I’ve read a slew of books about success and studied all the old-time gurus, from Charles Haanel and Napoleon Hill to today’s leaders, such as Brian Tracy, Jack Canfield, and Wayne Dyer. They all talk about things like presence, decision making, performance strategies, action taking, intention, motivation, and belief systems. None devote time specifically to conscientiousness. Yet research indicates that, above all else, this personality trait is the key predictor of success. I decided to do some digging to discover just what conscientiousness is and how we can develop more of it.
The Conscientiousness Factor
Conscientiousness is one of five personality types (along with agreeableness, neuroticism, openness, and extroversion) and is the one most correlated to health, sustained cognitive function, and longevity. In assessing conscientiousness and the role it plays in success, the National Institute of Mental Health and The National Institute on Aging, among other organizations, have conducted studies that offer compelling evidence. For example, conscientious men earn higher salaries. Across the board, conscientiousness also emerges as the key element factoring into finding and retaining employment, further linking to job and income satisfaction.
Paul Tough writes in How Children Succeed that conscientiousness is “emerging as one of the primary dimensions of successful functioning across the lifespan.”
The author notes that conscientious people live longer, have a lower incidence of Alzheimer’s disease and strokes, and experience lower blood pressure. Highly conscientious people also perform better in secondary and higher education, commit less crime, and are more likely to stay married long term.
Psychologist Brent Roberts, who studies conscientiousness at the University of Illinois, easily identifies conscientiousness in a practical professional context. Referring to such areas as punctuality, goal setting, organization, and a spirit of rising to any challenge, he explains, “Highly conscientious employees do a series of things better than the rest of us.”
In the area of how success is achieved, Roberts offers that conscientious people persevere: “The conscientious person is going to have a plan. Even if there is a failure, they’re going to have a plan to deal with that failure.”
How Conscientious Are You?
While personalities are set by a variety of factors, altering your beliefs and behaviors can affect your personality expression and lead toward the possibility of reaping new health and success benefits.
The following quiz will give you an idea of where you fall on the conscientiousness scale. Each question identifies one aspect of conscientiousness and how it shows up in your day-to-day behavior. Give yourself one point for each statement that describes you.
You’re extremely organized. Yes ___ No ___
You’re very responsible. Yes ___ No ___
You plan ahead. Yes ___ No ___
When challenged, you work hard. Yes ___ No ___
You are consistently able to control your impulses. Yes ___ No ___
You are punctual. Yes ___ No ___
You do thorough work. Yes ___ No ___
You are thoughtful toward your colleagues. Yes ___ No ___
You’re good at goal setting. Yes ___ No ___
You follow through on goals and switch to more attainable ones rather than giving up in the face of obstacles. Yes ___ No ___
You like to follow rules and norms. Yes ___ No ___
Rating your conscientiousness factor:
1–4: You’re on the low end of the conscientiousness spectrum, but at least you’re showing up! With a little diligence in translating each “No” to a “Yes,” you can increase your success factor.
5–8: You’re riding the middle range, which means your success is riding that, too. Since you already contain the seeds of conscientiousness, it would take just a small effort to move up the scale and shift into the success mode you deserve.
9–11: You are very conscientious and poised to achieve the success you desire.
How to Be More Conscientious Every Day
According to the dictionary, being conscientious means “wishing to do what is right, especially to do one’s work or duty well and thoroughly.” The idea sounds simple, and so are practices that can enhance your conscientiousness on a daily basis.
According to suggestions offered by Harvard Medical School, these five practices can help develop and strengthen this key trait in you:
Focus on specifics. Details are important to conscientious people. Make the choice and take the necessary actions to be more punctual and organized and to work thoroughly and follow through on tasks.
Make daily plans and stick to them. Develop organization and self-discipline by setting a schedule each day and then adhering to it.
Use reminders. Setting a schedule or determining to do something is necessary in order for your conscientiousness to develop. Employ alarm clocks, smartphone apps, and email calendar reminders to keep you on track.
Be social. At its core, conscientiousness is a social trait. Staying in touch with family and developing friendships amplify conscientious actions like punctuality and gratitude.
So often, success can seem like something you need a lot of training (and spare cash for books, coaches, and seminars) to achieve. But if conscientiousness is a key predictor of the brass ring, then success might be more easily attainable than you thought: It’s a free resource you can choose to develop anytime.