Slow down and live in the moment. This is a worthwhile resolution for the New Year, similar to one I proposed in January 2003 — “Yield the right-of-way.” But slowing down, letting go and savoring the moment is difficult for some of us. Yes, I’m talking about personality again.

Several of my ISHN contributions in 2004 addressed personality and its effects on safety attitudes and behaviors. In February and March, I detailed distinctions between four personalities: success seekers, overstrivers, failure avoiders, and failure accepters; and I suggested strategies for transitioning people to the most desirable state of success-seeking for safety. In April, I discussed anxiety as a personality trait versus a state, and proposed advantages for having some ongoing anxiety or concern with regard to safety.

My July column in 2004 explained the “Big 5” personality traits with reference to workplace safety, and included sample questions for assessing these, including openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. Finally, in October I introduced the concept of “entitlement,” and showed how this mindset impacts safety and health.

In all of this I omitted the one person factor with the most relevance to personal injury and its prevention — Type A versus Type B. Type A individuals are more prone to experience a near hit or unintentional injury. On a personal note, I realize my Type A propensities make it difficult for me to live in the moment and attend mindfully to my ongoing behavior.

What is Type A?

Most readers have heard about the Type A personality. It was identified in the late 1950s by physicians Meyer Friedman and Ray Rosenman as a pattern of behavior presumed to contribute to heart disease. Type A’s are competitive, impatient, hostile, and always striving to do more in less time. In contrast, Type B’s are calmer, more patient, less hurried, and less hostile.

Early studies of the Type A personality evidenced a positive correlation with heart disease. Specifically, Type A people were more likely than Type B people to have heart attacks. But today we know the critical factor related to heart disease is hostility, or Type A emotions — a distinction I’ll explain later in this article. The positive correlation between Type A behavior and unintentional injury remains apparent, whether referring to empirical research or common sense. People who are impatient and continually attempt to do more in less time are more likely to hurt themselves or others.

Who are you?

OK, I’ve owned up to my Type A behavior patterns, and realize my special challenge to slow down in 2006 and become more mindful and appreciative of the present. What about you?

Do you get impatient and experience negative emotions when driving behind a vehicle traveling the speed limit in the left-hand lane?

Do you look for the shortest line in the grocery store by estimating the number of items in others’ carts? Then, do you feel angry when you notice the line you just left starts to move faster than your new line?

Type A behavior vs. Type A emotion

Notice that these examples of Type A people reflect both behavior and emotion. In other words, while you’re rushing to save time (behavior), how do you feel about people who get in your way and slow you down (emotion)?

While the hurried behavior increases risk for personal injury, certain distressing emotions put people at risk for heart disease. Specifically, the emotions of hostility and anger that often accompany time-shaving behavior relate to the development of heart disease. It’s critical to distinguish between Type A behavior and Type A emotion. Type A behavior puts people at risk for unintentional injury, but not for heart disease. Type A emotions of anger and hostility, exemplified by “road rage,” put people at risk for heart disease and for death following heart disease.

Assess yourself

Figure 1 includes items you can use to measure your propensity for Type A behavior versus Type A emotion. Simply write a number from one to seven next to each item to estimate the extent to which the statement applies to you. A “1” reflects “not at all,” a “4” indicates “sometimes,” and a “7” designates “all of the time.” The higher your score for the Type A behavior items, the more difficult it is for you to be mindful of momentary risks to your safety. A relatively high score for the Type A emotion items suggests risk of heart disease.

A score above 30 on either scale suggests Type A tendencies. I score 40 for Type A behavior and 22 for Type A emotions. My high Type A behavior tally supports my earlier confession of being injury prone. What about you?

It would be worthwhile to give this scale to a work team and openly discuss personal scores. This original survey tool sure was valid in assessing my Type A orientation, and it could be quite enlightening to discover your relative ranking of Type A behavior versus Type A emotion. But most beneficial is a discussion of circumstances and contexts that influence Type A behaviors and emotions. This can lead to environmental changes that make it easier for more people to slow down and live in the moment.