I walked out into the middle of the street without looking both ways, forgot to pay parking tickets, lost debit and credit cards regularly and, when I became self-employed, convinced myself everything would just work out.
My “I’ll just make it” mentality is characteristic of my generation: Millennials are more optimistic about our futures than any other generation ever has been. Among millennials who say they’re not earning enough, 89% think they will in the future, according to Pew Research Center. Yet we’re making less on average than our parents ever did.
If success isn’t falling in your lap, don’t give up hope (seriously: pessimism impairs job performance). But it may be time to prioritize an underrated personality trait:
Conscientious people live longer, get better grades, commit fewer crimes, earn more (along with their spouses), have higher influence, are more likely to lead companies that succeed long-term, are happier at work and have better marriages.
Convinced by the benefits of conscientiousness, I set out to master it. One of my New Year’s resolutions was “finishing, details, polish.” In my research, however, I found that conscientiousness is far more than fastidiousness. In fact, acting “Type A” only has a weak correlation with conscientiousness. In the broadest sense, conscientious people have a knack for avoiding behaviors that will damage their long-term happiness and success.
Here are seven things they don’t do:
Next time you’re tempted toward an impulsive purchase, raise the stakes on yourself. Ask, “Do I want to earn more, have better relationships and live longer?” If “yes”, take a week to think on it.
Next time you think “Ooh, I want to remember that”, don’t trust yourself. Write it down–anywhere. Once, when Richard Branson didn’t have his notepad with him, he wrote an idea down in his passport!
How are you showing up in your day-to-day life? Literally. How do you show up to work? To dinner? To your workouts? Research consistently shows that how you act influences how you feel. Bad posture, for example, can make you stressed, sad and afraid. Is that how you want to approach your life?
Conscientiousness, on the other hand, is associated with good health for both you and your partner. Dr. Jennifer Lodi-Smith, a postdoctoral fellow in the Center for Vital Longevity, explained, “Being conscientious predicts good health because the conscientious individual is actually going to go out and do the things their doctor says they should be doing to stay healthy.” Instead of binging on what you know is bad for you, take small, deliberate, scheduled actions to improve your wellbeing.
Not breaking promises requires fully understanding what you’re able to commit to. Next time you’re tempted to say “yes” to something ask yourself, “Am I certain I’ll be able to keep this promise?” Framing even a small “yeah, sure” as a promise can help you internalize its weight, uphold your commitments and build trust in your relationships.
Duckworth believes there are four components of grit that all of us can cultivate: interest in the subject matter, a desire to understand; the capacity to deliver consistent practice, making something a daily habit; purpose, a conviction that what you do everyday is meaningful and beneficial to other people; and hope.
Conscientious people pay attention so well that they often anticipate problems before they arise: “By being conscientious, people sidestep stress they’d otherwise create for themselves,” Drake Baer writes for Inc. If you’re like me, you’ve spent a lot of your life realizing, “[xyz] is kind of an issue. This is a small problem. I should probably deal with this.” Problems don’t solve themselves. Small things become bigger things. Save yourself the headaches by scheduling time in your calendar every week to deal with the little stuff.
After all my research on conscientious people, I can sum them up in five words: they know they’re not invincible.
For millennials struggling to adapt to the real world, as I did, embodying this trait could be the key to a successful, happy adulthood. It doesn’t have to be a radical transition. I started small; I now make my bed every morning, pick up after myself and collect home office expense receipts for my taxes. And it’s not too late to change: Research shows that conscientiousness continues to develop even into old age.