The Big 5 Personality Traits – Understanding Yourself and Improving Relationships

Understanding personality

Personality is an extremely broad and complex concept. Everyone’s is different and this makes attempting to understand it on a universal level, extremely difficult.

Of course, that hasn’t stopped many in the social sciences from trying.

We’ve seen many different personality models. This includes Gordon Allport’s theory that each person is made up of a bunch of personality traits, some that are dominant and others that aren’t. Another is Raymond Cattell’s 16 Personality Factor model, which attests that there are 16 primary personality traits that every person has to some degree (although it could be in a low amount).

However, the primary model used today, is called the ‘Big 5’.


The Big 5 Personality Traits

The Big 5 Personality Trait model is similar to Cattell’s model in the sense that every trait in the model exists on a continuum – each person will possess every trait, however they might possess them to a high degree, a low degree or somewhere in the middle. This will make more sense once we start going through the traits themselves.

However, with only 5 traits, the Big 5 model is much more condensed. On top of that, the traits themselves give a much greater insight into a persons behaviour, which is what it’s all meant to be about anyway, right?

Let’s look at the traits.


Openness to Experience

Openness to experience refers to a person’s willingness to try new things and learn from uncommon experiences.

Somebody who’s highly open to experience would be willing to flip the script and try new things. They’d be adventurous, curious and likely to partake in creative hobbies or careers.

Somebody who’s quite low in this trait would prefer routines, schedules and habits. They’d be set in their ways and avoid creative endeavours.



Conscientiousness refers to a person’s approach to accomplishing tasks and setting up their day.

Somebody that’s high in this trait would be very focused on organization. They’d use schedules and to-do lists, while focusing on details. Think perfectionism.

Somebody low in this trait would typically prefer to ignore the smaller details in favour of focusing on the grander strategy.



The extroversion trait describes a person’s approach to people and social situations.

An extrovert (high in the trait) thrives in social situations and will actually feel energized as a result.

An introvert (low in the trait) will often feel drained by social situations and prefer solitude as a result. It’s important to note that introversion doesn’t mean shy or awkward. It simply means that they prefer to keep social situations to a minimum.

However, you’re not necessarily one or the other as most discussions on the topic would have you believe. Just like the other traits, extroversion and introversion exist on a continuum, with the middle ground being occupied by what’s known as ambiversion – a combination of the two.

Discover the personality of others


The agreeableness trait describes a person’s ability when it comes to cooperation with others.

Somebody high in this trait would typically be empathetic, quick to forgive, good at working in a team and more likely to say yes to requests.

Somebody low in this trait would avoid teamplay, be less empathetic and would be more likely to say no to requests.



Neuroticism reflects how emotionally reactive a person might be to the events and people around them.

Somebody high in this trait would be a worrier and frequently experience fluctuations in their mood.

Somebody low in this trait would be quite calm and stable, unaffected by changes in the world around them.


Where Do You Rank?

Understanding the 5 traits and what they mean is great, but it isn’t enough. You need to be aware of where you’re positioned on each of the 5.

You might have a rough idea of where you sit for some of the traits, but the best way to get a good overall look is to take a big 5 quiz.

There are plenty of these on the internet, but my personal favourite is at Science of People. I’d highly recommend doing the quiz if you have 10 minutes to spare.


Understanding Yourself

Completing a quiz and gaining a better understanding of where you sit on each of the 5 traits is extremely useful.

It allows you to better understand your emotions and behaviours as well as plan accordingly.

For example, I was always unsure of whether I’m an extrovert or an introvert. I didn’t seem to match the traits of either completely. I wouldn’t say I feel energized in social situations, but I don’t feel drained by them either. Only recently did I learn that it’s possible to sit in the middle.

With the knowledge that I’m an ambivert, I better understand myself and my needs in social situations, rather than being confused by which camp I might fit into. In actuality, I fit into the middle for most of the traits:

Agreeableness: I’m quite trusting and quick to forgive. But I also prefer to be in charge and often avoid saying yes to requests.

Neuroticism: Some things cause me to worry and others don’t.

