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Big Five: Boost your succes with the Big Five

March 12, 2019 at 4:44 am

Big Five: Boost your succes with the Big Five

In the Joe Rogan Experience I heard psychologist Jordan Peterson talk about the factors that contribute to success in someone’s (working) life. The best predictor for work success is IQ . IQ is difficult to change. With supplements like Paneuromix you can probably score significantly better on tests due to increased alertness, memory and associative ability, but the IQ also depends largely on physical factors in your brain, such as the amount of neuronal hubs in your brain. Between generations there is a very clear increase, because younger generations from ever younger age are increasingly exposed to more abstract information sources, this is called the Flynn effect. But within the “school” of your generation is difficult to maneuver, because everyone gets the same improvement in conditions for development. Similar to when all teams in the F1 introduce better wings at the same time, the advantage is gone.

Conscientiousness and the Big Five

Another predictor for work success is the psychological trade Conscientiousness. In this article I will use Conscientiousness, the abbreviation C. and carefulness alternately for this purpose. The property C. comes from the Big Five, this is the most well-founded and researched personality model consisting of five personality traits / axes. It has been found without a predictive model by statistically summarizing all the words in dictionaries that indicate a personality criteria in independent groups. This turned out to be five groups of trades (psychological characteristics). You can easily remember this with the abbreviation OCEAN:

O = Openness, openness to new experiences versus closeness / stubbornness

C = Conscientiousness, carefulness versus carelessness

E = Extraversion, extraversion versus introversion

A = Agreeableness, service orientation, versus thinking about your own interest

N = Neuroticism, emotional stability versus emotional instability

Many tests can be found online, for example here.

The clearest way to describe C. I think is the analogy with German craftsmanship, especially in the automotive industry. German cars are known to be perfectly finished. The leather is perfectly designed, all details have been thought over, you feel a peace of mind when you sit in such a car. That is Conscientiousness. German culture generally scores high in Conscientiousness. Another way to measure conscientiousness is to have someone write it down 100 times and see how often it is written correctly.

Conscientiousness and salary

Although it does not mean everything, a connection between work success and salary is plausible. In the graphs below you can see that Conscientiousness and Extraversion have a positive connection with salary and Agreeableness a negative (partly due to the negotiation on the amount of salary, if you are easy going you get a lower salary). Although Extraversion also has a positive connection, it seems that this is the job specific, so with a job as a salesperson this will play a role more than with a technician, whereas C. has a positive link with salary with all types of jobs.

Increasing Conscientiousness?

Since IQ is difficult to increase, might it be possible to increase Conscientiousness? According to Jordan Peterson C. is a mystery, namely:

1. There is no theoretical model, nobody knows why some people are more and others less C.

2. There is no neuropsychological model, people who, for example, have a functioning prefrontal cortex are no longer C. You would expect that because a good prefrontal cortex makes it possible for someone to plan well and keep an overview.

3. There is no psychological model, because the Big Five has been created without a model.

4. There is no pharmacological model, focus enhancers such as ritalin may be able to help improve C., but it appears that performance on focus testing is mainly related to IQ and not to C. According to Jordan Peterson C. is really a mystery and this is difficult because it is connected with success at work as well as happiness and well-being. Probably because someone who acts with care will encounter many problems and solve problems in a structured and careful way.

The quest to improve Conscientiousness

I went looking for the changes in the Big Five throughout life. If something changes during life, the chance of consciously improving it is greater. With all the willpower in the world you cannot change your body height, but my conviction is that many things that are connected with thoughts and emotions can be changed by the flexibility and adaptivity of your brain.

A study this I could find showed these results:

What you can see is that Conscientiousness and Openness change most during life. This gives me hope that there can be some form of movement, plus a somewhat explanatory model. It is clear that Conscientiousness makes a huge leap during puberty and young adulthood. This is exactly the period that the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that is the latest in evolution and supposedly “higher behavior” (tact, planning, patience, deliberation, etc.) steering up to maturity.

There was no connection between prefrontal functions and C.?

Why did they not find a relationship between prefrontal functions (so-called executive functions) and C. in the laboratory? The problem with these tests is often that the laboratory environment creates a certain structure that is lacking in daily life. People with problems in prefrontal functions, for example also many ADHD -typical people, can perform equally well on a computer test in which they are clearly instructed and at that moment it is clear to them what they have to do to do. I think Conscientiousness is much more reflected in the everyday chaos of life. The level of care that you then know to yield, that is what matters. It may be partly, as with IQ, that as an age group overall there is an improvement in the increase of age, but that as an individual it is difficult to rise in “school” of your group, because others also grow in C.

Nevertheless, I do not want to get down, because where your peer group drowsily Apps and surfs you can ensure that your prefrontal cortex develops as much as possible.

