A recent article, Two Personal Qualities More Vital To Success Than IQ That Most People Don’t Know, stated that: “being open to experience and conscientious is four times more important than intelligence in predicting academic success.”
Conscientiousness and being open to experience are personality traits. They are part of the big five personality traits and if you’ve ever read anything about personality traits, you’ll know that they are largely inherent and pretty difficult to change. That can be both reassuring and worrying. If you are a parent of an open and conscientious child, you can breathe a little easier. But what if you have children who aren’t naturally conscientious or open to experience? What can do you about it? Is there even anything you can do about it?
What does it mean to be conscientious and open to experience?
Conscientiousness is the personality trait of being thorough, careful, or vigilant. Conscientiousness implies a desire to do a task well. Conscientious people are efficient and organized as opposed to easy-going and disorderly. – Wikipedia
Openness to Experience is the degree to which a person is willing to consider new ideas and opportunities. Some people enjoy the prospect of doing something new and thinking about new things. – Art Markman
You can also take a personality test to determine the level of your:
Is it possible to change your personality traits?
Christopher Soto, a research psychologist and director of the Colby Personality Lab at Colby College in Waterville, Maine states that:
- personality is about 50% innate and 50% learned
- even small changes in a person’s personality can produce important effects on relationships, career, health and happiness
- personality characteristics are relatively stable so change takes time
According to a study from the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, personalities also improve with age. Psychologists call it the Maturity Principle.
Conscientious-ness, a trait marked by organization and discipline, and linked to success at work and in relationships, was found to increase through the age ranges studied, with the most change occurring in a person’s 20s. – American Psychological Association
Researchers also found that people who were happy to begin with tended to become more conscientious with time.
How do you change your personality traits?
- Learn to recognise negative behaviours that arise as a result of your negative personality traits. Being aware of these behaviours is the first step to making the change.
- Don’t set expectations too high. Start with small, manageable steps.
- Be patient because it takes a long time for an intentional behaviour to become second nature.
- Let the people who are close to you know what you’re trying to do so they can support your efforts.
See also: Wall Street Journal – “Personality Research Says Change in Major Traits Occurs Naturally”
How do you raise children that are conscientious and open to experience?
While the steps above might work for adults and older children with an understanding and a determination to make the change, what can you do about younger children who already demonstrate a lack of conscientiousness and an unwillingness to be open to new experiences?
Duke TIP talks about helping children develop their conscientiousness by teaching children responsibility. We can teach children responsibility by:
- assigning chores
- offering children opportunities to help out
- setting rules and consequences
- being a good role model
- providing clear and positive feedback on how chores are completed (or not)
- talk about responsible acts
- illustrate what responsible behaviours are
- use story characters to reinforce ideas about responsibility
The end result should be to instill a sense of intrinsic satisfaction (internal feelings of pride and happiness) rather than using extrinsic rewards (external bonuses like candy, money, or toys) to encourage responsible behaviors.
Teaching children these skills can also help them to be more responsible:
- Perseverance. Children need to learn the importance of working at tasks and responsibilities persistently. Often a child needs to practice the skill needed to complete the task. “Try, try again” should be one of your family’s mottoes.
- Task commitment. Children need to learn to stick to homework or a household chore until it is done. Help your child realize that the process is just as important as the final product.
- Decision making. Provide alternatives and help your children consider the criteria for making decisions. Begin teaching this at a young age, so as the children get older, they can recognize the rationale behind their decisions and can contemplate the benefits or ramifications of their choices.
- Motivation. When children are internally motivated, they have the drive to complete tasks without being prompted. If children are always motivated by external factors, such as money or prizes, they will behave responsibly only to receive them and may not behave responsibly when the rewards are taken away. Instill in your children the importance of being responsible because it is a duty and a privilege, not because they will receive a material reward.
- Time management. Children may have problems managing their time, chores, and assignments. Parents can teach their children to use a daily planner and to make a schedule. Monitor the day’s events so you can help your children design a management plan and evaluate whether their responsibilities were accomplished in a timely manner.
