The Double Edge: Conscientiousness
Hi it’s me, the ambivert again! If you are confused about what an ambivert means, please click here to learn more. Today we are continuing our discussion of the big five personality traits. As mentioned in my previous blog, I took a personality assessment in one of my classes and have since learned that I am a “do-gooder”, high achiever, goal oriented, driven, unaccustomed to failure and all the accolades that go along with someone who scores high on the personality trait of Conscientiousness.
Conscientiousness is a personality trait that embodies several characteristics, such as self-efficacy, orderliness, dutifulness, achievement-striving, self-discipline, and cautiousness (Srivastava, 2018). Each of these characteristics, or facets, play a role in how impulsive you are. For instance, a person that is highly conscientious is characterized as someone that avoids trouble, plans ahead, is typically described by others as intelligent and reliable—or as I described, a “do-gooder.” Individuals that are high in this personality trait will usually find success in their endeavors, as they are hardworking and goal oriented (Srivastava, 2018). A person that scores low in conscientiousness is typically described as laid back, colorful, fun, easy going, spontaneous, and a creator of their own rules. No matter where you fall on this personality trait, both sides of the continuum have strengths and weaknesses.
It is no secret that our society loves highly conscientious people, and why wouldn’t it? The characteristics of a highly conscientious person essentially describes the ideal employee, someone who has a strong work ethic, takes pride in their work, and plans ahead. However, there are disadvantages to being exceedingly meticulous. Though this may be hard to believe, one study from the UK found evidence for a downside for those that scored high on conscientiousness. In their study, entitled “The Dark Side of Conscientiousness”, it was discovered that individuals who were highly conscientious significantly drop in life satisfaction when they become unemployed, and that they are at risk psychologically during times of unemployment (Boyce, Wood, and Brown, 2010). This study reveals how important a work identity is for those that score high on conscientiousness and highlight the sense of loss that occurs during times of unemployment. In addition, it demonstrates how detrimental failure is to a highly conscientious person, as achieving goals is what they are accustomed to.
When reflecting on the scores that make up my overall personality trait of conscientiousness, I was fascinated to discover that in spite of my high overall score, I scored lower on self-discipline. Of the six facets that fall under conscientious, self-discipline is the most closely related trait to procrastination. The idea of a highly conscientious person procrastinating is rather problematic, since it seems counter intuitive. Sometimes individuals that are low in self-discipline have trouble completing tasks even though they really want to get them done (Srivastava, 2018). My personality profile indicates that I am a person that is highly conscientious, yet sometimes procrastinates due to lower self-discipline.
Procrastination can happen for many reasons and at times people might consider someone lazy when they procrastinate. Some individuals thrive under pressure and may even inadvertently let tension build in order to create the stress needed to focus and perform (we often call these folks “buzzer beaters”). Maybe you can relate if you are an athlete, or an executive that is used to performing in high-pressure situations. Others, however, might get anxious about their performance and use procrastination as a way to avoid dealing with stressors. Personally speaking, when I have an important task that I need to accomplish, I tend to delay. I do not do this out of laziness, but rather out of stress. I think about the task or project, as well as all the steps I will have to take to get it done. Suddenly I can feel myself become overwhelmed with stress and anxiety. This feeling consumes me, and I push the task aside until I have a better frame of mind to get it done.
***PAUSE*** I need to take a breath…I’m exhausted just thinking about it.
This process is repeated as the due date approaches, and each day I tell myself to suck it up and get it done, but I still put it off. At some point I find myself with no time left and I have absolutely no choice but to finish the task, no matter how stressed it makes me feel. What a conundrum I am in, being a high achiever yet putting off important tasks. I realize that one of the reasons I procrastinate is because I have a fear of failure. At some level, I fear failure because I think it will make me unsuccessful. Yet I have been told repeatedly that success stems from failure and I know there is much research supporting this claim. For instance, research on having a growth mindset indicates that when we are more comfortable with failing and view challenge in a positive way, we are more open to learning new things and better able to increase our proficiency as a result. These feelings of stress, anxiety, and fear of failure tie in with the Neuroticism personality trait, which is what we will be focusing on in my next blog post so keep an eye out for that!
Conscientiousness is at times a gift and a curse, as it provides you with the motivation to accomplish your goals, but at the same time, it hinders your experience when faced with failure. Pychyl had it right when he described conscientiousness as a “double edge” as it does cut both ways (2010). I am currently working on not being so hard on myself and trying to understand the fact that there is beauty and humility in failure, however this is no easy task.
My hope in writing this blog is for us to be able to recognize our personality traits and utilize the strengths within them. For me, I have learned that my high conscientiousness has made me a hard worker, organized, and cautious which sets me up for success. I’m working on owning my procrastination traits to become a “buzzer beater” so that I can thrive during times of increased pressure, though of course I could also work on reducing my anxiety and avoidance behaviors. If you are a highly conscientious person who tends to procrastinate like me or you are not using your strengths to their full potential, I highly recommend that you check out TOPPS Psychological Services, as it is an excellent resource to provide you with the tools to have more positive self-talk and coping skills. In my next blog post, we expand on the characteristics related to the personality trait of Neuroticism. This trait embodies your emotions and we’ll be discussing feelings such as anxiety, anger, depression, and emotional stability, so please stay tuned!
Boyce, C.J., Wood, A.M., & Brown, G.D.A. (2010). The dark side of conscientiousness: Conscientious people experience greater drop in life satisfaction following unemployment. Journal of Research in Personality, 44, 535-539.
Srivastava, S. (). Measuring the Big Five Personality Factors. Retrieved [July 10, 2018] from https://pages.uoregon.edu/sanjay/bigfive.html