Openness: I’m curious about many things, love adventures and am creative in some fields. But on the other hand, I love habits and routines, am hopeless at art and am completely bored by certain topics (cough* history cough*).

Matching personality

Understanding Others

Understanding yourself is one thing. But understanding others is important too. Many of the problems we have in our relationships with others can be put directly down to miscommunication.

The ability to understand where your friends, family and co-workers sit on each of the 5 traits can help you understand their behaviour. And understanding their behaviour can help to avoid arguments and improve relationships.

In her book: Captivate, Vanessa Van Edwards recommends asking those close to you to take a quiz as well so that you can see their results. She even has new employees at Science of People take the quiz to help her manage the work environment.

For example, I used to have problems with a former boss of mine. They wanted everything to be done in a certain way, regardless of how I and other employees felt. And they were quite temperamental. Speaking to them was often a game of Russian roulette.

However, after taking the 5 traits into account, it became clear that they rank highly in neuroticism and conscientiousness. They’re prone to worrying about details and likely to get grumpy if things don’t go as planned.

With this knowledge, handling them became much easier. Rather than resenting their methods, I began to do things in the ways that they liked. Their worrying was kept to a minimum and their mood became more stable.

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5 Vital Exercises for Building Muscle

Build muscle with these exercises

Getting the body of your dreams can be challenging. It requires hard work, sacrifice and above all, consistency.

However, focusing on these three elements still doesn’t guarantee success. Often, when people struggle, it can be attributed to other factors, such as issues with the exercise program or the person’s diet. We’ve already covered diet in our macronutrients article, so now we’ll discuss the weightlifting exercises that are absolutely vital for anybody that’s trying to build muscle.

However, before we do, I’d like to give a small warning.

There are many factors that can affect a person’s success in building their ideal body. And everybody is different.

I can’t promise that incorporating these exercises into your workouts will guarantee success.

What I can promise is that both personal experience, third-party reports and scientific research support the fact that the exercises we’re about to cover are all amazing at building both muscle and strength, in a general sense.


The Exercises


The Deadlift

The Deadlift is the first exercise that should be included in your routine. It works your entire body and builds insane amounts of muscle and strength.


The Squat

The next exercise is the squat. It’s amazing for building muscle in the legs, especially the glutes (butt), hamstrings (back of thigh) and quadriceps (thigh).

The Bench Press

The bench press is an intense exercise that works the pushing muscles: the pectoralis (chest), the triceps (back of the arm) and to some degree, the deltoids (shoulder).


The Overhead Press

The overhead press is a pushing movement just like the bench press. The difference is that it puts most of the stress on the shoulders. In that sense, the overhead press and bench press complement each other when used together, targeting all of the pushing muscles.


The Pull Up

The pull up is an amazing exercise for building the pulling muscles – the back and biceps. You can still gradually increase the weight you’re lifting with as well. Simply use a weighted belt or vest.

Why Are They So Effective?

So, we’ve covered what the exercises are, but I haven’t explained why they’re the most effective for building muscle.

They’re effective for a simple reason: they’re compound exercises.

But what does that mean? Simple. A compound exercise is any exercise that utilizes multiple muscle groups to move the weight. For example, the bench press engages the pectoral muscles, the triceps and parts of the deltoid.

In contrast, an exercise like the bicep curl only uses the bicep. This is called an isolation exercise.

Man squats to build muscle

All of the exercises on this list are compound exercises. They all use multiple muscle groups. And this provides several benefits.

For starters, because of multiple muscle groups being involved, compound exercises allow for the lifting of much heavier weight than might otherwise be possible.

Ever wondered why people can squat with several hundred kilograms on their backs but can only lift a fraction of that weight on a bicep curl? It’s partly because the muscles in the legs tend to be larger and more powerful than upper body muscles. But it’s also because: multiple muscle groups working together = more strength.

Not only that, but the combination of a heavy weight on multiple muscles allows for effective progressive overload of the muscles.

