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 DUCKWORTH: “That’s not a vibe.”

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DUCKWORTH: I’m Angela Duckworth.

MAUGHAN: I’m Mike Maughan.

DUCKWORTH + MAUGHAN: And you’re listening to No Stupid Questions.

Today on the show: Is grit just a souped-up version of conscientiousness?

MAUGHAN: Did you make your bed this morning?

DUCKWORTH: I did not make my bed this morning. 

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DUCKWORTH: Mike, today we are in conversation number two on Big Five personality traits. And I know you know the acronym, so I will let you, Mike, say which personality family we are discussing today.

MAUGHAN: The acronym is OCEAN, of course. And today we are discussing conscientiousness.

DUCKWORTH: Full credit, excellent. We have this question from a listener named Kylie, who says in her email that she and I are “soul sisters.” That is not the only reason I chose this question. But it asks: “Is grit just a pseudonym for conscientiousness?” And Mike, as you know, I wrote a book on grit. I study grit. I have been thinking about this very question for maybe 20 years, depending on how you count. I think the answer in one syllable is: “No.”

MAUGHAN: Well, Angela, that was a great conversation. It was very short, very efficient — just like the question.

DUCKWORTH: You’re like, “Good.” Yeah, I do have more to say. Do you want to hear more?

MAUGHAN: We can do more.

DUCKWORTH: Well, first of all, we both took the Big Five personality inventory that was on — and that still is on — the No Stupid Questions website, yes? 

MAUGHAN: Yes, absolutely.

DUCKWORTH: There were six questions about conscientiousness. So, first I’m going to read you three that are what are called “positively scored.” So, the more you say, “Yeah, totally like me,” the higher your conscientiousness score. So, first: “I am someone who is reliable, can always be counted on; I am someone who keeps things neat and tidy.” And: “I am someone who is persistent, works until the task is finished” — which, Kylie would remind me, sounds a lot like grit. There are also three reverse-scored items, and they are: “I am someone who tends to be disorganized; I am someone who has difficulty getting started on tasks.” And finally: “I am someone who can be somewhat careless.” So first, I should just ask, how’d you do? I got a 4.83 out of 5.

MAUGHAN: Wow, I got a 4.67.

DUCKWORTH: Still pretty high.

MAUGHAN: Yeah, not a 4.8.

DUCKWORTH: Well, the mean score for our No Stupid Questions listeners was, drumroll, a little lower than ours: 3.63, and that’s a little lower than the national average, which is 3.81.

MAUGHAN: This is so fascinating that our listeners have an, on average, lower conscientiousness score than the national average.

DUCKWORTH: It makes us sound like a community of slovenly slackers. Like, wait what’s up? So, remember when we were talking about openness and I gave myself scores that were below the No Stupid Questions listener average, and also below the national average? When I told Jason, he was like, “That’s because you primarily hang out with people who have won the Nobel Prize,” and he wasn’t kidding. He was like, “I think your idea of what it means to be an intellectual is warped.” In fact, there’s a technical term for this and I’ve studied this extensively. It’s called reference bias. So look, I believe in taking personality questionnaires as kind of psychological selfies. I think it’s very interesting to compare scores and to think about the items, but I also think that whenever you answer questions, you’re always comparing yourself to a standard. So, I’m not excusing wholesale, like, anybody who has a low score and saying like, “Oh, you must just have high standards.” But, the fact is we don’t all have the same standards. So, are we a bunch of slovenly slackers? Maybe, but maybe No Stupid Questioners —.

MAUGHAN: Maybe they just have really impressive friends.

DUCKWORTH: Maybe NSQ listeners have the highest standards of all. So, Big Five conscientiousness is a family of traits that includes grit, and also impulse control, and also reliability, and also orderliness, and responsibility, and the list could go on. They’re siblings, right? Reliability is the cousin of orderliness. That’s probably Jason’s favorite. He was a very orderly little boy, apparently. Were you an orderly little boy? Jason was the kindergartner who was putting all the Legos in bins by color and size.

MAUGHAN: No, that was not me at all. Here, here’s —.

DUCKWORTH: It was not an endearing trait to other children, apparently.

