Conscientiousness: The Ruthless Pursuit of Order.

Of all the interplay between character traits, I find the relationship between conscientiousness and openness the most interesting.

The lines are blurred, of course, especially when you break these traits down into their respective aspects, but it appears there is an inverse correlation.

This makes sense when you consider that lateral thinking requires taking an idea from one domain and applying it to another. It involves exposure to lots of different things.

The jack-of-all-trade types.

When you ruthlessly chase a goal, you have to compartmentalise the world. You’re less concerned with out-of-the-box thinking. Dedication to the task at hand means excluding everything else.

This is what it takes to be a very successful master of one.

The Benefits of Conscientiousness

Conscientiousness can be broken down into the following two aspects: Industriousness and Orderliness. 

Those who score high in Industriousness are driven, focused and determined. They finish what they start. I’m sure you’ve all heard of the buzzword known as Grit? 

Well, it’s the same thing.

Those high is Orderliness want everything to be in its place, every detail taken care of. They hate mess (and messy people). They believe in following the rules and dislike having their routine disrupted. 

So, to summarise, conscientious people may be described as careful, reliable, well organised, self-disciplined, and persevering.

Well sign me up batman! 

No wonder our results-obsessed society makes a song and dance about this character trait. It’s easy to see why you would want to be more conscientious. 

What’s less easy to see are the costs associated with higher conscientiousness.

And let’s be clear, conscientious is the highest predictor of success after IQ. 

To quote this paper from the American Psychological Association, “It is one of the most reliable predictors of work outcomes, including job performance, leadership, income, and occupational attainment. 

It also predicts marital stability and, conversely, a tendency not to experience divorce. Finally, conscientiousness is an independent predictor of major depression above and beyond other personality traits, such as neuroticism

It seems that if one is interested in either living or promoting the possibility of a long, healthy, successful, and happy life, one should be interested in conscientiousness.”

Wowza! Like I said…

But this begs the question, since the benefits are so obvious, what are the costs of being highly conscientious? What are the benefits of being unconscientious?

The Ruthless Pursuit of Order

Now, here’s where shit gets really interesting.

It turns out that orderliness is one of the strongest predictors of conservatism. Of course, conservatism is part of the process by which we establish borders and barriers between things. 

It’s resistance to change. Why? Because change often brings a certain amount of chaos along with it. And too much chaos can be a dangerous thing.

I find this infinitely fascinating because guess what the highest predictor of liberal beliefs in character traits are? That’s right, openness.

Open people like to think laterally. They want information and ideas to flow freely because it opens up new possibilities. They want to flatten borders and tear down walls. Open people hate being boxed in.

What is the definition of creativity if not to think outside the box?

But those who aren’t creative couldn’t care less. They crave order to a much higher degree. They want to remain dutifully within the damn box.

Of course, there are pros and cons at either end of the liberal/conservative divide here. Boxes are both good and bad. They provide protection but also restrict the free flow of information and ideas. 

Now, one of the biggest killers historically has been pathogens. You’re probably wondering what that has to do with anything?

Well, high orderliness is linked to heightened disgust sensitivity. One prominent example of this, sitting at the extreme end of the spectrum, is obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Another theory (called the parasite stress hypothesis) found a very high correlation between the prevalence of pathogens in authoritarian regimes

The reason for this, in part, is because diseases historically weren’t well understood, if at all. Its control often depended on the adherence to ritualised behavioural practises. 

But of course, people didn’t know which ritualised behavioural practices reduced the risk of infection. So, to be sure, best to conform across the board.

It was foreigners, non-conformers, dissenters, and other “dirty liberals” who often posed the most significant health threat. 

Herein lies the biggest danger of being too conscientious. I think the word tolerance fits the bill very nicely – or rather, intolerance

Most authoritarian regimes are driven by their need for order at the expense of everything else. It takes over. 

To use an extreme example, Hitler was one conscientious motherfucker. The man went from failed artist (perhaps, unsurprisingly, now that I think about it) to commandeering the most powerful military in the world in the matter of two decades. 

He was incredibly focused and determined in the pursuit of his goals. Do we think that was a good thing? No. Why? Because his values were fucked, and so, as a result, was the rest of Europe. 

Here is where the idea of pathogens will raise hairs on the back of your neck. Hitler often used the metaphor that the Aryan race was a body threatened by pathogens. 

Of course, the Nazi party enacted many twisted policies in the name of “racial hygiene.” And how do you deal with pathogens? You sterilise them, of course. You destroy them. 