Progressive overload is the idea that people trying to build muscle and/or strength should gradually increase the amount of stress placed on the body. Basically, this could mean increasing the amount of weight lifted or the number of sets and reps of a particular exercise, from workout to workout. Using this concept when training prevents you from becoming stagnant. It makes sure you’re always pushing a little further beyond your body’s limits, even if only a tiny bit at a time.

And yes, it’s certainly possible to progressively overload on isolation exercises as well. But it tends to be more difficult and you’ll see slower progress.


With all of this in mind, it’s easy to see why an exercise program that relies on isolation exercises and ignores their compound counterparts, could be so ineffective at building muscles. Do you need to change up your program?

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Boost Your Learning with the Feynman Technique

Teaching with feynman technique

You’re probably on Customizing Life because you want to learn. But learning is a broad term and an even broader process.

More than once, I’ve decided I’d like to learn something, but haven’t had the faintest idea how to go about it. The best practices aren’t always clear. In the past, I’ve usually just opted for doing the activity over and over and hoping that I get better at it. But it turns out that that’s not the best way to learn. Who knew?

Of course, repeating an activity over and over can help us improve, especially in the early stages of learning a skill where everything is new and we learn quickly. But it can only do so much on its own.

Efficient learning requires frameworks to guide us. And these frameworks allow you to learn faster and further beyond what you could learn through simple, unassisted repetition.

This article will give you a framework for learning that can be applied to any topic or skill, from differential calculus to frying cabbage.


The Feynman Technique

Richard Feynman was a world renowned and widely successful theoretical physicist, even managing to win the Nobel Prize in 1965. He was a brilliant guy.

And Feynman developed his own personal method for deeply learning and internalizing topics. Now known as the Feynman technique, it’s a simple process, containing 4 repeatable steps:


Step 1 – Study

The first step is easy. In fact, anyone who’s reading an article about learning processes is probably already doing it.

All you have to do is choose a topic and start studying.

Naturally, this makes perfect sense for educational based study, but it can also work equally well for other skills such as sports. Simply write down all of the things you know about the skill on the piece of paper. Try and break it down into its core components and seek to understand it as a whole.


As an example, we’re going to be using the game of chess.

With that in mind, applying step 1 to learning chess would be simple. You’d simply have to start learning the rules and basic strategies. Keep in mind that you’ll need to know enough that you can teach someone else in step 2.

Learning chess

Step 2 – Teach

Once you’ve completely covered the topic, it’s time for step 2. You’re going to teach it to someone else.

If you’d rather avoid actually teaching someone, you can just teach it to an imaginary audience. But the Feynman technique works much better if you use a real person. They’ll be able to give feedback and let you know when something isn’t clear.

Ideally, the person you’re teaching will ask questions and probe you, trying to find holes in your knowledge base. This might feel a little uncomfortable, but it’s exactly what you need in order to proceed to step 3.


Continuing with the chess example, step two would require you to teach someone else to play chess. You’d need to be able to explain the games’ objectives, rules, how the pieces move and some basic strategies to win.

As your student asks questions, you’ll inevitably discover holes in your knowledge – questions that you can’t answer. But this is exactly what you want.


Step 3 – Fill the Gaps

As I mentioned, step 2 will uncover some gaps in your knowledge.

Step 3 involves going back to studying, but with an intense focus on these gaps. The aim of step 3 is to remove these weaknesses and turn them into areas of strength.


What holes in your knowledge were uncovered in step 2? If you couldn’t quite remember how a piece moved, how a rule works or why a particular strategy is effective, then this is a weakness that needs to be focused on.

Now, you can go back and study exactly what you need to know. Recover the rules and search for information regarding the effectiveness of the strategy.


Step 4 – Simplify

Ideally, you’ve already greatly improved your understanding of the target skill. However, you’re not done. Now you need to simplify the content.

This step is extremely effective at building your cohesive understanding of a subject. To be able to cut away clutter and explain something so clearly that even young children with limited vocabulary can understand, is extremely difficult. Attempting to do this, forces you to not only deeply master the information/skill but to also grasp how all of the different elements join together.

“If you can’t explain it to a six-year-old, you don’t understand it yourself.”