MAUGHAN: Yeah, I was going to say that wouldn’t make for an easy childhood maybe in some ways.

DUCKWORTH No. So, how gritty are you?

MAUGHAN: Well, I think I’m very gritty at things that I have, you know, passion for.

DUCKWORTH: And I would say — and who am I to say? But actually, maybe I am the person to say. I was like, wait a second! I say that grit is passion and perseverance for long-term goals. But I do not think that grit is passion and perseverance for all long-term goals. On the contrary, really gritty people are single-minded. They let all kinds of things go by the wayside while they are pursuing this obsession that they have. I mean, in the extreme, it is usually one goal for your life. So, when you say, “Well, I’m gritty about the things I care about,” to me, that is what grit is, is having this laser-like focus. Like, for me, I let a lot of things go by the wayside too, but psychology and my work, super focused on that. And that’s different from just being like, oh, in general, somebody who’s good at, um, eating healthy, and flossing, and doing their taxes. And that’s different from, like, wanting to color code all the Legos. So, I think grit is a proud member of the conscientiousness family. But I think that family has many family members, all of whom you could say have the last name “conscientiousness.”

MAUGHAN: Yeah. Let me ask you a question. Did you make your bed this morning?

DUCKWORTH: I did not make my bed this morning. Oh, I feel like this is a trick question. And, furthermore, I usually do not make my bed.

MAUGHAN: Okay, so, I did not make my bed this morning either. But here’s what I thought was interesting, as I was thinking about this and the idea of orderliness — there was an article in CNBC by a reporter named Kathleen Elkins called “7 Rich Habits of Highly Successful People from a Man Who Studied Them for 25 Years.” And she references this socio-economist, Randall Bell, and he talks about the fact that people who make their bed in the morning, in his studies, are 206.8 percent more likely to be millionaires than people who don’t.

DUCKWORTH: What? I don’t know if I believe this study but keep going.

MAUGHAN: That is totally fair. He surveyed 5,000 people across the world, “including professional students, retirees, the unemployed, and multi-millionaires.” And so, they looked at dozens of rituals, from writing thank-you notes, to eating together, you know, as a family, and statistically correlated them. And the correlation with making your bed was huge. Charles Duhigg, you know, wrote about this as a keystone habit. He said making your bed every morning is correlated with better productivity, a greater sense of wellbeing, and stronger skills at sticking with a budget. That was in his book, The Power of Habit.

DUCKWORTH: I think Charles Duhigg was just a guest on our sibling show, People I (Mostly) Admire, yes?

MAUGHAN: Yes, absolutely, and he was amazing on it. But I think the most version came from Admiral William McRaven. 

DUCKWORTH: Bill McRaven. 

MAUGHAN: He went viral, you’ll remember, for a speech —,

DUCKWORTH: I know. I read it. I listened to it.

MAUGHAN: Yeah, it has 19 million views on YouTube.

DUCKWORTH: I think when he spoke about learning how to make his bed as — um, what do you call it when you just start in the Navy? Are you an “ensign”?

MAUGHAN: I don’t know. It was during Navy SEAL training, was what he talked about in his speech, at least. A “plebe” maybe?

DUCKWORTH: Maybe Bill McRaven will let us know. So, Bill McRaven spoke eloquently about how when you make your bed, you’ve done one good thing for the day. You’ve already developed some momentum. But here’s the thing about personality. It’s not only that Big Five conscientiousness is more than one thing. It’s not only that. Let’s take orderliness. Like, Jason Duckworth color-coding the Legos. It’s not that he makes his side of the bed, which he doesn’t. So even when you think about a facet — that’s what they’re called, the “facets “of personality families, it’s not only that, but even within a facet, it’s not always that people who are orderly are orderly about everything. It’s that there is a “vibe.” You know, there is a kind of tendency. So, that’s the complicated thing. Like, even if somebody’s like, “Oh, I’m five out of five on orderliness,” it doesn’t mean you can predict with 100 percent accuracy what they’re going to be orderly about. I don’t know if that would fly with Admiral McRaven. Like, I’m very orderly about other things. But I don’t make my bed.

MAUGHAN: I do really appreciate that you said it’s a “vibe.” That’s very Gen Z of you.