You set fire to them.

This brings up a point I want to make about “success.” The ability to implement an idea isn’t nearly as important as the idea itself. If you’re driven by terrible values, we may all suffer the consequences. 

How to Become More Conscientious

On the flip side – to come back to the benefits of conscientiousness – a good idea isn’t worth a damn if you’re unable or unwilling to implement it. 

This is where open types can struggle. They come up with a myriad of excellent ideas that they often fail to put into practice. 

Part of the problem is their nature. They shrug their shoulders at mess. They are the laid-back, happy-go-lucky, Big Lebowski types. 

Unconscientious people are much more interested in seeing where the wind takes them.

This makes them more adaptable, of course. It means they are more accepting of change, but it can come at a significant longer-term cost if they never commit to anything. 

I think it’s crucial for those sitting on the lower side of the spectrum to recognise this. 

Contrary to many a liberal’s belief, success isn’t all down to dumb luck or natural talent (unless you believe that free will is an illusion). Hard work most definitely does pay off. Talent is wasted without it. 

The question is, then, how do we become more conscientious? 

To take a leaf out of the conservative’s book, I think the idea of setting clearly defined boundaries is a good one. Learn to set and follow a schedule. (Punctuality is heavily linked to conscientiousness.) 

When you commit to working, learn to block out the outside world. Focus has much more to do with eliminating distractions than it does to do with applying effort. 

Literally put up a wall by locking yourself in a room. Don’t allowing yourself to check your phone till you’ve finished writing that goddamn blog post about conscientiousness, you open-headed dope!

You know all this, of course. So you also know it’s much easier said than done. A significant part of the problem is not knowing what we want our lives to be about. What we want to make of ourselves. 

So, you want to create a vision for yourself – to have a clearly defined philosophy that helps you to stay on track. 

Warren Buffet recommends the following 3-step process: 

  1. Write down a list of 25 career and/or life goals. 
  2. Circle the five highest. Just five.
  3. Take a hard look at the other 20 and avoid them at all costs. 

It’s also worth asking to what extent these five goals serve a common purpose? The more they’re part of the same value hierarchy, the more focused your passion, the better. 

Ironically, it’s when we define the parameters this way our creativity starts to flourish.

To finish with an analogy, music follows a specific set of rules. They are a limited number of notes one can play. But within those rules, the possible number of melodies are almost infinite. 

Open people need not look at a box as limiting. Defining your own limitations might just be the very thing that sets you free.


This is part of a series of posts on the Big Five Personality Traits. Please find previous post below:

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You can find more of AP2’s writing here at: https://pointlessoverthinking.com

You can also find him on Medium at: https://anxiouspilot2.medium.com

Or on Twitter at: @AnxiousPilot or @PointlessOverT

You can also email him directly at: anxiouspilot2@gmail.com

3-2-1 Flying Fridays!

Hello lovely readers and welcome back to my weekly newsletter! The only newsletter that can’t decide what to call itself… (Please let us know if you prefer Friday Flyer, Flying Fridays, or Mindset Mondays. If any other ideas I’d be glad to hear them too!)

Following a 3-2-1 approach, it contains 3 thoughts from me (that you should ignore), 2 quotes from others (that you should read), and 1 something special (maybe). 

As a bonus I’ve finished with one joke that’s so bad, it’s good!

Let’s begin!


3 x Thoughts:

1) We only do things for one of two reasons, because it makes us feel good or we believe it is good. This is where our consciousness becomes our friend. We have the ability to determine what is right despite how it makes us feel.

2) You can’t sprint a marathon. The bigger the project or goal the steadier the pace should be. You need to zoom the lens way out to keep that perspective. You were never meant to build Rome in a day.

3) Acceptance places responsibility and hope where it belongs: in you. It gives you clarity to then take meaningful action based on your values in the present moment. It’s rarely a question of whether you should act or accept, but a question of order. Accept and then act.


2 x Quotes:

“Remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.” 

― EPICURUS

Excitement is contracting; it narrows your world. Your focus is on what comes next, always a few steps ahead of where you are. Excitement temporarily feels good. And there is no doubt that bursts of excitement add texture to your life. But if you are obsessively trying to generate the feeling, you may miss out on what is in front of you because you are already moving ahead. Ease, on the other hand, is expansive. Time slows and space widens.