– Albert Einstein


You now have a much better understanding of chess. But could you explain it in such a simple, clear way that others will certainly understand? Probably not. Chess is a complex game with many rules and strategies involved. To be able to explain this to a child who’s never played and have them understand, is a difficult task.

Break it down into its simplest form. Attempt to express this in a short, clear way. It’s easier said than done.


Why the Feynman Technique Works

Now you understand how to utilize the Feynman technique. But you may still not be convinced of its effectiveness. So, let’s go through exactly why it has such amazing potential for accelerating learning:

Teaching child with feynman technique

Understanding the Cohesive Unit

The last step of the technique places a heavy focus on how all the pieces of a particular skill fit together. In order to explain the topic effectively, it won’t be enough to understand how things work by themselves. You need to understand the cohesive unit.

For example, it wouldn’t be enough to explain how the pieces move in chess. You need to understand how they move as well as the rules, and combine this information with a knowledge of strategy. All of the information together, is what creates deep understanding.


Prevents You from Glossing Over Ignorance

Attempting to teach someone the topic is a vital part of the process. This is because it gives feedback regarding what you do and don’t know.

When learning a skill, it’s very easy to focus on the things we know and have success with, while ignoring the things that we have difficulty understanding. But this can slow down our growth significantly.

Teaching somebody else the topic, and having them ask questions when they don’t understand, will force you to confront the things that give you trouble. After all, if you need to explain something, you can’t avoid the how or why.


Congratulations! You’re now a master of the Feynman technique. You now have the power to enhance and accelerate your learning. What will you do with it?

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How Video Games Can Help Us Improve

Video game players

Video games are quite a contentious topic. The media frequently tells us how they’re rotting the minds of the next generation and pumping out sociopaths at an unimaginable rate. This kind of thing is undoubtedly exaggeration, but still, it begs the question… are they really that bad? Well, it depends.

Like many things in life, it’s all about moderation. Drinking alcohol every now and then is fine. Going on a 6-day bender and missing work, appointments and your cat’s birthday, is not.

The same is true with video games. They become a problem when it begins to interfere with other aspects of our lives.

In fact, video game developers often have this in mind when it comes to designing their games. They deliberately place rewards within game that are engineered to hook people. After all, they need people to keep playing and enjoying their games or they’re out-of-business. But this doesn’t make them evil.

The reality is that video games only have destructive power when the player can’t successfully manage their use.

They even have a large variety of benefits available to people who play them. Let’s take a look at them.


The Benefits of Video Games

There are a wide variety of benefits connected to the regular playing of video games. Some are to do with health and psychological well being, while others involve the developing of skills.

However, the first few benefits are all directly related to cognitive ability. A significant amount of research has been conducted in this area and these findings are all heavily supported. It’s also important to note that the research hasn’t only been conducted on avid video game players. Some experiments have used participants that have taken up video games for the sake of the experiments and the results were just as positive as the experiments involving pre-existing gamers.



Video games require players to solve problems. It’s as simple as that. Even the games that don’t place the focus on puzzles still have a variety of problems that need to be overcome, from dealing with difficult enemies to strategizing for a future event.

On top of this, the game will give you direct and immediate feedback for your solution, usually in the form of a victory or game over screen. Most modern video games employ a trial and error progression system that forces players to learn to solve these problems quickly and effectively.



One of the hardest things for a new gamer to learn is to control everything at once. Even games with simple concepts require a deceptive number of tasks to be completed and kept track of at once.

In fact, research found that 50 hours of action video game experience significantly improved performance on the Multi-Attribute Task Battery test. This test is based on the skills necessary for piloting aircraft (simultaneously using the joystick, tracking fuel levels, responding to radio communication etc.) and high test scores actually correlate with performance in real piloting.

Video game clip minecraft


In a similar vein to video games requiring problem solving skills, they’re also forcing the player to make frequent decisions that might have a direct impact on whether they’re successful or not. On top of that, these decisions often have to be made quickly, without time to think things through.