DUCKWORTH: I know, I probably misused the word “vibe.” I think my daughter is going to be like, “That’s not a vibe,” and I’ll be like, “Hashtag vibe.”

MAUGHAN: And then they’ll throw up.

DUCKWORTH: Yes, exactly.

MAUGHAN: I do love McRaven’s concept that it’s — then you did one thing for the day, no matter what else goes wrong. I’m very organized in most ways, but sometimes because I’m so task-oriented, I forget to be conscientious on things that maybe matter more long term, but with a less immediate outcome, like health. I’ve talked on here before about my nutritionist Megan Lyons and what we’ve agreed for my life and my lifestyle that what we’re going to do every morning is drink a green smoothie. It’s 10 cups of spinach, half a banana, half a cup of fruit, protein powder, whatever. Because then whatever else happens in the rest of the day — if I’m entertaining people at a sports game at night, if I’m in all these meetings, at least I got five servings of vegetables, two servings of fruit, and protein.

DUCKWORTH: By the way, that sounds enormous. Are you drinking this out of a toilet bowl?

MAUGHAN: It’s just a red Solo cup.

DUCKWORTH: One red Solo cup can contain ten cups of spi —.

MAUGHAN: I mean you blend it.

DUCKWORTH: Yeah. Wow. That is fascinating. Okay. Right. But that is your bed. 

MAUGHAN: And again, I can’t say I’m perfect at it, but most days, I start the day with that green smoothie, because then it’s the idea — and I think this is sort of where McRaven was going — whatever else happens in the rest your day, at least you made your bed. And maybe that’s where Duhigg has these keystone habits that he’s talking about. If you at least get the keystone right, then you’re maybe more likely to make better decisions throughout the day.

DUCKWORTH: I think the idea that you would build your life around certain keystone habits is very good advice, but I think what those habits are is where you have to say, “Which one for me?” Because to me, I don’t think, like, making my bed in the morning would have quite the same effect as it did for Admiral Bill McRaven, for whom that also is connected to his time as a Navy SEAL and all of those experiences. And I don’t want to drink that smoothie that you drink.

MAUGHAN: No, I don’t either.

DUCKWORTH: In the morning? I’m like, oh my God. I mean, for me, my most recent Big Five conscientiousness hack — and I would say this is becoming a keystone habit — is morning pages.

MAUGHAN: I don’t know what that is.

DUCKWORTH: So, I was on Guy Kawasaki’s podcast, and you probably know Guy Kawasaki, right?

MAUGHAN: Yeah, I don’t know him. I know of him. I’ve read his, his material. 

DUCKWORTH: So, he was the chief, uh, evangelist for Apple under Steve Jobs. I think it was a title that they made up.

MAUGHAN: Welcome to tech.

DUCKWORTH: I know, right? I guess you just make things up. They’re all a little sensational. So, he has this podcast. And he was telling me about this famous self-help book called The Artist’s Way. I, of course, had never heard of it, and he said, “Wait, what?” And the advice that he was passing along to me from the author of this apparently extremely famous self-help book, which was written by and for artists, so it was sort of like a creative way to approach your life, was that you wake up in the morning, and if you’re Bill McRaven, maybe you make your bed. But if you’re an artist, what you do is you grab a hard-copy journal, and you write — I think it’s four pages. And that’s the rule. It’s not about time. It’s not about what you write about, but it’s just that you write four pages in the morning. And I was initially kind of skeptical, but I was like, “I don’t know. I’m having difficulty writing this book. Let me try getting up in the morning and instead of checking my phone, and instead of opening my laptop and answering email. And even before I make a spinach and cheese omelet, which I would vastly prefer to a spinach smoothie, I don’t know, I’ll try this.” So, I started doing it and I told Jason, my husband, and I got skepticism. He’s like, “Yeah, you’re going to be doing that for, like, two days and then you’re going to miss a day and then you’re not going to do it again.” And I was like, “I don’t know, it seemed to be really useful to me today.” And I’m guessing, but I think I’ve been doing morning pages every day for I think over a month, maybe two. And it’s awesome. It’s not your keystone habit, apparently. It’s not Admiral McRaven’s keystone habit. But I think this is a keystone habit I could build my life around. And actually, I think it will enable me to do the things that I have passion and perseverance for.

