Bite the Bullets (A quick summary if you don’t want to read the whole article)
- Understanding your personality traits will help you find a more enjoyable occupation, functional relationships, and provide you with a better sense of identity
- One of the best ways to measure personality is by using the “Five-Factor Method”, also known as the “Big Five” test
- Personality traits are your “tendencies to show consistent patterns of thoughts, feelings, and actions (25)”
Savor the Summary
In a year marked by tremendous changes and significantly less social interaction, many people have used this time to look inward and reflect on their life choices, asking themselves:
- Does my job actually fit me?
- How many of my friends are more than just “good times companions?”
- Am I with the right partner?
- Why can’t I create new habits that stick?
Luckily, understanding your personality traits is a “one stop shop” that can mostly answer each of these questions. And in this series, we will dig into how personality relates specifically to each of these questions, but first it’s essential to understand what personality traits are.
What are Personality Traits?
As the authors of “Personality in Adulthood: A Five-Factor Theory Perspective” describe, “traits [are] dimensions of individual differences in tendencies to show consistent patterns of thoughts, feelings, and actions” (25). Put more simply, your personality makeup dictates your likelihood to think, feel, and act in certain ways. I’ll give you a minute to let this sink in…
The more you understand your personality, you’ll be better able to see how you fit in the world and how things fit you (job, relationships, activities). Arguably the most scientifically backed way to understand your personality is through testing it using the Five-Factor Method (FFM). This method tests you on five personality traits and lets you know how you “score” with respect to each trait. For example, “the more of a trait people have, the more likely they are to show the behavior it disposes toward, and thus the more frequently we are likely to see it” (25).
At this point, I’m sure you’re itching to know what these traits are so here you go! The five personality traits are Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism (OCEAN, to help you remember). I’ll spare you the details about how psychologists started with 18,000 traits and whittled these down to five, just know that significant effort was put into categorizing personality traits, and these five best capture the essence of most personality measures out there.
As I mentioned previously, the FFM tests you with respect to each of these traits and you can score from low to high. The following list shows each of the personality traits with sub-descriptions which when read from left to right align with low to high scores (4). Even without taking the test, reading through the list below and mentally ranking yourself between the two “extremes” you can get a pretty quick sense of how you “score” for each trait.
- Openness to experience
- Down-to-earth — Imaginative
- Uncreative — Creative
- Conventional– Original
- Prefer routine — Prefer variety
- Uncurious — Curious
- Conservative — Liberal
- Negligent — Conscientious
- Lazy — Hardworking
- Disorganized — Well-organized
- Late — Punctual
- Aimless — Ambitious
- Quitting — Persevering
- Reserved — Affectionate
- Loner — Joiner
- Quiet — Talkative
- Passive — Active
- Sober — Fun-loving
- Unfeeling — Passionate
- Ruthless — Soft-hearted
- Suspicious — Trusting
- Stingy — Generous
- Antagonistic — Acquiescent
- Critical — Lenient
- Irritable — Good-natured
- Calm — Worrying
- Even-tempered — Temperamental
- Self-satisfied — Self-pitying
- Comfortable — Self-conscious
- Unemotional — Emotional
- Hardy — Vulnerable
Benefits of Knowing Your Personality Traits
Now that you’re familiar with the traits, the life-changing part is operationalizing them! A simple example of this is with respect to creating exercise habits. Personally, I score high in Conscientiousness and am in the middle with respect to Openness. Knowing this means I do well when on a consistent schedule and enjoy a little variety, I work out every day at the same time and for the most part perform similar exercises, but I do mix it up periodically to keep things fresh. Doing this I have found my exercise habits last much longer, and connecting it back to the idea that personality dictates tendencies is both mind-blowing and seems obvious at the same time.
At this point, it likely makes sense to do what the authors did and mention that “Traits should be distinguished from mere habits… Habits are specific learned behaviors; traits are generalized dispositions, finding expression in a variety of specific acts” (27/28). In other words, habits are a symptom of traits. Extending this idea a bit, successful relationships are also a symptom of traits and how well they pair with each other.
We will dive deeper into this idea later on in this series, but here is an appetizer regarding personality trait combinations that are more likely to lead to divorce. In a study that tracked engaged couples over 45 years and obtained their personality ratings, “Neuroticism in both husband and wife and low Conscientiousness in the husband predicted divorce.”
Personality is a lot like DNA, but where DNA determines things like how you will look and your height, personality determines how you’ll act and perceive the world. The more you understand your personality, the closer you are to cracking your “behavioral genome,” and we look forward to accompanying you on that journey in this series.
Also, our app that will help you determine personality traits and provide you with an in-depth understanding of what it means is now available here! The high-level results are free, but if you want facet-level details or to see what the differences between you and your closest connections mean, it is only $10. We hope the knowledge in this tool benefits you as much as it has us!