Mindfulness, or the ability to exist in the present moment in a sustained and non-judgmental way, has been shown to have numerous health benefits. Mindful individuals exhibit reduced stress levels, have better focus, and are less emotionally reactive.

But what does it mean to be a mindful person? New research appearing in the journal Consulting Psychology has an answer. A team of researchers led by Christopher Altizer of Florida International University used 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: ambition, cautiousness, adjustment, leisure, and excitability. These traits, and their relationships with mindfulness, are discussed below.

Ambition and mindfulness

The researchers found ambitious personalities — that is, people who are socially self-confident, competitive, leaderlike, and energetic — to be more mindful. While this may seem counterintuitive, the researchers offer a good explanation for it. They theorize that ambitious individuals have learned to be effective 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 write, “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 mindful and ambitious at the same time.

Cautiousness and mindfulness

According to the Hogan Development Survey, cautious personalities are resistant to change and reluctant to take chances. They have a strong fear of failure and they work hard to hide their weaknesses. The researchers found cautious personalities to exhibit low levels of mindfulness. Why? They believe it has to do with fear. Navigating the world with a heightened fear instinct makes it difficult to roll with the punches, adapt one’s mindset, and be psychologically flexible, all of which are hallmarks of highly mindful individuals.

Adjustment and mindfulness

The researchers 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” — also tend to be highly mindful individuals. They write, “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.”

Leisure and mindfulness

Leisurely personalities, as defined by the Hogan Development Survey, refer to people who are often indifferent to the requests of others. They create the appearance of being highly autonomous but in reality they can be petty, resentful, and passive-aggressive. The researchers found leisurely personality types to exhibit lower levels of mindfulness. They state, “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.”

Excitability and mindfulness

Excitable personalities tend to be moody, inconsistent, volatile, and emotionally immature. They overreact to insignificant events and can be explosive in their behavior. Not surprisingly, excitable types tend to be less mindful than non-excitable types as they lack emotional steadiness and presence of mind.

Conclusion: Mindfulness is more natural for some than others. People with a combination of ambition, non-reactivity, and a quiet fearlessness might be especially well-suited for mindfulness. But that’s not to say we all can’t increase our mindfulness over time.