Hostetter was a conscientious objector to war who found himself faced with the dilemma of having to fulfill his military obligation during the Vietnam War in 1966. As a conscientious objector to war, Douglas refused to carry or use a weapon or participate in any of the violence of war. Instead, he opted to serve by teaching English to Vietnamese children. He also opted to live outside the heavily guarded walls of the American camps. He lived in a bungalow completely exposed to enemy forces. He had no gate, walls or weapons to defend himself. He insisted on fulfilling his service in a non-violent manner and was able to dedicate himself to providing quality education to surrounding Vietnamese villages on his terms.1
Being tagged a conscientious person, on the surface, seems to like it would be a pretty good way to be classified. But the truth is that those who truly commit to living a life of conscientiousness subject themselves to a lifetime of sacrifice and to the possibilities of being ostracized and misunderstood.
A Conscientious Life Is a Fulfilled Life—but Not Necessarily a Happy One
Many personality psychologists believe that there are five basic dimensions that comprise a person’s personality. Experts call them the “Big 5”.2 These are a set of five broad personality traits and include: extraversion, agreeableness, openness, conscientiousness, and neuroticism.
Conscientiousness as defined by Psychology Today is:3
“…a fundamental personality trait that influences whether people set and keep long-range goals, deliberate over choices or behave impulsively, and take seriously obligations to others.”
Conscientiousness is the character trait of being deliberate, careful, meticulous and vigilant. The presence of conscientiousness is the fundamental personality trait and determinant that influences people to set and systematically chase goals. It is what makes people keep their word, fulfill their obligations and remain steadfast and loyal in the face of opposition.
In other words, it is the ability to live intentionally.
The Conscientious Mind Is a Strong Mind
How do you know if you are conscientious or not? A person with low levels of conscientiousness can be described as easily distracted, unfocused, unmotivated, spontaneous and is often called “flighty” and “all over the place.” If you find yourself constantly failing to achieve your personal goals or quitting projects midway through—you may need to work to live a more conscientious fashion.
The absence of conscientiousness is a key contributor to the absence of success. Becoming more conscientious requires an organized and industrious mind.
Organization and living an orderly life is a predictor in whether or not you achieve what it is you want in life. Having things neat, tidy and well organized keeps your mind neat, tidy, organized and focused. Establishing routines and sticking to them as much as possible is a great way to bring order to your life.
When working to become more organized, be careful not to over do it. Placing routine and order as a top priority leads to perfectionism, anxiety and other counterproductive attitudes. Put yourself on a schedule and get organized—but don’t go overboard.
Industriousness is associated with tenacity and grit. It is the passion and perseverance needed to achieve long-term goals. Industrious people are often described as achievement/goal-oriented, disciplined, efficient, purposeful, and competent. They are productive, not busy. They chase their goals and live life intentionally and methodically work hard to achieve their destiny.
Equipping with the Conscientious Mind
Conscientious people have several common habits that are worth studying. Here are five lessons we can learn from the masters of conscientiousness:
1. Think Deeper Before You Act
The conscientious mind always evaluates the pros and cons of a situation and considers the consequences of their actions. They exercise impulse control and work to act versus merely reacting. They count the cost before they undertake an endeavor and give their word.
Before launching a business, a conscientious person will do extensive amounts of research and ensure they have the appropriate capital and resources in place before they dive in and begin. They understand the market space, their brand, their customers and know the type of people they need to hire in order to be successful. Their business succeeds and thrives because of preparation, planning and diligence; not luck.
2. Commit to Promises
Because the conscientious think before they act, they are able to commit to things they know they can deliver. They provide exactly what they promise. They consider the cost before they make a promise and then dogmatically work to do what they say they are going to do.
If you promise your best friend you are going to help them move on a specific weekend, that is precisely what you should do. But before you commit to helping your friend, you should first ensure that you are available for the date and duration of time they need you. You should add it to your calendar and consider that date, time and task non-negotiable. You should show up when you said you would, work hard and fully deliver on that promise.
3. Don’t Rely on Mental Notes
Taking mental notes is great and we all do it. But there is one major problem with using your mental notes to recall information—you won’t remember it. Conscientious people write things down. They add dates to their calendar. They are schedulers and note takers. They intentionally make jotting notes a part of their routine and standard operating procedure. Read more about why Human Brains Aren’t Designed To Remember Things.
4. Take Breaks and Carry On
Take rest, regroup and restart. But don’t ever quit. Quitting is not an option. Remember, in order to be successful you need drive, determination and a stubborn will. You have to have fight, grit and a scrappy attitude to be who you truly can be.4
If you have watched The Hacksaw Ridge, you would have heard of Desmond T. Doss. He epitomizes the type of fight, tenacity and strength of will the truly conscientious have. Desmond was a combat medic serving in WWII and his heroic actions, driven by his value system, led him to perform acts of heroism during the Battle of Okinawa. He became the first ever conscientious objector in US history to win the medal of honor. And he did it without ever firing a shot.
5. Take Responsibility for Problems
A conscientious person is not a coward nor a victim. They take responsibility for their part in failures and don’t run from problems. They stand flat-footed and stare issues in the eye. And then they devise a plan and attack. They are brave, tough and resourceful. They seek out solutions to their problems and refuse to “sweep things under the rug” and blame others.
Say if you have a report due at work and you realize it’s going to be late because you don’t have the necessary input from your colleagues. You apologize to your boss and give him a new time that the report will be due while taking full responsibility for not getting the input on time. You work with your colleagues to expeditiously get the input you need, and do whatever you have to do to ensure that you deliver on your promise and meet the new deadline.
A Conscientious Life Is Not Easy, but Is Worth It
Conscientiousness is an act of one’s will. It is intentional and requires purposeful actions, an organized mind and an industrious attitude.
By internalizing and embracing the five key habits of conscientious people, you set yourself up to be a reliable, productive and wildly successful best version of yourself.