience. Openness to experience is a personality trait commonly measured by personality researchers. Let me share a couple of my firsts with you, and tell you why I think openness to experience is so important. After you watch the video, you can take the survey below to rate yourself on openness to experience. If you want to rate higher, it’s time up the frequency of firsts in your daily life!
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The Big Five Personality Survey
Here are a number of characteristics that may or may not apply to you. For example, do you agree that you are someone who likes to spend time with others? Please indicate the extent to which you agree or disagree with each statement.
January 8, 2013
There is water running right down the wall of this ice cave - Oh, look, I’m in an ice cave, on a huge active glacier! I have never been in an ice cave on a glacier before. It’s a first for me. It’s the beginning of a new year, and I want to talk to you about the importance of firsts and how they help to cultivate openness to experience. Before I come back to firsts, openness to experience is a personality trait. It’s frequently measured by personality researchers because it’s one of the Big Five personality traits that had been found to be empirically, reliably easy to measuring people. I have actually included a little Big Five survey down below if you would like to take it and rate yourself on openness to experience. The five traits are extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, which in more enlightened versions of the test is called either susceptibility to stress or emotional stability, and openness to experience. You will see if you take the test that openness to experience is measured in a kind of curious way. The questions that ask about it ask about how much you enjoy and appreciate the arts and have an appreciation of beauty and an aesthetic sensibility in general, and somewhat about whether you are a creative thinker or open-minded, but openness to experience is more than that. Openness to experience is about how much you are willing to allow the experiences that are happening to be happening. It’s about how curious you can get about just the nature of human experience, such that whatever happens it’s interesting to you and so you are open to having new kinds of experiences which helps you to grow. Personality researchers have found that people who rate low on openness to experience tend to also have a low tolerance for ambiguity, things need to be certain, it’s hard for people who are low on openness to experience to allow things to just be kind of unknown. And they also have a high need for cognitive closure, they want to believe that things are true or not true. And those traits also correlate with things like authoritarianism as a personality trait and political conservatism and low acceptance of diversity. So openness to experience is actually really important for people to have, so what does it mean if you rate low on that? I mean, does it mean that you are somebody who is always going to sort of be in a relationship with the world where you try to make the world seem simpler than it is, you can’t appreciate the richness and the actual complexity of the human experience? Well, no. Even if you rate low it doesn’t matter because personality is not the kind of thing that we think it is. Personality traits are a function of how we are living our experience as an ongoing process, how we think about and talk about ourselves and how we act. It’s not something that’s fixed in place, it’s only fixed in place if you keep acting the same way all the time, but if you would like to cultivate openness to experience that’s completely possible to do. You can become over time somebody who was more and more available to experience and grows through that availability. And my favorite way to cultivate openness to experience is through making sure that you have a lot of "firsts". A first is just something that you have never done before, something that you have never experienced before. And so you should ask yourself, "How many firsts have I had this week?" Have you had any, have you had any firsts today? You want to try to have firsts almost everyday. For instance, you might just try something new or take a risk that you have never taken before. You could go into the world and meet people pretending you are somebody totally different, come up with a new identity for something, a new name, just try it out and see what happens. Which pant leg do you put on first when you get dressed in the morning? Well put the other one on first, just try that. Try new foods, meet people who you normally would avoid and befriend them and learn from them about what they do and follow their sensibilities and try that out. Or just come into contact with different cultures through people who are different from you. Learn through their other cultures that there are ways of thinking and feeling and being that are really different from the ones you’ve grown up with and are familiar with that are equally valid, equally rich and important. Try new foods if you haven’t tried new foods through those new people that you meet through new cultures. Think things that you have never thought before. I mean, what have you never even let yourself think before? What are the things that you promised yourself that you would never do? Well some of those things, never do those because they are essential to something about your moral code. But other things that you’ve said you would never do, why? Maybe those are old obsolete ideas about how you have to constrain your identity and there is a lot more that’s possible for you if you let yourself do the things that you said you would never do. Its possible to have firsts all the time, every day. I encourage you to do so. A great way to do this is to have a first buddy, you know to have somebody who you report to each other at the end of each week and say “What were your firsts this week?” You can brag, tell about things that were terrible that you experienced and things that were awesome that you experienced. You can challenge each other to try to grow in new kinds of areas to do things that you haven’t done before, to learn about yourself in ways that you can’t unless you do new things. So firsts help cultivate openness to experience and it’s an important personality trait to cultivate. If in your New Year’s resolutions you just try to stop doing things that’s interesting, but why don’t you try doing new things? I encourage you to try things you haven’t tried and not just make one New Year’s resolution to try one new thing, make a resolution to try a lot of new things. Before I leave you I am going to try one more new thing with you. It seemed like a really good thing to have for lunch here on the glacier was garlic bread. Here’s a lovely loaf of garlic bread, it’s a little cold at this point but I am hoping that it’s still delicious. I noticed that all the letters in the word garlic were in the word glacier and so it just seemed like a sensible thing to have up here. Mmmm, oh yeah, everybody should have garlic bread in an ice cave.