As a result, action games are an amazing tool for training people to be decisive in other areas of their lives. Once again, this is supported by research. Scientists from the University of Rochester had non-gamers play video games for a total of 50 hours, before testing them with certain tasks. The results found that the people who played fast-paced action games “developed a heightened sensitivity to what is going on around them” and were able to make faster decisions than those who played slower-paced games while still getting the same amount of questions correct.


Slowing Down the Aging Process

Yep, playing video games can slow down the rate at which people age. It sounds too good to be true, but it’s backed by research.

The study had people over the age of 50 play a video game for 10 hours while scanning the video game environment for specific stimuli as quickly as possible. The game rewarded doing it correctly and punished doing it incorrectly.

These 10 hours of gameplay resulted in delays of up to 7 years of cognitive decline as a result of aging. The results speak for themselves.


Improved Spatial Awareness

Video games also work to improve the players spatial awareness.

It was confirmed through research that involved participants attempting to quickly locate specific stimuli in a field of distractions. Given the necessity for video game players to control and respond to a variety of factors, this makes perfect sense. Not to mention anyone who’s ever seen your average action video game knows just how cluttered with distraction they can be.


Improved Vision

It’s a common belief that staring at a screen for hours at a time damages our vision. But research would suggest that that’s not the case, and on the contrary, video games can actually improve our vision.

The study concluded that playing action video games on a regular basis can improve vision in a variety of ways. This includes tracking several objects at the same time, paying attention to fast-moving events and contrast sensitivity (important for both driving and reading).

However, it should be noted that slower-paced games did not see the same results.

Video game clip mario

Reducing or Inducing Stress

I’ve been using video games as a way to de-stress for years now. It’s perfect for temporarily forgetting about your problems and getting lost in something exciting (although this point does once again raise the importance of moderation).

They can also introduce stress. Games that are designed to excite, scare or push you to your limits will often leave your heart pounding and hands sweating. But that’s just part of the magic. And it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Frequent readers will know that I believe occasional, managed stress to be important for growth.

Whether or not the game will lead to stress or relaxation can depend on the style of game you’re playing. Horror games aren’t likely to help you relax, but maybe a strategy game will.



Above all, games often put you in situations that are challenging. In fact, many games will force you to do something difficult, and then make the next section that little bit harder, continually drawing you towards the limits of your skill.

This might not seem particularly beneficial, but in reality, challenge is a key component of effective learning. Psychologist and performance expert, Anders Ericsson wrote about this in his book – Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise.

In the book, he described the most effective form of practice for learning a new skill – named deliberate practice. One of the key components of this style of practice was for the person to be pushed outside of their comfort zone. It should be noted however, that there is still some balance required. If an individual is too far away from their comfort zone, often they’ll be overwhelmed and beyond their ability to learn. The key is to be challenged enough to keep it interesting but not so much that attempting to progress feels pointless.

This is why setting goals can be so effective. The best video games have this style of progression built into their foundations.


And there you have it. Video games aren’t evil after all. As long as they aren’t taking over your life, any of these is a brilliant reason to lose yourself in a great game every now and again.

With that in mind, what’s your favourite game for unwinding and de-stressing?

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How I’ve Started Waking Up Early and You Can Too

Waking up early

A bit over a month ago, I started waking up earlier than I’m used to. And for the first time in my life, the routine actually stuck.

It came after a particularly inspiring video of Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson waking up at 4:30am to get his workout in. Let’s just say it had me motivated. Which was good. I needed that motivation. Because I don’t have a great track record when it comes to waking up early. The snooze button has beaten me many times.

I did temporarily solve the snooze problem for awhile when I discovered that I could place my alarm on the other side of my bedroom. It forced me to get out of bed and that woke me up enough to gain some self-control.

Until I started hitting snooze and getting back into bed again. After that, I installed an alarm that required me to solve a math problem before it could be turned off. Eventually, I started using a calculator while half asleep and then going back to bed.

And so, the war would continue. Each time, I’d rack my brain for a solution to the snooze button problem. And each time, my alter ego – sleepy Cam – would somehow come up with a new way to bypass the solution.

This war has raged for years now. And only after typing it out do I realize how ridiculous it is. You see, the only times I’d had any real success waking up early during these years would be when I’d received some form of motivation. This motivation would exist during the day and lead to one vital piece of the puzzle – it would cause me to go to bed earlier.

