This short piece focuses on the source out of which fundamental attitudes such as envy, love, affection, gratitude, admiration, cooperation, agreeableness, and so forth arise. The framework out of which these emerge is the psychological “personality.” This analysis has been configured with an emphasis that gives significance to the dimensions of reliability and values. A downstream goal of this discussion is a preface toward changing behaviors. Behavior change must always begin with self-change, the first step of which is self-reflection. If this stirs the motivation for self-improvement, the process of behavior change has been launched—but only launched. It cannot sustain itself on autopilot for long but requires a persistence that calls for curiosity, exploration, and refinement. The payoff is a higher quality of life. Individual work typically helps the self—at first—and then has a halo effect that engages others in the process, especially if teamwork becomes a dedicated value along the line of self-improvement. So, let’s begin this psychological journey!
The human personality is a complex organization that develops from early childhood into emerging adulthood. It is an organization of inborn traits, infantile temperament, early childhood attachment patterns, and developing coping skills and emotional defense mechanisms. Thus, it has a dispositional base that is innate but with a great deal that is learned through interpersonal and social interaction. This fact makes it virtually impossible to categorize personality into “types” since the variety is immense. When so-called personality types are described, it may be that the rudimentary, dispositional temperamental underpinnings of the personality are being recognized (e.g., avoidant, fearful, novelty seeking, affectionate, persistent, and so forth). One’s temperament, therefore, is a very basic predispositional style that characterizes and guides an individual’s attitude and behavior throughout life.
In many senses, personality is one’s personal “culture”—a performance style that is skill-based (built up through subliminal, implicit, automatic learning and memory), rule-based (built up through conscious trial and error experience), and knowledge-based (built up through conscious and intentional critical thinking). Emotions give an affective tone to the cognitive and physical gestures that make up personality.
An important dimension of personality is “mind.” This is the nidus of communication both to self and others. To others, communication reflects the capacity for interpersonal and social perspective taking and empathy. This is a core typical human faculty. It humanizes individuals and civilizes larger groups to act with themselves and with others in a cooperative and nondestructive manner.
The center of the biomental self is the brain-mind. It functions as the executive problem identifier-solver. In healthy people, emphasis in thinking about problem situations shifts raw guilt and blame scenarios toward more constructive ones that ask: “Why did I act this way and how can I refine my thinking and feeling to perform in more ethically just and beneficent ways in the future?”
A healthy personality tends to be relatively stable. In this sense, it is “reliable.” Reliability here denotes consistency, resilience, dynamic stability, and default homeostasis. Reliability emanates out of a deep sense of trust in the self as being good, worthwhile, and of value. An important pragmatic feature of reliability is the capacity for mood maintenance, especially in the face of ambiguous and stressful events.
Values denote that which one strives to attain since they are perceived to have intrinsic worth and be beneficial in some way. Along the course of personality development, values are recognized, sometimes consciously and sometimes unwittingly. They are then incorporated into the framework of one’s personality and act to structure its form and how it functions. Values act as reference points. Values hold meaning; this ranges from abstract to more concrete with a great deal of overlap. Some basic values include safety, avoiding harm, seeking pleasure while considering consequences, pausing before acting, treating others fairly and justly, nonviolent conflict resolution, attitudes that reflect compassion, mercy, and helping, to name just a few important core values. Biases and prejudices can also be considered to contain values, and their content derives from multiple sources: genetics, upbringing, learning, society, culture, and personal choice. As a greater sense of self-efficacy is experienced, values may become more refined and nuanced commensurate with one's current life situation and needs.
Rooted in early infantile proclivities/temperament, the adult personality has been the subject of scientific investigation for many decades. At this time, the prevailing theory or model is called the “Big Five.” It is a descriptive system composed of five factors or domains, all of which every personality has a share, but only one or two of these factors seem to dominate. Personality refers to the relatively stable pattern of functionally interrelated processes that include cognition, emotion, interpersonal relatedness, behavior, coping, and emotional defenses. Both genders share, at times in different ways, the basic qualities that comprise personality. Personality can change. This means that features or emphases within one's already structured adult personality organization may become highlighted, refined, and more efficient---with sufficient motivation and intentional work on the self.
The Big Five are the following: 1. Openness to New Experiences; 2. Conscientiousness; 3. Extroversion or Positive Emotions; 4. Agreeableness; and 5. Neuroticism or Negative Emotions. In my recent book, Biomental Child Development: Perspectives on Psychology and Parenting (2013), I have discussed and explained both temperament and the Big Five personality domains and their meaning at length. They are traced to their origins in childhood and their effective emergence in adulthood.
Research has consistently shown that agreeableness and conscientiousness are the two outstanding factors associated with mental health and well-being. Agreeableness includes features of personalities that are sympathetic, kind, affectionate, helpful, empathetic, cooperative, able and eager to share, friendly, and compassionate. Envy, jealousy, and negative competitiveness (neuroticism) are recognized, worked through, and diffused. Conscientiousness denotes awareness to details and their follow through. It includes being organized, responsible, reliable, watchful, and efficient. Tendencies to show self-discipline, act dutifully, demonstrate ethical behaviors, aim for achievement, and demonstrate pre-planned behavior without inordinate impulsivity are outstanding. Underlying themes of being self-directed, motivated, and cooperative (successfully engage in teamwork) appear to drive those who are both agreeable and conscientious.
Becoming A High Reliability Personality: Action Plan
An action plan denotes identifying problems, assigning ownership to a problem solver, setting goals, outlining steps toward goal accomplishment, and charting time lines for tracking progress and resolving problems. As mentioned previously, each individual who wishes to change for the better, must at first become his and her own leader, that is, take ownership and accountability for his and her life. Next, self-reflection on one’s core values is essential. Seeing in what ways these either facilitate or hinder one from attaining a higher quality of life for both self and others is an important metric that reflects success or nonprogress. Looking outside the self for guidance, direction, and mentoring from others deemed to have greater expertise is always useful, if not essential to promote further advancement.
In all these endeavors, good to great communication skills are a needed asset. One must pause, think before speaking, speak slowly and meaningfully, pause, listen carefully to the meaning that others are trying to convey, foster informative, cooperative dialogues, ask for clarification when necessary, and give constructive positive feedback. The ratio of positive feedback to negative constructive feedback should be 5:1, and always in a tempered, helpful tone.
Last, it is important to realize that human error in any endeavor is typical. For example, in striving for personal behavior change, realizing that one's values are guidelines, that is, goals to strive toward, but goals frequently strayed from is realistic and sobering. Major tools to safeguard a trajectory toward success are 1. maintaining an ongoing sense of conscientiousness: reasonable self-reflection, self-assessment, and self-realignment toward self improvement; and 2. maintaining an agreeable cooperativeness whose aim is mutual team improvement: an embedded social engagement.
Blue Angels: High Reliability in Action
Perhaps, an outstanding example of the high reliability personality can be found in the Blue Angels. The mission of these United States Navy Flight Demonstration Squadrons is to showcase the pride and professionalism of the United States Navy and Marine Corps by inspiring a culture of excellence and service to country through flight demonstrations and community outreach. It is only through intensive personal work and integrated teamwork that such precision and safety can occur. This model of excellence demonstrates what individuals can accomplish as individuals and as teams, and is inspirational for all to share in and learn from.