The Athlete's Way

Sweat and the biology of bliss

Curiosity and Conscientiousness More Important than Intelligence

How To Beat the "Been-There-Done-That" Doldrums

It's easy to become bored, discontent and lackadaisical when your daily routine turns into a rut. Recent psychological studies have confirmed that staying curious is not only the key to maintaining a sense of wonder and appreciation for life - it is the key to your success. Remaining conscientious is equally important. In fact, the combined personality traits of being curious and conscientious were found to be more important than intelligence in predicting success.

Psychological scientists have begun looking at factors other than intelligence that make some students do better than others. A recent study published in Perspectives in Psychological Science found that curiosity and conscientiousness are predicative of long-term academic and professional performance. Being curious is now believed to be as important as high IQ or test scores in determining how well students do in school and in the job market.

Conscientiousness is a personality trait directly linked to success but has various interpretations.  The two most basic definitions of conscientiousness are: 1. Thorough and diligent in performing a task. 2. Governed by or done according to somebody's sense of right and wrong. People who score high on this personality trait tend to do well in school, in life and professionally.

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"It's not a huge surprise if you think of it, that hard work (conscientiousness) would be a predictor of academic performance," says Sophie von Stumm, one of the authors of this study. "Curiosity is basically a hunger for exploration," von Stumm says. "If you're intellectually curious, you'll go home, you'll read the books. If you're perceptually curious, you might go traveling to foreign countries and try different foods."

Both of these, she has discovered, could help people do better in school and the job market. Von Stumm wasn't surprised that curiosity was so important. "I'm a strong believer in the importance of a hungry mind for achievement, so I was just glad to finally have a good piece of evidence," she says. "Teachers have a great opportunity to inspire curiosity in their students, to make them engaged and independent learners. That is very important."

But how do you shake things up and kick-start your curiosity and conscientiousness and stop sleepwalking through life?  I would recommend using regular physical activity as a valuable tool to fortify both of these personality traits. One of the most valuable lessons of  "The Athlete's Way" is that through your daily workouts you have the power to strengthen character traits that will help you succeed in life - curiosity and conscientiousness are at the top of this list.

Pushing your physical body is a great way to keep your mind and spirit open to a sense of wonder and curiosity; And, staying committed to a regular exercise regimen and the process of beginning and finishing a prescribed workout  rewires your mind to be more conscientious in everything you do. The 'good habits' that you become skilled at and reinforce consistently through yoga, strength training, pilates, cardiovascular work... creates a mindset. This mindset becomes the way that you approach everything in life. The mindset of "The Athlete's Way" is transferable to any task or challenge that you need to accomplish on and off the court.

One of the biggest drawbacks of being bored and careless is that your quality standard plummets. Once you become jaded, you no longer attack problems and challenges with enthusiasm and inquisitiveness. It's easy to get sucked into the ho-hum mindset of mediocrity. Having a blase 'been-there-done-that"  attitude or cynical 'is-that-all-there-is?' response is the quickest way to find yourself trapped, discontent and at the back of the pack.

Exercise is a way to turn this around--but it's easy to become bored and sloppy within your workouts, too. Remember to continually mix-it-up inside your workouts and to try different things at the gym. If you exercise outdoors, remember to stay adventurous and exploring new places and pursuing unfamiliar activities.

The attitude, mindset and commitment you display inside your daily workouts reinforces positive personality traits in your daily life. Your individual daily athletic process 'flexes' muscles in your mind, character and spirit that make you more likely to succeed and take your life to a higher ground.  How you conduct yourself personally and professionally also creates a feedback loop that can make you a more diligent athlete. Remember that bad habits create a systemic ripple effect throughout your life.

It is important to remain cognizant and vigilant about your commitment to curiousity and conscientiousness in everything that you pursue. By repeatedly dogging it or not finishing a workout you create a hardwired personality trait that bleeds into the rest of your life. Whether it's completing a specific number of sets or reps at the gym; finishing a specific amount of time or distance on a jog; or simply taking out the recycling and separating it into the appropriate bins: Always finish what you start and do what you promised yourself (or others) you were going to do!

Employers are taking note of how personality traits impact professional performance. People in a position to hire new employees are not just looking for someone who has mastered a single skill and will not have the innate curiosity to want to explore new challenges. "It's easy to hire someone who has the done the job before and hence, knows how to work the role," von Stumm says. "But it's far more interesting to identify those people who have the greatest potential for development, i.e. the curious ones."

I was recently talking to a senior partner at a Fortune 500 company who said that when hiring new talent that she is less concerned with whether a potential hire has an MBA from Harvard but much more concerned with what he or she puts under the 'Hobbies &  Extracurricular Activities' section of the job application.  If the person shows the traits of curiosity by wanting to travel, learn a new language, read books, compete in a sport she has learned that those people often become a more valuable member of the team than just someone with a 4.0 from an Ivy League school. Also, if a potential applicant shows conscientiousness by volunteering or giving back to the community it was a bonus and indicitive of ethical core values that translate well to long-term success in business.

But most importantly, she said that anyone who showed a dedication to maintaining physical wellness got the most bonus points. Over time, she has noticed that more than any other single factor in a persons daily habits, working out regularly translated consisitently to a higher standard of performance.  Employees who worked out regularly or competed in sports proved themselves to have more: focus, tenacity, resilience, stamina, boldness and energy across the board.

In this very competitive job market-employers realize that the curious person who likes to read books, travel the world, and go to museums may also enjoy and engage in learning new tasks on the job. Likewise, the athlete who begins and finishes a workout regularly is likely to be conscientious in the workplace.

You should consciously push yourself to remain curious and conscientious in mind, body and spirit. For me this means continuing to step out of my comfort zone in each of these areas. I am very pragmatic about it. I'll ask myself simple questions: Is this stretching my mind to a new perspective? Is my spirit awakening to a deeper connectedness? Is my body remaining adventurous and exploring unfamiliar and intriguing places?

In a digital age with so much information overload and mindless 'noise' it is more important than ever that each of us makes a concerted effort to stay curious and conscientious with our minds, bodies and spirits. All ships rise in a rising tide. The more people we have exercising regularly across the country the stronger and more fruitful we will be as individuals and as a collective.

 

 

 

 

Christopher Bergland is a world-class endurance athlete, coach, author, and political activist.

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