Friday, November 21, 2014

The Personality Trait Most Important to Cultivate for Success

If, indeed, success is traversed by staircase and not elevator, what would be the best predictor of success?  

It might be quite simple:  the propensity to take the next step.

That propensity is part of what is known in psychology research as conscientiousness.  People who are conscientious tend to be very organized, very responsible, and very planned in their actions.  Do you get your work done before you relax and play?  Do you get work done well ahead of deadlines?  Do you attend to details in your work?  Do you think and strategize before you act?  All of those are manifestations of conscientiousness.

There is much to be said for being laid back and going with the flow.  A conscientious person would leave time in their schedule for chilling--and would make relaxation a positive habit pattern.  That is very different from chilling whenever the mood strikes.  

It turns out that, out of all personality traits, conscientiousness is the best predictor of success.  Not all conscientious people have talent, but talent is most likely to be honed as skills via conscientiousness.  After all, what is deliberate practice if not conscientiousness applied to learning?

Research finds that people who are high in conscientiousness have higher incomes and get better grades.  Recall the research of Angela Duckworth:  two factors predict success:  grit (the ability to persevere even after setbacks) and self-control.  Perhaps conscientious people are successful because they set and pursue goals with steady determination.

Conscientiousness brings other benefits as well.  Conscientious people tend to be healthier, perhaps simply because they are more consistent in engaging in healthy behaviors.  The "discipline" so often emphasized as a component of trading success is conscientiousness applied to the creation and following of trading rules.

There is interesting evidence that conscientiousness consists of two subtraits:  industriousness and orderliness.  The conscientious person is hard working and achievement oriented and is also organized and perfectionistic.  That sounds a lot like Duckworth's formula.

There are differences in brain structure among people who are high versus low in conscientiousness.  There is also evidence that conscientiousness contributes to the integrity of the brain during the process of aging.  Can we learn to become more conscientious and cultivate this as a trait, in effect rewiring our brains?  Research on self-regulation training suggests that this, indeed, is possible. In my next post, I will outline the components of a self-directed program that can improve our abilities to take the next step on the staircase to success.

Further Reading:  Are lapses of discipline the cause or effect of trading problems?