Openness To Experience

According to Abraham Maslow, one of the many traits of the self-actualized person is openness to experience.   Openness to experience is only one of the personality dimensions identified in the Five Factor Model, a theory on human personality.  There are others, but I think this one is particularly relevant in the context of personal growth and self-actualization.

People with this trait tend to be autotelic; that is, they are curious to learn and to know about things simply for the sake of knowing.  They tend to be interested in their inner landscapes, thus more in touch with their feelings and emotions.  They have high imagination, a deep appreciation for the arts and a strong esthetic sense.  They are aware of and appreciate the beauty that surrounds them.  They enjoy and are attracted to unusual ideas and new experiences.   And they are more likely to hold unconventional beliefs.  They also tend to have a facility for thinking in symbols and abstractions far removed from concrete experience.  What they are not is close-minded, rigid, and stubborn in their thinking.

People who sit on the lower end of openness tend to have more conventional and traditional interests.  They generally have a tendency to fixate on initial information derived from early life experience from which they may fail to adequately adjust for subsequent experiences (anchoring bias).  They are never able to look past what they have already experienced and internalized.  These experiences become anchored in their mind, and as far as they are concerned, there is no need nor interest to look further.   These individuals tend to lead a more static existence steeped in the comfort of tradition, locked into a never-evolving view of the world, no matter the tempest of change that might surround them.

This is not a division between good and bad.  People who are open to experience are not necessarily better people.  They simply have a different view of the world based on personality and character.  But for the purpose of personal growth, openness to experience is a trait that will be indispensible because they will be the ones that will be interested in moving forward on their journey.  They will have the unrelenting thirst for knowledge about themselves and everyone and everything around them.  They will strive to understand their world.  They will seek enlightenment through knowledge, creativity and self-examination.  And the fact is, the quest for enlightenment requires above all else that you have the desire to seek the light.

Those not so interested in personal growth will prefer to stay within the comfort of the zones they have constructed for themselves.  They will prefer the plain, straightforward, and obvious over the complex, ambiguous, and subtle. They may regard the arts and sciences with suspicion or view these endeavors as uninteresting.  Closed people simply prefer familiarity over novelty and they are conservative and resistant to change.

In order to seek the higher ground you have to first want it.  You need to be able to imagine it, smell it, taste it, and you need to be able to understand it.  The autoletic, open to experience personality will strive for all of the right things, for all of the right reasons.

Maslow got it right.  It is those who can open their minds to new things and new possibilities who will have the most hope of reaching the summit.

Go Maslow.

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