Training of Conscientiousness

Time and again it appears from many psychological training programs that specific training does not generalize to daily behavior.As soon as we get out of this training environment the skills will soon be diluted again. That is why I think we should look for general skills that generalize or specific skills and tools that we can spread in a structured way throughout life and bring you to a higher level of C. I have made some assumptions that may not always stand. I assume that focus and less (to suffer from) distraction will benefit your care and that a certain willpower to maintain this focus and structure of thought also has a positive effect.

I am also there convinced that there is both a positive and a negative spiral with respect to C. Remember the movie Limitless? This is about a writer who has become a lager who, after taking a pill (a kind of Paneuromix: D) gets very clever, but first you see that he is cleaning up his chaotic apartment, he gets structure back in his environment and thereby also in his thoughts and life. There are also plenty of reverse examples. For example, I once had a roommate who was an artist and probably scored high on Openness, but very low in C. He alternated periods of complete chaos and little order with more structured and productive periods.

1. Meditation:

Meditation is, in my opinion, the most powerful prefrontal workout out there. There are different forms of meditation, I myself do TM, Transcendental Meditation, here you rehearse a specific Mantra. Every time your thoughts wander away you focus on your Mantra and your breathing in an unforced way. It is that ongoing training of retrieving your attention that trains your “attention muscle”. Although I always want to be conservative with this, there seem to be indications that long-term meditation actually changes the brain structurally. Certain fear areas become less active and areas involved in attention and concentration strengthen. The prefrontal cortex would also become thicker. Another trend or even hype nowadays is Mindfulness, which is a more active form of meditation where you try to become aware of your mind and try to live attentively in the moment.

2. Deep Work:

This way of working I have treated last time, it means with certain strategy you change your working method and spend much more time in the “Deep Work”. mode in contrast to the quickly-derived “Shallow Work” mode. An important principle is to choose certain tools and strategy as a craftsman. With patience, it means weighing the pros and cons of, for example, new communication methods. This seems to me an extremely Conscientious / careful way of working.

3. Train your distraction muscle / Willpower to stay with your goal:

While you meditate by yourself in an easy and quiet environment, you can also train your brain to ignore distractions. With this increased resilience against distraction you can work with more care. We have to distinguish two somewhat contradictory issues. On the one hand, a lot of research shows that willpower is a source that can become exhausted. Every time you do not answer an App directly, you walk through a noisy environment or you have to control when eating a cake, you just exhaust this same source. In this respect it is therefore best to avoid all these distractions as a whole. For example, by switching off WiFi and 3G and do not have any tarts in your fridge. But it also turns out to be a trainable “muscle” that can become “thicker”. Every time you are able to ignore that App and leave that tartlet, your will power becomes just a bit more powerful. It is therefore best to attend at certain times, for example during”Shallow Work” expose yourself  to distractions on purpose, so you train this muscle. It must be said that the connection between this willpower and Conscientiousness does not hold very strongly from the studies, but this may possibly be due to the specific test setting.

4. Try to get order and structure in your life:

First of all, order as much order as possible in your environment. Start by laying out your bed when you get up. The Marine McRaven tells about this (and I know this from Tim Ferriss) “If you make your bed, you have completed the first task of the day. It gives you a little bit of satisfaction and pride and encourages you to accomplish other tasks.” Especially with making  your bed you can fully use your Conscientiousness. Those who were in military service probably know all about this.

5. Adapt your environment:

Instead of adapting your brain to the environment, you can also shape your environment in such a way that it supports you maximally in you C.

a. Block digital distractions, block Wi-Fi and 3G if you do not necessarily need them. Log out of all kinds of services that can give notifications. Or login with a separate account for the times that you have to work carefully. A Wifi clock is also a good option, put a timer on your Wifi device with software or hardware.

b. Make use of apps that make planning easier, for example EverNote, Google Keep, Todoist etc. This relieves your prefrontal cortex, so you can work with more care.

c. Make use of a virtual assistant that makes and goes through your daily or weekly schedule. In the future I hope that there are apps that can take control of the entire domain of your life at your desired and appropriate moments. In this way you can work carefully on important matters.

d. Work in a quiet environment where there are as few distracting stimuli as possible.

6. Adjust your perception:

a. Use earplugs, this works well for me, this way you block ambient sounds, in addition you feel a kind of closing of the environment making it easier to pay careful attention to your work and inner thoughts..

b. Immerse yourself in the functional environmentn. I have not tried this myself, but in principle you could set up 3D glasses that project your screen. This way you are completely sucked in.

7. Take hobbies that score high on C.

a. For example, martial arts like Kung-Fu where you have to make precise movements.

b. Play musical instruments that demand a high degree of accuracy, for example violin or guitar.


C. remains a mystery, it looks a bit like the chicken with the golden eggs. High C. is a golden egg that can not be reduced to a few factors. When cutting up the chicken, no golden eggs appear to be in the belly of the chicken. Still, it seems to me that the above strategy can certainly optimize the conditions for Conscientiousness.

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