I wasn’t just waking up at 5:30, I was also going to bed at 9:30 the night before. I was maintaining 7-8 hours of sleep. In hindsight, I’m convinced that this is the piece of the puzzle I’ve been missing. But it’s also not the only one. There are several things that have all had to come together to make this change happen.


The Keys to Waking Up Early

Alarm clock and empty bed

Shifting Schedule

Now that I’ve had some actual success with waking up early, one glaring thing has become apparent that I hadn’t considered before:

I’m not getting less sleep. My schedule has simply shifted. Rather than going to sleep at midnight and waking up just before I need to go to work, I’ll go to sleep earlier and wake up several hours before I have any commitments. This shift in schedule allows me to get something important done immediately that I might not do otherwise.


Aim for Consistency

Consistency is vital for changing sleep schedules. You’ve probably heard it before but it can’t be overstated.

Humans operate based on circadian rhythms, which are basically our body’s daily cycles. These rhythms affect many processes within our body, and one of them is when we feel tired and sleepy versus awake and energized.

If you go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day, your circadian rhythm will reflect that. You’ll feel alert in the first few hours of your day and you’ll begin to feel tired in the hours before you go to sleep. On the flip side, being inconsistent with sleep patterns messes with your circadian rhythms. This can lead to feeling groggy in the morning or not being able to fall asleep at night.

With this in mind, it’s clear that we should aim for consistency in our sleep schedules. However, this isn’t always possible.

Many people, including myself, operate in a vastly different manner during days off work. Maintaining this kind of schedule on a weekend might mean sacrificing your social life or something else, which is something that I’m not willing to do and I don’t recommend that you do either.

Although I don’t recommend sacrificing things to maintain a schedule on the weekend, having to bounce between two schedules on a weekly basis may mess with your rhythms. I’m typically quite groggy on Monday.


Have a Reason

I strongly recommend that you have a specific reason for waking up early. Don’t wake up early so that you can be more productive. Be specific. Get up early so that you can do an activity that will help you be more productive. It makes dragging yourself out of bed that much easier.

The activity could be something that you don’t normally have time for or something that you loathe doing later on in the day. It could even be a new hobby. Ideally, it will be something that you want to do and that sets you up for a productive day ahead.

A common one, and the one that I use, is working out. I find it all too easy to come up with excuses to avoid working out after a long day at work. It’s much easier to get that workout in beforehand. Not to mention, you’ll feel amazing for the rest of the day. But you can do whatever you want, as long as it will put you in a good frame of mind to tackle the day.


Understand Your Body

Rather than helping you wake up early, this is more surrounding context that needs to be addressed.

You need to pay attention to your body.

Understand and take care of your body

First of all, this is important because it helps you determine if your sleep schedule is sustainable. Pay attention to when/how frequently you’re feeling sluggish versus energized.

Looking at things like this will help you determine exactly how much sleep you need on a nightly basis as well as how schedule changes might affect you. Once you have this information, you can make informed adjustments to your schedule.

It’s also important that you understand when your body operates at its peak level of energy. This is essentially what it means when someone says they’re a morning person. It means that they feel energetic and productive in the mornings.

Dr. Michael Breus, who featured on podcast episode 43 of Kwik Brain, has studied this idea and has determined that there are 4 different chronotypes when it comes to peak energy levels. He named them the lions, wolves, bears and dolphins and provides a free quiz to determine where you fit into these 4 types.

I seem to be a mix of lion and bear, which allows me to get a lot done in the morning. However, some people simply aren’t wired that way. Those of you that fit into the wolf category might actually be better off sleeping in and starting later.

The point is, don’t necessarily assume that waking up at the crack of dawn is what you need to do in order to make things happen in your life. If you’re sleeping the same amount either way, then you’re better off getting things done when your body feels energetic.


These four are the most important things that I’ve learnt so far. But I’m certainly not done learning. I hit the snooze button and miss my bedtime far too often for that.

I hope that some of you are able to effectively use this information. It’s certainly helped me.

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