– BRAD STULBERG SOURCE: The Practice of Groundedness

1 x Thing:

This Ryan Holiday article: These 5 Stoic Strategies Will Help You Slay Your Stress. Quote below:

The wonderful thing about what the Stoics called “the dichotomy of control” — that is, separating the things we can control from the things we can’t — is the resource allocation it promotes. When you stop worrying about what’s not in your control, you have more time and energy to put toward the things you can influence.

– Ryan Holiday

1 x Joke:

My youngest son was eating egg the other day.

I said to my wife, “It looks like he’s having an egg-cellent time.”

She rolled her eyes.

Then my son threw his egg on the floor. I said, “Oops, looks like he’s had a little egg-cidnet!”

At this point, while I was laughing to myself, I managed to spill my own drink.

My wife looked at me and said, “Who has egg on their face now?”


PREVIOUS NEWSLETTER:

The 3-2-1 Friday Flyer – 22/10/21


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Why You Shouldn’t Hope for the Best

“Misfortune weighs most heavily on those who expect nothing but good fortune.”

– SENECA

Have you ever noticed how we’re taught that our wants and desires have everything to do with our suffering, yet we’re also taught to “live in hope”? Have you ever stopped to consider how these messages might muddy the waters?

You see it all over the blogosphere, of course. “Don’t give up,” “Hang in there,” “Never lose hope”… 

But what, exactly, are we supposed to never lose hope for? A perfect body? A million dollars? For becoming a celebrity so we may be adored forever? For politicians to do as they promised – to do what’s right for our children?!

Hah! 

So many talk as if hope is the panacea to life’s problems. As if hope will set us free. I wonder how many people have stopped to ask themselves whether hoping is the problem? That maybe it’s because they’re hoping that they’re suffering? I wonder how many people miss their own lives because they’re constantly hoping for something different? 

I’m guessing it’s a lot.

What if you shouldn’t be hoping for something different? What if, when your survival isn’t at stake – when, at this moment, there is nothing wrong – what if hoping is the last thing you should be doing? 

What if accepting life as it stands is more important than hoping?

We cannot hope the pandemic will disappear tomorrow after all, or that evil will vanquish without a fight. Of course, we must believe in our ability to prevail, but to hope for things out of our control? 

Well, hello, psychological torture my old friend!

Maybe we can work towards improving our lives without feeling it needs to be? Maybe we can work in recognition that we already have everything we need? Maybe our work can be dedicated to helping others for that reason? For those who really do need to “live in hope” because their survival depends on it?

What Hope Is For

This is where I believe we need to be clear: Hope isn’t for external reality, it’s for your ability to deal with it. It’s for survivalIt’s designed to lift you from the brink of destruction. When your back is against the wall and you ingest birds in both of your engines, hope gives you the fortitude to land that fucker in the Hudson.

Talking of which, when Sully Sullenberger ingested a flock of geese in both engines, the most remarkable thing about that day wasn’t that he successfully managed to ditch an aeroplane on the Hudson. (Although that was pretty damn remarkable.) 

No, the most remarkable thing was his ability to rapidly come to terms with his predicament. The most remarkable thing was his ability to take stock of his situation and find the clarity needed to do his job under the most extreme circumstances. 

In a TV interview where he describes the events of that day, he said he remembers the first three conscious thoughts he had vividly. The first was, “This can’t be happening.” Followed by, “This doesn’t happen to me.” Then, he said, this was followed by a dawning realisation that this flight, unlike any other flight during his 40 + career in aviation, wouldn’t end on a runway with the aircraft undamaged. He said, “I was ok with that, as long as I could solve the problem.”

Talk about radical acceptance! I don’t know about you, but it takes me more time to accept life when the alarm goes off in the morning.

A Counterintuitive Approach

Here’s the funny thing about acceptance – it provides a counterintuitive approach to hope. If you have the fortitude to do so, it prevents you from hoping for something different. To be saved by some knight in shining armour. 

It means you’re left hoping for one thing and one thing alone: yourself. Your ability to deal with life as it stands. Even if that’s means you’ve just ingested birds in both of your engines!

Of course, that’s scary. Having to come to terms with the brutal facts of your reality. To understand that you and you alone are responsible for it. 

That’s why most people don’t. They’re too scared to own that level of responsibility. So they distract themselves through addiction and false hope, convincing themselves that their life circumstances are not their fault and, therefore, not their responsibility. 

Of course, that’s wrong. We are always responsible for things that aren’t our fault. In fact, that’s life. Life isn’t your fault, but here you are anyway. What do you want to do about it? Hope for something else?

