Your personality is defined by what you do, not by what you say. Highly effective people have certain personality traits that make them the way they are.
Sometimes we look at a great person and think, “I can never be like that!” False. While we all have personality traits that seem to be part of our DNA, my experience is that your personality can be shaped more than you think. I’ve adopted personality traits that were contrary to my nature and culture.
I grew up in The Netherlands. My experience is that people here are generally unnecessarily contrarian and pessimistic. That’s why less than 3% of my audience is Dutch. They don’t like personal growth. I was like that too.
But when I started traveling a lot after I graduated, I changed my views. I was exposed to personal growth and adopted many traits of highly effective people—people that I met through work and life. But I also learned from reading about inspiring people.
What follows is a list of 12 positive personality traits. I learned about these traits by studying effective people from all walks of life. By adopting these traits for ourselves, and acting accordingly, we can purposefully form our own unique personality.
- Capable—There’s no exception to this trait. I’ve never met an effective, happy, or successful person who wasn’t capable. They take their life and work seriously. They do things with a purpose. And most importantly, they know what they are talking about.
- Curious—Effective people avoid assumptions. This used to be my biggest pitfall. I made assumptions about everything. One of my co-workers once told it to me straight: Stop making so many assumptions! That’s what I did. I decided to become curious instead. Effective people ask a lot of questions. That’s how you avoid assumptions.
- Assertive—People think you have to be nice. That’s wrong. It’s good to be polite, but you don’t have to go out of your way to be nice all the time. Effective people think about themselves. But they don’t sacrifice others. That’s what assertiveness is about.
- Forgiving—Holding grudges is the least effective thing you can do. So many people have destroyed relationships and group dynamics because of grudges. “How could that person do this to me!” Well, maybe that other person doesn’t even know why! People do stupid things. Move on.
- Independent—Effective people are not easily influenced by others. They listen to others. But they are independent thinkers. They are not easily swayed by outside events.
- Respectful—You know how insecure people make subtle digs at you or other people? “You look so tired. What’s going on?” That’s one of those dirty remarks that’s meant to make you feel bad. There are a lot of people who want to put you down, which automatically makes them feel better than you. Respectful people never do that. You can also disagree with people and still be respectful. Basically, effective people are the opposite of internet trolls.
- Truthful—When you regularly tell lies (no matter how small they are), you will eventually get caught by your own web. Call me superstitious (or a little-stitious, as Michael Scott once said), but I think lies will eventually catch up with you. That’s why it’s better to tell the truth. It’s not always pretty, but at least it’s not a lie.
- Precise—It’s hard to explain things in a few words. It requires thought and effort to be precise. That’s why you see a lot of people talk endlessly. They don’t know what to say, so they use a shotgun approach. They spray words and hope a few will hit the mark. To be precise, you want to be like a marksman. Every sentence and action serves a purpose.
- Fair—People who say that fairness is an impossible concept are usually not fair people. There are universal principles of fairness. In summary, be straight with people and don’t play favorites. Be consistent in the way you treat people. That’s the fairest thing we can do. And yes, that seems impossible in practice because it goes against our nature sometimes. But effective people do a lot of things that go against nature. They do things that others don’t do.
- Flexible—Life is complex and full of change. To survive and thrive, one must adapt all the time. That’s why effective people are highly flexible and fluid. If you give them a new idea that works better than their old one, they go with the new one. They don’t care about their ego or looking smart. They care about what works.
- Self-aware—Knowing what you can and can’t, will make your life a lot easier. Too often, we’re not aware of who we are. But to be effective, you must know who you are and what you’re made of. And if you have weaknesses or make mistakes, self-awareness will help you to be honest about it. There’s nothing wrong with imperfection. In fact, if you’re not imperfect, you’re probably a robot.
- Optimistic—Give effective people a challenge, and they’ll think about a solution. Give them a bleak outlook, and they’ll find things to be grateful for. In contrast, being pessimistic is the easiest thing in the world. Everyone can complain and say “we can’t do that.” But it takes strength to say “let’s figure out a way to make it happen.”
Your personality is not set in stone. You might have certain natural tendencies. But with the right mindset, you can adopt any one of the above personality traits. Which one(s) you want to adopt depends on your nature. But you can’t go wrong with the positive traits.
Remember that it’s a choice to become a certain person. It’s only a matter of time to change yourself. Because once you set your personality and act accordingly, you’re no longer becoming a certain way; you simply are that way.
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