MAUGHAN: As you’re telling this, the line I keep thinking of comes from Hamlet, and you’ll know it. It’s very famous. Polonius to his son Laertes, “This above all: to thine own self be true.” And I think when it comes to personality, or conscientiousness, or any of these things, one of the biggest things is we have to just figure out ourselves. Some people are the most creative or productive late at night. Others are the most creative, productive first thing in the morning. If everyone’s like, “Oh, you have to wake up at 5 a.m. and exercise first and do that,” it’s — I think we spend too much time trying to figure out what everyone else’s hacks are and maybe not enough time saying, “How do I work? How am I going to be able to maximize who I am, my personality, and my approach to conscientiousness?” That’s why I love this idea you’re talking about. You find out what works for you.

DUCKWORTH: Exactly. So, Mike, I think you and I would love to hear the thoughts of our listeners on this topic of conscientiousness. What aspects of conscientiousness come easily to you and which parts do you struggle with? Record a voice memo in a quiet place with your mouth close to the phone and email us at Maybe we’ll play it on a future episode of the show. Also, if you want to learn more about your own personality, head to Join the thousands of listeners who have already taken the Big Five inventory and you’ll get an immediate personality profile. Your results will remain completely anonymous. And if you like this show and want to support us, the best thing you can do is to tell a friend. You can also spread the word on social media or leave a review in your favorite podcast app.

Still to come on No Stupid Questions: is it possible to be too conscientious?

DUCKWORTH: “If you want something done, give it to a lazy person.”

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Now, back to Mike and Angela’s conversation about Big Five conscientiousness.

MAUGHAN: So Angela Duckworth, there are negative sides to being really, really high on some of these scales as well. And I’d love your take on this: I think that conscientiousness, maybe taken too far, lacks some level of spontaneity?

DUCKWORTH: I mean, this question of whether you can be too conscientious is so interesting. It’s like this assumption that people who are, like, really orderly and really industrious and maybe even really gritty and responsible, that they’re no fun. But I did do this study once called, like, “Too Much Self-Control?” And we took a bunch of datasets. When we looked at all kinds of outcomes, we did not find that there was such a thing as too much self-control, and in particular, we were really focused on happiness. We were wondering whether, like, people who are at the top, top, top of the scale on self-control, whether they were living lives that were a little less happy, but we did not find that. But also, I did this study called, “Who Does Well in Life?” And the next part of the title gives it away. “Conscientious Adults Excel in Both Objective and Subjective Success.” And that was a national sample of nearly 10,000 American adults. They had taken a Big Five inventory, and we had their income, and we had their wealth. And we had how much positive emotion they reported having, their measures of self-reported life satisfaction. And we found that conscientiousness went hand in hand with all of the positive outcomes that we studied. So, I guess you could imagine a person who is too conscientious, but I think mostly more is more.

MAUGHAN: I guess where my mind went — I went back to, to Jason organizing the Legos by color and maybe shape, or size, whatever, right?

DUCKWORTH: He may kill me for telling you that, but I think, according to my mother-in-law, that is a completely true account.

MAUGHAN: And I’m not picking on little Jason Duckworth, but if you’re so married to that, then at some point maybe the orderliness —.

DUCKWORTH: Which I am married to him.

MAUGHAN: Okay. If you’re literally married to that — no, but if you’re so intent on all the blues, and the reds, and the yellows, and the greens have to be together, and then it gets messed up, and then it ruins your whole day. Obviously, I’m taking it to the extreme of, of where that could go to obsessive-compulsive disorder or things like that, but I just think that it’s important to recognize that while conscientiousness — and I believe everything you said, that’s who has a good life, that’s who is the happiest and all those things — anything taken to excess is too much.

DUCKWORTH: I want to say that the extreme of conscientiousness is not obsessive-compulsive disorder. Like, I know people are like, “I’m so O.C.D.” And oftentimes when people say that, they don’t really know that what O.C.D. is, is actually an impulse control disorder.

MAUGHAN: And I want to be clear, I obviously don’t know.