Preparing for the Worst

Bruce Lee once said, “Do not pray for an easy life; pray for the strength to endure a difficult one.”

Of course, building the strength to deal with adversity when it happens is something you can control. Whether you have an easy life or not isn’t. What hand the universe deals you is beyond your control. What he’s really saying is you should hope for your best, not the best. 

How do you that?

By actively preparing yourself for the worst. By challenging yourself. By putting yourself in the dragon’s den and proving that you can. By defining yourself by your pain. There’s a reason why the proverbial kitchen sink is thrown at pilots every 3 months in the simulator. We are thrown in at the deep end and told to sink or swim. Deal with it or have your license invalidated.

In that same TV interview Sully said, that although they had never practiced a water landing in the simulator before, “Because I had learned my craft so well and because I knew my plane and my profession so intimately, I could set clear priorities. And so I chose to do only the highest priority items, and then I had the discipline to ignore everything I did not have time to do.”

What a legend.

I’ll finish with one more thought.

Acting in hope for your survival and those you love is easy. It’s necessary, so it’s easy. When you have no other choice but to act against all odds, of course, you act. It might not be easy to do, but the decision is. 

The real measure of a person is how they respond to events outside of their control. When they cannot act, despite their hopes. The real measure of a person is in their ability to accept. To accept the reality of their past – to accept and embrace the demons in their closet. To accept, ultimately, their own mortality. And that of those who they love most dearly. That is true courage. That is true strength.

And it isn’t hope that will bring you peace – although it may save you. It’s acceptance that does that. That’s why, I suggest you start with radical acceptance for what is long before you start hoping. Then, and only then, if you still have the audacity to hope, you better be prepared to take action.

***

You can find more of AP2’s writing at the following: 

https://pointlessoverthinking.com

https://anxiouspilot2.medium.com

Also on Twitter at: @AnxiousPilot


3-2-1 Mindset Mondays

Hello lovely readers and welcome back to Mindset Mondays! The only weekly post that inspires you to care less…

Following a 3-2-1 approach, it contains 3 thoughts from me (that you should ignore), 2 quotes from others (that you should read), and 1 thing I’ve been reading, watching or listening to this week that has helped me grow.

As a bonus I’ve finished with 1 joke that’s so bad, it’s good.

Let’s begin!


3 x Thoughts:

1) Giving a shit about everything makes you incapable of solving anything. That’s not to say your shouldn’t give a fuck, but to make sure your fucks are targeted. Then ruthlessly not give a fuck about anything else. The world will be far better off if you do this.

2)The creative process is about expressing your individuality. In order to express the truest version of yourself, you have to stop giving a fuck what anyone else thinks. The best creativity comes about spontaneously – from a place of playful freedom. That means allowing your subconscious mind to express itself through you. That’s how you unlock your creative genius. 

3) While we’re on the subject of not giving a fuck, here’s why you shouldn’t give fuck about swearing, or most anything offensive that someone says: Because being offended is a choice. By being offended you give away your power. It lets your enemies know they don’t need sticks and stones to break your bones, because names will do just nicely


2 x Quotes:

“There is only one way to avoid criticism: do nothing, say nothing and be nothing.”

– Aristotle

“When you stop living your life based on what others think of you, real life begins. At that moment, you will finally see the door of self-acceptance opened.”

~ Shannon L. Adler (SOURCE: https://cheriewhite.blog)


1 x Thing:

This Mark Manson article: How To Be More Productive By Working Less. This article explains why more isn’t necessarily better when it comes to work – and how working too much can actually produce diminishing/negative returns. If you’ve ever found yourself writing in circles to the point that you end up creating more work for yourself – this article is worth your time. Quote from the article below:

Solving problems is to your mind as food is to your stomach. It needs a variety of stimulation and too much of one kind will cause it to get sick and tired. But what’s amazing is that leisure time—this ability to distract one’s brain away from problem-solving and work—actually makes your brain far more effective upon returning to work.”


1 x Joke:

Another far side comic for you all this week – this one resonated with me on many levels. I hope you enjoy!


Thanks ladies and gentlemen, I’m here all week! As always I welcome ALL thoughts and opinions on this blog. Please let us know in the comments section below.

One bonus idea: Why not write a give-a-fuck-about list detailing the things you care about most, and then use the process of elimination to cut out everything that’s not on it?


PREVIOUS MONDAY POST:

Mindset Mondays – 07/06/21