Mindfulness, or the ability to exist in the present moment in a non-judgmental and sustained way, has been shown to have many health benefits. Mindful individuals tend to have reduced stress levels, are less emotionally reactive, and have better focus.
But what does it mean to be a mindful individual? A new paper published in the journal Consulting Psychology may have an answer. A team of researchers led by Christopher Altizer of Florida International University used two well-known personality tests—the Hogan Personality Inventory and the Hogan Development Survey—to understand which personality traits might be most closely linked with mindfulness.
They found five traits to be significantly related to mindfulness: cautiousness, adjustment, leisure, excitability, and ambition. These traits, and their associations with mindfulness, are unpacked below.
1. Mindfulness and caution
According to the Hogan Development Survey, cautious personalities tend to be resistant to change and reluctant to take risks. They have a strong fear of failure and they work hard to hide their weaknesses and shortcomings. The researchers found that cautious personalities exhibit lower levels of mindfulness.
Why? They believe it has to do with fear. They write, “Having and holding onto fear may be why higher [cautiousness] is most negatively associated with mindfulness.” Navigating the world with a heightened sense of fear makes it difficult to roll with the punches, adapt one’s mindset, and be psychologically flexible, all of which are hallmarks of highly mindful people.
2. Mindfulness and adjustment
Altizer and his team found consistent evidence that people high in the personality trait of adjustment—that is, being able to “pay attention and remain focused and nonreactive in stressful moments”—tend to be highly mindful individuals. They state, “People with higher adjustment scores appear to be either less affected by or better able to engage stressful perceptions through acting with awareness, suspending emotional judgment internally, and responding with less reactivity externally.”
3. Mindfulness and leisure
Leisurely personalities, as defined by the Hogan Development Survey, describe people who are often indifferent to the wants and needs of others. They create the appearance of being highly independent but, in reality, they can be petty, resentful, and passive-aggressive.
The researchers found leisurely personalities to exhibit lower levels of mindfulness. They write, “Mindfulness focuses on the self and others and reducing the tendencies toward and impact of emotional, negative judgment. This is inconsistent with privately holding and nurturing negative beliefs about others. Put differently, mindfulness is at odds with higher leisurely [personalities] for its tendency to develop and hold negative assumptions about individuals.”
4. Mindfulness and excitability
Excitable personalities tend to be moody, volatile, inconsistent, and emotionally immature. They overreact to trivial events and can be explosive in their behavior. Not surprisingly, excitable types were found to be less mindful than non-excitable types as they lack emotional steadiness and presence of mind.
5. Mindfulness and ambition
Ambitious personalities—that is, people who are socially self-confident, competitive, energetic, and leaderlike—tended to be more mindful. While this may seem counterintuitive, the researchers offer a good reason for it. They suggest that ambitious individuals are skilled at balancing their attention and awareness to achieve their goals. In other words, the mental focus necessary to be an ambitious person translates into many of the same qualities associated with mindfulness.
Moreover, the researchers take a positive view of ambition. They state, “Behaviors relevant to both ambition and mindfulness are often described positively—being “in the zone,” “Zen-like,” and generally being both attentive and aware.” In other words, it is possible to be ambitious and mindful at the same time.
Conclusion: Mindfulness comes more naturally to some than others. People with a combination of ambition, non-reactivity, and quiet fearlessness might be especially well-adapted for mindfulness. But that’s not to say we all can’t become a bit more mindful over time.
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Altizer, C., Ferrell, B. T., & Natale, A. N. (2020). Mindfulness and personality: More natural for some than others and how it matters. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research.