A big reason many struggle with maintaining a sense of conscientiousness boils down to personality. As one of the Big Five personality traits that essentially measures your preferences and style, conscientiousness means having a vested interest in doing the right thing. And, of course you want to do the right thing at work, with your partner, and even with yourself. You probably want to be more conscientious. In fact, a recent study conducted by the University of Arizona found that conscientiousness is a top personality trait people want to increase (alongside extraversion and emotional stability). But, is the goal to become more conscientious even a reasonable, achievable one to work toward?
“Being conscientious is an important trait, as it provides a foundation for greater awareness of the self and others.” —psychologist Carla Marie Manly, PhD
Well, to a degree. By the time you reach adulthood, many facets of your personality are more or less set in stone. Still, even stone can be chiseled into a better version of you. “Although conscientiousness is often a result of what is learned and developed throughout childhood, a person can definitely work on becoming more conscientious throughout life,” says clinical psychologist Carla Marie Manly, PhD, who adds that it’s certainly a worthwhile effort. “Being conscientious is an important trait, as it provides a foundation for greater awareness of the self and others. As we work on being more conscientious as a way of life, we are able to hone our skills of being more thoughtful, aware, and generally mindful.”
So, how exactly do we hone those skills and learn how to be conscientious? Below, experts outline a few tips and tricks you can keep in mind.
1. Decide what matters most to you
Because becoming more conscientious is such a broad goal, the first thing you want to do is target where in your life you’d like to be more conscientious.
“You don’t need to be conscientious in every area of your life,” says life coach Susie Moore, who adds that trying to do so is actually unrealistic. “When it comes to planning ahead and reaching big goals, start in one life area first and watch it naturally spill over to other life areas.”
2. Eliminate distractions that could get in your way
If you want learn how to be conscientious, try and get rid of that devil on your shoulder. To do this, Moore recommends paring down apps on your phone, Kondo’ing garments in your closet, decluttering in your inbox, and even rethinking unnecessary and distracting friendships. “Having a cleaner life makes it far easier to be organized,” Moore says. “A clear mind is easier to maintain in a clean environment”
3. Strive to not be emotionally reactive
Conscientiousness often gets thwarted when we’re swayed by an emotional decision. For instance, say you’re trying to be more conscientious about moving on from a breakup, but every time your ex enters your social media feed, your emotions go into overdrive. In this case, the best thing you can do for yourself and your conscientiousness goals is to stop yourself from acting impulsively and reactively. “If you feel your emotions rise up strongly, pause to breathe and reflect,” Dr. Manly says.
4. Plan ahead
Having a plan in place makes being accountable for yourself and your goals much easier—and also makes the situation of you flaking on your intentions way less likely. “There are so many free tools and resources online to plan your days, weeks, and months.” says Moore. For some inspiration, try a to-do list app—one of the many available options is sure to fit your needs.
5. Know that learning is a lifelong process
Learning is not, to be clear, a singular event that just happens. Rather, self-improvement develops progressively over time, sprinkled with failures and wins alike. So, just keep in mind that it’s a journey, not a destination, because, as Dr. Manly says, “this attitude builds conscientiousness.”
6. Reward yourself for positive reinforcement
Improving a noble personality trait can require a lot work, so when you do something well, take note and acknowledge it. This attitude of positive reinforcement is likely to keep your good habits in check—and you can even ask other people to contribute.
“You can ask someone at the office, ‘I took extra care preparing for that project, are you pleased with the outcome?'” Moore says. “Or, to your S.O., ‘In the fridge are our lunches Monday to Thursday—isn’t that so awesome? Tell me what you enjoy most, day to day!'” In short, pat yourself on the back and let your good personal work be seen. and, since it’s the conscientious thing to do, pay it forward as well.
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