DUCKWORTH: Well, okay, so just mini sermon on O.C.D. It has these two parts. So, obsessions are these intrusive thoughts that you don’t want to have, but you do. You know, “If I don’t check the stove, then the house is going to burn down and everybody in it.” And by the way, with these intrusive thoughts, you know at some level that that’s irrational, but you’re having these thoughts anyway. And then, the compulsions are behaviors like: check the stove and make sure it’s off or, like, make this square with my finger 64 times. And oh, if I go over one, then I have to do 128 times. I mean, the consensus on O.C.D. is that it’s an impulse disorder. So, the thing about conscientiousness, because if you ask the question, like, why are these personality traits, you know, grit, orderliness, it’s like, what, why are they in the same family? What is it about the last name “conscientiousness” that holds everything together? And here, I will say, scientists don’t agree, but it seems that these are all about: “I am trying to achieve a goal.” These are all goal-directed personality traits. Now grit is about very long-term goals. Self-control is about goals where there’s, like, a real tradeoff between something that feels good now versus feels good even, like, five minutes from now. Orderliness is furthering goals through order, and through organization, and so forth. But the thing about O.C.D. is you are not in control of those thoughts and not in control of those behaviors. So, I know we kid around like, somebody’s, like, alphabetizing their spice cabinet and you’re like, “Oh, sorry, I’m so O.C.D.” But that’s not O.C.D. So, I’m not saying you’re not making a really good point that maybe you can have too much conscientiousness or anything else. But it’s not O.C.D. And it’s not anorexia. People are like, “Oh, you know, if you’re, like, really self-controlled, then you have anorexia.” And I’m like, “No.”

MAUGHAN: I guess to go back though to your question, it’s this idea of: if you’re, at some point, and I know I’m picking on the orderliness piece of the family, if you’re so, uh, you know, have to have your spice cabinet alphabetized and someone messes that up and it throws you off, to me, that’s an extreme of maybe one aspect of conscientiousness that is not helpful. And, at that point, it’s ruined kind of any value that it could have on, on the other side. I also think about the idea of conscientiousness, not surprisingly, in terms of work and, and companies.

DUCKWORTH: Yeah, what are your thoughts as somebody who actually runs a business — instead of studying one?

Maughan: So, reliability, to me, is one of the most absolutely essential things in anyone that you work with. I value reliability more than almost anything because it says if I hand you a task, then I don’t ever have to think about it again. So, I think that that is incredibly important and also somewhat rare. And I think that there is something about the idea of conscientiousness as well, that you handle hard tasks and you just dive in.

DUCKWORTH: So, you will not be surprised, I think, Mike, that of all the Big Five — openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism — the one family that is most correlated with job performance is conscientiousness. Employers are, like, not looking for unreliable people, nor are they looking for slovenly, disorganized people, lazy people, you know, people who want to break rules or have real problems with impulse control. So, conscientiousness, for all the reasons that you mentioned, I mean, maybe reliableness in particular, but just in general, this whole family, it is the single most predictive factor of how you’re going to do in any job of the Big Five. And then, you could make arguments about other things that are not personality. But, I think then it even raises the question: why are some people not high in this very adaptive family of traits? Like, where does laziness, messiness, impulsivity, taking the easy way out — like, where does that come from? Didn’t Darwinian forces of natural selection cull all of the low-conscientiousness people? I don’t think anybody, including evolutionary psychologists, have a complete answer to why there are individual differences in this extremely adaptive family of traits.

MAUGHAN: Well, that’s depressing that we don’t have any answers.

DUCKWORTH: We have speculation. What do you think?

MAUGHAN: Well, look, there are all the kind of false anecdotes about if you want something done, give it to a lazy person. But they say —.

DUCKWORTH: Wait, I’ve never heard that. Does anyone say that? “If you want something done, give it to a lazy person.”

MAUGHAN: The joke or idea behind it is that the lazy person will figure out the easiest, most efficient way to get it done, whereas other people might overcomplicate, because they want to minimize the amount of work that overall it would take, and so —.

