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3 Steps for “Neuroticism”: How Personality Trait Affects Success
Madelaine Claire Weiss, LICSW, MBA, BCC -- MIndOverMatters Madelaine Claire Weiss, LICSW, MBA, BCC -- MIndOverMatters
For Immediate Release:
Dateline: Washington, DC
Monday, January 24, 2022


Table of Contents

What is Neuroticism?

Proud to report that I first began to study personality with my honors thesis advisor, Paul T. Costa, Ph.D, one of the researchers who provided us with the “Big Five” model of personality so widely used today.

The 5 Traits are: extraversion (also often spelled extroversion), agreeableness, openness, conscientiousness, and neuroticism. To define, neuroticism, our focus for this post:

…a negative personality trait involving maladjustment and negative emotions, poor self-regulation or the ability to manage urges, trouble dealing with stress, strong reaction to perceived threat, and the tendency to complain….we all exist on a spectrum from one end to the other when it comes to being neurotic in our behavior.

That last part is really important, i.e., that we all exist on a continuum of this thing we don’t want to think we are.

Evolutionary psychiatry and psychology prefer to think of personality traits, not so much as positive or negative—but more as adaptive strategies. The idea is that we humans have capacities built into the human psyche precisely because they have helped us to survive and to thrive as a species for so long.

By nature and by nurture—that is, by some sort of magic that happens in the interplay our genetics and the environments in which we work, play, love, and live—we each have our own mix of default settings for one trait or another.

And, research indicates that our setting for neuroticism is connected with our success! Yes, we can change that setting and we’ll get to that. And, we’ll define what they mean by success too.

Neuroticism and Success

To begin, if we have learned anything through the pandemic it is that science evolves. We used to think the world was flat, then we thought it was round, now we know it is elliptical.

With this is mind, here is what a set of researchers reported in 2021 about how neuroticism and success interact.

It’s true, I love this Warren Beatty quote: “You’ve achieved success in your field when you don’t know whether what you’re doing is work or play.” But that’s not exactly what we are talking about here.

Here we are talking about what researchers Hirschi et al. reported in the Journal of Vocational Behavior on Neuroticism and Success, with success measured by income and prestige:

…neuroticism forms a barrier that handicaps the attainment of career success…. Moreover, attaining and maintaining objective career success can be expected to pose a series of demands, such as high workload, time pressure, and emotional demands at work, that call for lower levels of neuroticism to achieve a fit with these demands. Empirical studies have confirmed such mutual relations between success and neuroticism across two time points (Le et al., 2014Roberts et al., 2003Sutin et al., 2009).

My own take is that higher levels of things like strong reaction to perceived threat and tendency to complain may block our success, any way we define it, Beatty’s way included. And that, if we dial it down a bit, we can attain of level of success that helps to dial it down some more, leading to even more success, with peace and pleasure in it—and who wouldn’t want that!

Unfortunately, a lot of people think the harder they work it, the more they fret and worry about their work, the better things will go in the end. And, since this could be very, very wrong, good thing to know.

Okay, so now what? How can we dial it down? 

How to Regulate the Neuroticism Knob

As I wrote in an earlier post, about more Americans thriving than it might seem:

We just have to get our hands on the dials, and get in charge of the emotions so that they are not in charge of us. In The Moral Animal, Robert Wright calls it Knobs and Tunings. We humans all have the same capacities for emotion (Knobs). By nature and nurture, however, some of us are more or less dialed up or down on them (Tunings).


As for unhappiness, please know that, according to neuroanatomist, Jill Bolte Taylor, an emotion lasts only about 90 seconds anyway—if we let it and don’t pick it up and chew on it forever like a dog with a bone. Humans do that, but we don’t have to and it’s better if we don’t.

So, try these 3 Steps:

  1. When the worry (etc.) comes, give it a name, e.g., Worryman, Madame Perfect, Mr. or Ms. Gloom and Doom. You may even feel like drawing a picture of it. Whatever you like.
  2. Now that you are separate from it, if you don’t pay attention to it, in light of Bolte Taylor’s 90 seconds above, you may find it just fades away.
  3. And, if you need or want even more distance from the intrusive thoughts and feelings, while you are shooting for success however you define it, there is always Power Breathing, which you can find on the “Complimentary…” box pulldown at https://madelaineweiss.com

Would love to hear what you find!

Warm wishes,


Photo by Unsplash Antonio Gabola

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Name: Madelaine Claire Weiss
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