- Communication. Hold regular family meetings about chores. Let each child talk, and everyone should listen to other family members discuss their tasks, accomplishments, and mistakes. Encourage your child to communicate the ways that he or she has demonstrated responsibility.
In the book Raising Competent Children, Jesper Juul encourages parents to focus on raising “helpful” children rather than conscientious children especially when dealing with younger children. This is because most children younger than 10 have a limited perspective therefore it is more helpful to speak to them from a perspective they find easier to identify with. He raises some interesting issues such as the purpose for setting chores – are you setting chores for your child because you genuinely need their help or because you think it’s good for them? The motivation is important because it will affect the way your child responds. Children who are asked to do chores because their parents need their help feel a sense of being valuable to their parents, whereas children who are asked to do chores because it is supposedly “good for them” do not feel valuable, rather they feel that they are merely objects at their parents’ beck and call. This sort of feeling is not conducive to raising “helpful” children.
In Character Development by Stephen Curtis, the term diligence is used. He uses stories such as the fable of the ant and the grasshopper and “For want of a nail” to illustrate the value of diligence.
For want of a nail, the shoe was lost.
For want of the shoe, the horse was lost.
For want of the horse, the rider was lost.
For want of the rider, the battle was lost.
For want of the battle, the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.
iMOM defines diligence as:
- Giving it your best shot.
- The little things you do along the way that make the end result great.
- Requiring effort – it’s not always easy and it can be tiring.
So if you’re a parent trying to foster conscientiousness in your children, try focussing on developing qualities and values such as responsibility, diligence and helpfulness.
There was an interesting article from The Atlantic on “Why Experts Reject Creativity“. The bottom line is that even though we claim to value creativity, the research indicates otherwise because we reject creative ideas when they are presented to us. The biggest offenders are the experts who are harshest on creativity in their field of expertise.
“Everyone dislikes novelty,” Lakhami explained to me, but “experts tend to be over-critical of proposals in their own domain.” Knowledge doesn’t just turn us into critical thinkers. It maybe turns us into over-critical thinkers. (In the real world, everybody has encountered a variety of this: A real or self-proclaimed expert who’s impatient with new ideas, because they challenge his ego, piercing the armor of his expertise.)
“People often reject creative ideas even when espousing creativity as a desired goal,” the researchers wrote. People are subtly prejudiced against novelty, even when they claim to be open to new ways of thinking. – The Atlantic
Could Nassim Taleb be right – too much education is bad?
According to Art Markman, the “one thing that separates the great innovators from everyone else is that they seem to know a lot about a wide variety of topics. They are expert generalists. Their wide knowledge base supports their creativity.” In other words, we should encourage a broad education rather than narrow specialisation.
Perhaps another quality we should be instilling is humility and the awareness that no matter how much we know, we will never know everything; and if we are willing to listen, even a “simpleton” may have something to teach us.
Encouraging “Openness to Experience”
The Oxford Handbook of Reciprocal Adult Development and Learning discusses how “mindfulness helps individuals overcome constraints to openness to experience, such as staying engaged within challenging life experiences, reducing defensiveness to new information about the self, maintaining greater emotional regulation during stressful events, and disidentifying with negative thoughts and emotions.” Therefore, helping children practice mindfulness might be one way to break down their resistance to trying new things.
Another way might be to practice trying new things everyday. If we think of being open to experience like a muscle, then working it out everyday might help it to get stronger. We don’t have to do big things – even small new things, like trying new food, can be a new experience to be had.
As Christopher Soto advises on changing your personality traits, remember to be patient with your child. Any progressive steps, no matter how small, should regarded positively and applauded. Trying something new for a child that isn’t naturally open to experience is incredibly challenging and a little understanding goes a long way.
So if you’re a parent trying to foster openness to experience, try focussing on:
- practicing mindfulness
- fostering the value of humility
- encouraging a broad education
- trying something new everyday
Research shows that meditation is linked to higher levels of extraversion and openness to experience.
Learn more about meditation:
- What is mindfulness meditation?
- The scientific power of meditation
- Mindfulness enhances school performance
- Mindfulness resources for families