DUCKWORTH: Okay. I think you’re onto something. I’ve hired some extraordinarily conscientious young people in my time that were, in a way, too conscientious in the following very specific sense. They were so willing to work hard. I had this one young person, her job was to, like, file my expenses which meant, like, you have to use this computer system, take a photocopy of the receipts, and upload them. And she was so conscientious, that unbeknownst to me until later, I think she had, like, a triplicate extra system. So, she made a binder of all the original receipts that she, like, you know, kept in time, date order. But then also made a photocopy of that binder, just in case. And then, also had on the computer an Excel spreadsheet where she also — and I was like, what are you doing? I was like, “Why?” “Well, just in case.” I’m like, “Why? Because there, there are going to be three fires and a server crash?”

MAUGHAN: Also, it’s okay. This is not life and death if we lose my expenses.

DUCKWORTH: It’s okay if I don’t get reimbursed for the —. 

MAUGHAN: These are not nuclear codes.

DUCKWORTH: Yeah, exactly, for the lab meeting that we had and the pizza I bought. Look, I don’t have the answer, but I do think there is on one hand, all this data that says, like, conscientiousness is good. But at the same time, I do think there is maybe a cost, if you will — and maybe it’s not obvious what that cost is, but maybe for any virtue, right, this is Aristotle, it can be detrimental or not a virtue anymore when it’s at the extreme. So, I don’t know, but I think your intuitions — I think they’re onto something. 

MAUGHAN: I think there are obviously a, a subset of people who maybe are overly conscientious. To the point you made earlier, that’s probably not most people. Most people are saying, how can I become more conscientious, especially given how it impacts the rest of life. And so, maybe that’s the question. What are ways that one can work on their personality to maximize the benefit of conscientiousness?

DUCKWORTH: So, what would you do differently if you could, you know, wave a little conscientiousness magic wand in the life of Mike Maughan? And then, I will give you free professional advice. 

MAUGHAN: Okay. I’ll just give you one example. Sometimes there are a few emails that will sit in my inbox because I know they’re going to take time and be an unpleasant task. And so, a truly conscientious person would, I think, recognize that I am a really important aspect of the work of many other people, but I know it’s just, like, not that pleasant of a task. So personally, I don’t really want to do it, but if I’m more conscientious of its impact on everybody else, then I would be much more likely to dive into the more difficult, if unpleasant, tasks that I sometimes leave unfinished for way too long.

DUCKWORTH: So, would the right descriptor of this be “procrastination”?

MAUGHAN: Probably, I guess, yeah. Out of sheer unpleasantness. That’s why I’m a 4.67, not a 4.8, whatever you were.

DUCKWORTH: Well, I wasn’t perfect either, and I don’t remember exactly how I answered these questions, but I know I’m not a five. So, procrastination is actually a anti-member of the conscientious — you know, people who are high in conscientiousness in general procrastinate less. And by the way, I have studied teenagers for a long time, and I have not yet met the teenager — or frankly the adult — who does not procrastinate about something. And so, you seem to think that the reason why you procrastinate on these emails — as opposed to most things where you don’t procrastinate — is that there’s some unpleasantness, either emotionally or it’s just a lot of work, I guess? Like, can you tell me more about what you’re avoiding?

MAUGHAN: Yeah, I mean, the other day I had to read a very long legal document and provide a ton of comments. I have never woken up my life saying I want to read a really long legal document.

DUCKWORTH: So that one wasn’t emotional, right? It was just, like, tedious.

MAUGHAN: Correct, just tedious.

DUCKWORTH: I mean, boredom is also an emotion, but I think you recognize that, well, if you’re going to eventually get to it, you may as well get to it sooner because that’s just so much more efficient for everyone concerned. Is that right?

MAUGHAN: Right, and there were literally dozens of people waiting on the review of this one thing. So, I probably should have been more conscientious of them.

DUCKWORTH: Okay, so Mike, I’m going to ask you, if you had to give yourself advice, what would your advice be about how to reduce, if not eliminate, the procrastination problem with emails?

MAUGHAN: I know that powering through this one unpleasant task will actually make my life way better. Because one, I won’t have the anxiety of it hanging over my head because I haven’t done it. And all these people waiting on my review are also working on something that I need done. So, it’s helpful to me in all of these ways.

