When you imagine a conscientious person, you likely conjure up someone dependable, diligent, and self-controlled. They likely have a strong awareness of their surroundings, their own thought process and the perceptions of others, making conscientiousness a key predictor for many tremendously positive outcomes, such as developing healthy, stable relationships and good job performance. It is not surprising, therefore, that many strive to become more conscientious, and there are actionable ways to build up this valuable personality trait — even if being conscientious doesn’t necessarily come naturally for you.

What it Means to be a Conscientious Person

Have you ever received feedback from a friend or co-worker that you don’t necessarily follow through on your commitments? Perhaps you don’t realize when you’re acting impulsively and in the moment, and it impacts some of your personal relationships and work performance. Whether you fail to meet important deadlines, flake out on your friends, or are just muddling through your days without much direction, a lack of conscientiousness may be at the core of your issues.

Being a conscientious person entails the ability to set and keep long-term goals, be more deliberate about choices, act more cautiously, and take your obligations seriously. Often, this fundamental personality trait is an essential ingredient for personal and professional success, and as is the case for anyone’s personality, there are varying levels of how someone displays their conscientiousness.

You could think about there being two ends to the conscientiousness spectrum — low and high. By understanding the signs of each, a person is better able to spot opportunities for growth and develop in areas that may be lacking.

Traits of Highly Conscientious People

According to psychologists, these are the most common traits exhibited by highly conscientious people:

  • Strong thoughtfulness and impulse control
  • Values organization and has an ability to plan ahead
  • Ample time is spent planning and preparing
  • Pays close attention to detail
  • Mindfulness of key deadlines
  • Ability to prioritize important tasks
  • Functions best when there is a set schedule

Traits of People Who Have Low Conscientiousness:

And most psychologist agree that the following are the most common traits of those lower on the conscientiousness spectrum:

  • Avoids structure and does not work well with a schedule
  • Procrastinates on important tasks
  • Fails to complete necessary or assigned tasks in a given deadline
  • Makes messes and does not strive to take good care of things
  • Does not return or put back items

Improving Your Conscientiousness

Although many view the personality as a concrete aspect of a person’s composition, there are ways to enhance or build certain characteristics. Both biological and environmental factors play a role in shaping who we are and the strength of our personality traits, and as we age, our personalities tend to evolve. Our level of conscientiousness, for example, generally increases as we grow older and gain more life experience and responsibility.

Our personalities can and do change through self-development, and according to one research review, people positively change their personalities by increasing engagement in activities that fall into three primary categories: activities that help you feel important, activities that are fun, and those that are aligned with your core values. The message is try something new, something that feels important — be it a watercolor class or a rugby team — to help make significant desired changes over time.

A person can also improve their conscientiousness by seeking professional help and support. In just four weeks of therapy, people experience nearly half the amount of change in personality they usually experience in their entire lifetime, according to one research study. Even more, the positive impact of therapy can have a lasting effect on a person’s personality and does not fade over time.

Therapy to improve conscientiousness

In general, there are three types of therapies that can help improve your level of conscientiousness: Behavioral and cognitive interventions, goal-related techniques, and cognitive remediation therapy.

Behavioral and cognitive interventions

This type of therapy focuses on teaching you the skills needed to solve real-world problems through assigning time-limited assignments. The difficulty with this approach is that completing assignments require a certain level of discipline and follow through, the very attributes low-conscientious people do not possess. In any case, this type of therapy is shown to promote positive changes in behavior.

This technique involves gaining a better awareness of one’s own thought processes. Specifically, a low-conscientious person is asked to envision a clear path to their long-term goal, anticipate any possible obstacles, and ultimately, envision themselves achieving the goal. The theory is that by pondering our future and our plans, we can increase our level of awareness to achieve them.

Cognitive remediation therapy

This form of therapy aims to enhance an individual’s cognitive processes and functions, such as memory, by leveraging specific mental exercises. The intent of these mental exercises is to transfer cognitive growth and development to other tasks, including the key activities that are most challenging.

As is always the case when seeking clinical support, finding a therapist that best meets your needs is essential to success. Fortunately, there are many resources available to help you identify the best type of therapy for your needs.

Building and Maintaining Your Conscientiousness

The journey to improve conscientiousness is not an easy one, but it can be worth the time and effort — especially when conscientiousness positively impacts your health, work life, and personal life. This personality trait is an important indicator when it comes to developing and maintaining healthy, stable relationships, and can even help contribute to increased responsibility at work.

And while you may show signs of low-conscientious behavior today, there are clinically proven strategies to identify and shore up any areas of weakness for the future. The first step is always identifying and understanding your potential for growth.

Originally published at Talkspace.

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