How to Be More Conscientious

How to Be More Conscientious

This article describes what conscientiousness looks like in action and the different facets of conscientiousness.

Conscientiousness is a personality trait – it is the tendency to follow rules, regulate oneself, and be responsible, organized, and productive (Roberts et al., 2017). Like almost every personality trait, conscientiousness exists on a spectrum: some people are very high in conscientiousness, while others demonstrate little of this trait. Most of us land somewhere in the middle in terms of how conscientious we are. People who are high in conscientiousness tend to be very organized and meticulous in their daily activities (Power & Pluess, 2015).

Why Conscientiousness Is Important

Our levels of conscientiousness matter because they are closely related to our mental and physical health. Compared to people who are less conscientious, people high in conscientiousness are more likely to engage in healthy behaviors and have strong social bonds; they may even live longer and experience better health (Roberts et al., 2007). People high in conscientiousness are less likely to engage in risky behaviors that may cause them harm – this may in part explain why they live longer and healthier lives than other people (Bogg & Roberts, 2004).

Another reason that people high in conscientiousness may experience better outcomes in their lives is that they use more effective coping strategies (Bartley & Roesch, 2011).

“The actions of real conscientious original beings become the beacon of what real human existence looks like.”
― Abhijit Naskar

Is Conscientiousness Genetic?

Like all personality traits, how conscientious we are is determined somewhat by our genes. One study found that conscientiousness was 44% heritable, meaning that of all the variation in conscientiousness across people in the study, the authors concluded that 44% of it came from differences in their genes (Jang et al., 1996). This means that conscientiousness is less heritable than some other personality traits, such as neuroticism and openness (Power & Pluess, 2015).

In other words, the experiences we have growing up, and in our daily lives even as adults, exert a stronger influence on how conscientious we are than our genes do (Jang et al., 1996).

The Big 5 Personality Traits

Conscientiousness is one of the Big 5 Personality Traits. Although there are many ways to break down our personalities into different components, this is the model that has received the most statistical support (Power & Pluess, 2015). The other four personality traits are Extraversion, Agreeableness, Neuroticism, and Openness to Experience. While each of these traits can change somewhat over time – our personalities aren’t fixed, and we can even tweak them a bit ourselves – they are also considered relatively stable and enduring (Roberts et al., 2007).

Conscientiousness Facets

Lots of psychology research has tried to break down conscientiousness into different facets, or sub-characteristics that go together to make up the trait of being conscientious. For example, MacCann and colleagues (2009) described consciousness as having eight facets:

1. Industriousness. As noted above, people high in conscientiousness tend to get lots of things done.

2. Perfectionism. Conscientiousness is associated with a tendency to strive for perfection. As you can imagine, this facet has both upsides and downsides.

3. Tidiness. The more conscientious you are, the more likely you are to want to keep things clean and organized. This reminds me of all my friends who say they feel better after “stress-cleaning” their apartments.

4. Procrastination Refrainment. A person higher in conscientiousness would be more likely to promptly do tasks as they present themselves.

5. Control. Another facet of conscientiousness is the ability to control one’s impulses – to stop yourself from having just one more brownie, calling an ex when you miss them, or shouting at your boss when they make an unreasonable request.

6. Cautiousness. People high in conscientiousness are very wary of breaking rules, so they tend to be more cautious.

7. Task Planning. Conscientiousness is associated with proactively figuring out what you’re going to do when, and how you’re going to do it.

8. Perseverance. When people high in conscientiousness start a project or try to develop a habit, they tend to follow through on it.

Can You Increase Conscientiousness?

Roberts and colleagues (2017) provided a model for how to increase one’s conscientiousness. They describe how our innate tendency to be conscientiousness is influenced by the environments we are in. In other words, although we each have a baseline level of conscientiousness, we can put ourselves in environments that help us strengthen and develop our conscientiousness. Similarly, individuals who enter a highly organized environment that places a premium on achievement and responsibility, such as the military, also seem to grow more conscientious over time (Jackson et al., 2012). So the takeaway here is, to become more conscientious, put yourself in environments that encourage you to be conscientious.

In Sum

There is nothing wrong with having limits to your conscientiousness. But if you do think you’d like to be more conscientious, you might learn a lot from asking the people in your life who seem most conscientious what they do and how they think. Or, just put yourself in environments where being conscientious is highly rewarded, and you may find yourself taking on more of the trait.

References

● Bartley, C. E., & Roesch, S. C. (2011). Coping with daily stress: The role of conscientiousness. Personality and Individual Differences, 50(1), 79-83.

● Bogg, T., & Roberts, B. W. (2004). Conscientiousness and health-related behaviors: A meta-analysis of the leading behavioral contributors to mortality. Psychological Bulletin, 130(6), 887–919.

● Jackson, J. J., Thoemmes, F., Jonkmann, K., Lüdtke, O., & Trautwein, U. (2012). Military training and personality trait development: Does the military make the man, or does the man make the military? Psychological Science, 23(3), 270-277.

● Jang, K. L., Livesley, W. J., & Vemon, P. A. (1996). Heritability of the big five personality dimensions and their facets: A twin study. Journal of Personality, 64 (3), 577-592.

● Power, R. A., & Pluess, M. (2015). Heritability estimates of the Big Five personality traits based on common genetic variants. Translational Psychiatry, 5(7), e604-e604.

● Roberts, B. W., Hill, P. L., & Davis, J. P. (2017). How to change conscientiousness: The sociogenomic trait intervention model. Personality Disorders: Theory, Research, and Treatment, 8(3), 199-205.

● Roberts, B. W., Kuncel, N. R., Shiner, R., Caspi, A., & Goldberg, L. R. (2007). The power of personality: The comparative validity of personality traits, socioeconomic status, and cognitive ability for predicting important life outcomes. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 2(4), 313-345