DUCKWORTH: So, you can try that and you might have success in framing them differently and reminding yourself of how many other people depend on you. But I’ll give you another tip from the land of conscientiousness research, which is that you might want to draw your attention to any part of the task or aspect of the task that doesn’t fill you with dread. So, for example, writing the book that I’m writing is so hard that I don’t think I’m going to live as long as I otherwise would — I think it’s shaving years off my life. And there are many times where I bring to mind, like, “Oh, I have to write chapter eight” that I’m just like, “Ugh.” It’s like, you know, putting a 40-pound weight on my shoulders. But I could draw my attention to something on the task list that is either fun, or easy, or otherwise appealing. It’s like a trick. Or I could do what some of my friends do, which is they don’t focus on the task. They focus on the time. They’ll be like, “I’m going to spend an hour doing emails.” Not like, “Oh, I have to go through that legal email that is going to require 150 lines of my replies.” Or you could try morning pages. That isn’t exactly an antidote to the email problem, but for me, it is a kind of easy and fun thing to do that’s like an on-ramp to my book. It’s kind of like what you were saying about the keystone habits.

MAUGHAN: The phrase I love that you just said the most, and that I think is what I’ll take away, is: find the “on-ramp.” We all have to do these tasks that may be unpleasant, but they have to be done, so find the on-ramp. Whatever your on-ramp is.

DUCKWORTH: Well, Mike, this is the way I would like to end this conversation. I want to say to Kylie, my soul sister, that I think maybe one of the most important things to know about grit and all of its siblings and cousins in the conscientiousness family is that you can change them if you want to. But I think the idea that you can become more conscientious, which research suggests you can, like, there are people, like, trying random-assignment trials and, you know, helping people break big tasks into small ones, helping people reframe things, you know, making plans. I don’t know. You might try any of the things that I just suggested. And if you see that that particular way of being conscientious might work for you, then maybe that’s your on-ramp.

MAUGHAN: And maybe, Angela, you and I could start by making our beds.

And now, here’s a fact-check of today’s conversation:

In the first half of the show, Mike and Angela struggle to recall the name of the lowest-enlisted rank in the United States Navy. The correct answer is “seaman recruit,” formerly known as “seaman third class.” An “ensign” is the lowest-ranking commissioned officer; this is the rank that Admiral William McRaven held at the beginning of Navy SEAL training when he was first learning how to make his bed to perfection. A “plebe” is a new student at the United States Naval Academy.

Later, Angela talks about her positive experience with “morning pages” — a stream of consciousness exercise from author, poet, songwriter, filmmaker, and playwright Julia Cameron’s 1992 self-help book The Artist’s Way. Angela says that activity involves writing four pages of anything each morning — but Cameron actually suggests writing just three. Also, Angela misremembers the title of a 2018 paper that she co-authored in the Journal of Personality, which concluded there is no apparent downside to “too much self-control.” She says that it was titled “Too Much Self-Control?” but it was actually called “Too much of a good thing? Exploring the inverted-U relationship between self-control and happiness.”

Finally, Mike and Angela wonder why some people have low levels of conscientiousness. We should note that many people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (or ADHD) struggle with executive functioning skills and often have difficulty planning, organizing, scheduling, and completing tasks — all activities related to Big Five conscientiousness. Interestingly, new research by University of Pennsylvania philosopher and neuroscientist David Barack and colleagues suggests that traits associated with ADHD, like distractibility and impulsivity, may have been an evolutionary advantage for early humans when it came to forging for food. So, to our listeners who scored low in conscientiousness — you may have difficulty getting your work done today, but you wouldn’t have starved if you lived 12,000 years ago.

That’s it for the fact check.

Before we wrap today’s show, let’s hear some thoughts about last week’s episode on openness to experience and stepping outside of your comfort zone.

Allison ZELKOWITZ:  Hi, Angela and Mike. My name is Allison, and I’m an international aid worker and behavioral scientist. Back in 2011, I was living and working in Pakistan, and some friends of mine asked me if I wanted to go on a holiday with them to Spain and we would rent motorcycles and take a skydiving course. And I already knew how to ride a motorcycle and enjoyed that, and so I said yes, and I actually didn’t think that much about the skydiving course until we ended up in Empuriabrava, Spain and we had finished our one day of ground school, and I was in the plane more terrified than I’d ever felt in my entire life. And I don’t remember that first jump. I just remember sitting on the ground afterwards and feeling so much adrenaline and feeling so much terror. And I couldn’t believe that my friends and I had already bought a package of 18 jumps and I needed to skydive again 17 more times. I ended up falling in love with skydiving. I now am kind of a lower intermediate skydiver with about 220 jumps, and it brings me so much joy. And it’s also kind of a spiritual experience where I feel awe. So, I’m so grateful I stepped outside of my comfort zone and outside of that airplane door the first time. 

Colin ALSBRO:  Hi, Mike and Angela. I’ve never considered myself afraid to step out of my comfort zone. However, for many years, there was no one challenging me to do so. And all that changed when I met Francine. I was in Minneapolis working as a teacher. I was struggling with where I wanted to go in life, but I saw myself living there indefinitely. Then one day, Francine, a volunteer at my school, came into my classroom, sensing my doubt, and she started to ask me questions like goals I hadn’t accomplished, experiences I hadn’t lived, and privileges I’ve never been challenged to work through. She asked me if I’d ever been in a room where no one else looked like me, or if I’d ever been to a doctor, or gotten a taxi and not been able to communicate with the person. And upon answering no, she said to me, “That’s privilege!” That night I went home, thinking about everything she said and had what you could consider a quarter-life crisis. I immediately signed up for an international teaching fair, and two weeks later, I left the fair with a signed contract to move to and work in Taiwan. The three years I had in Taiwan were incredible. Truly life-changing. And in the spirit of trying new things, I moved to Germany around two years ago, where I currently live. I haven’t spoken with Francine since. However, if I were to see her again, I’d say thank you to her, and I’d tell her that my eternal thought process for experiencing life since that day that we met has been: “W.W.F.S. What would Francine say?”

Blake SCHMIDT:  Hey NSQ, I’m Blake. I actually wanted to offer another avenue to increasing our openness that comes from astronauts on the International Space Station, where apparently inhabitants become increasingly open to using hot sauce. Lots and lots of hot sauce. Kim Binstead at the University of Hawaii is sorting it out with some amazing experiments, and it appears that one really important driver of this increased openness is boredom. So, if you’re trying to increase your openness, give boredom a go and hopefully you’ll score that five next time.

That was, respectively, Allison Zelkowitz, Colin Alsbro, and Blake Schmidt. Thanks to them and to everyone who shared their stories with us. And remember, we’d love to hear your thoughts on conscientiousness. Send a voice memo to, and you might hear your voice on the show!

Coming up next week on No Stupid Questions: Why does society prefer extraverts — and do we need introverts?

MAUGHAN: My back was just about broken from the weight of carrying that conversation.

That’s next week on No Stupid Questions.

*      *      *

No Stupid Questions is part of the Freakonomics Radio Network, which also includes Freakonomics Radio, People I (Mostly) Admire, and The Economics of Everyday Things. All our shows are produced by Stitcher and Renbud Radio. The senior producer of the show is me, Rebecca Lee Douglas, and Lyric Bowditch is our production associate. This episode was mixed by Greg Rippin. We had research assistance from Daniel Mortiz-Rabson. Our theme song was composed by Luis Guerra. You can follow us on Twitter @NSQ_Show and on Facebook @NSQShow. If you have a question for a future episode, please email it to To learn more, or to read episode transcripts, visit Thanks for listening!

MAUGHAN: Should we speak in accents for a bit?

DUCKWORTH: Shall we?

MAUGHAN: That’d be delightful. 

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  • David Barack, philosopher and neuroscientist at the University of Pennsylvania.
  • Randall Bell, socio-economist and C.E.O. of Landmark Research Group.
  • Julia Cameron, author, poet, songwriter, filmmaker, and playwright.
  • Charles Duhigg, journalist and author.
  • Guy Kawasaki, author and Silicon Valley venture capitalist.
  • William McRaven, professor of national security at the University of Texas at Austin and retired Admiral in the United States Navy.



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