Fat Friday

Tis the day after Thanksgiving.  The turkey stuffing is gone, but the people are stuffed.  The scene is a good opportunity to learn that we eat for many other reasons than the biological purpose of nourishment. We eat for pleasure, for ritual, for sociability and even out of deference to the cook. Brian Wankink’s book, Mindless Eating, delineates a wide variety of reasons that influence our eating other than our conscious one. An Enneagram coach must be aware not to place too much weight on the conscious reasons people give for doing things. The conscious reason will be true, but will not be complete until you are able to integrate the enneagram motivation that is usually present. In addition to the cornucopia of influences that Wansink unearths in his delightful research, we all probably ate (perhaps even too much) for our enneagram reason, too.

Goal tending

Daniel Pink’s book, Drive, brings Alfie Kohn’s seminal work, Punished by Rewards (mostly about schools), into the business world. The focus of both is on intrinsic versus extrinsic rewards. Style Three is the most vulnerable to be seduced by extrinsic rewards and the slippery path is our old standby, goal-setting. We’re all in favor of  goals, right? Not so much if you’re dealing with creative endeavor. Goals narrow one’s focus. That’s sort of their purpose. Sevens, for example, may settle for lots of activity, but unfocused dissipating flailing. But here’s the problem with goals and workers who are really goal focused. They are motivated to short-circuit the process to get to the goal. They will do only those things that pertain to getting the goal and can easily omit the other parts of the process that are assumed. Your mechanic has a goal of earning $3,000 this week for his garage, so he fixes more things than are necessary and charges more. He meets his extrinsic goal, but the assumption that he will do only what work is necessary is violated. The student’s goal is to get into college. Does that include cheating? Perhaps, but more insidiously what I saw when I taught was that the goal was the grade, not the learning, so most students wanted a high grade but did not want to learn. They would ask penetrating questions about what was NOT going to be on a test so that they wouldn’t waste their time learning “unnecessary” material.  A corollary was a focus on what the teacher wanted them to know, not what they thought was important.  “Brown-nosing” to the teacher instead of study was one side-effect.  Prepared them to kiss up in the corporate life instead of doing a good job.
The United States is a largely a style Three culture and goals are touted–nay flaunted– with some good and some bad results. Fundraisers, car dealerships, blood drives–everybody assumes goals are good. I coached a style Eight who had as her goal “to write a best-seller.” All that was missing was content.
But if you are a style Three, make sure you examine your goals to include integrity, craftsmanship, stress-levels expected, and concern for your relationships.  Non-goal stuff.
Goals are like lasers: they can perform eye surgery or destroy heavy machinery. Handle with care.

Elements of style

Every Enneagram coach can be an editor. One fine service you can do as a coach is to break down defenses translating complex, convoluted rationalizations into small words. (I know, psychology has the DSMIV which is replete with polysyllabic obfuscation, but that’s in deference to insurance bureaucracy). In their little book, The Thin Book of Naming Elephants, Hammond and Mayfield quote a corporate version of what needs to be called out: “Smart talk.”   The elements of smart talk include sounding confident (as we usually are  when we are in the small personal world of our enneagram style–we know that territory), articulate and eloquent, having interesting information and ideas and possessing a good vocabulary.” When someone is describing a situation in which they are stuck, if they are educated, they will tend to do smart talk.  I find this most often in Threes and Sevens.

Eights in debate

Eights are often given to black and white thinking, so if you are an eight, you might consider being able to articulate the other person’s side of an argument (which you love to have) better than they do. This won’t change your mind, usually, but it will add nuance and shades of grey. If you’re really in an important dispute, take notes while the other person is talking. Then see if you can say their point of view back to them in a way that they approve. OK, now you can attack.

Nice guy’s problem

A lot of Nines are really “nice guys.” Their motto is “Live and let live.” Even though they are at the center of the anger triad, they frequently don’t look angry. They don’t look angry to others and frequently they don’t feel much anger themselves, until of course something pulls their cork.
But what they can look for to prompt themselves to take action is fatigue. When they stuff their anger, they don’t feel it much (that “not feeling” is why they stuff the anger). Just because we stuff anger doesn’t mean it goes away.
But even if they don’t allow themselves to feel anger, they do feel tired. I frequently ask style Nines to keep a fatigue journal. Each evening, make a list of things that made you tired. That may help you get in touch with unacknowledged anger. After some time you will see some patterns that irritate you and only then can you take action to  address the situation properly.

Beware the copulative verb!

Every NLP counselor or therapist knows that we employ three ways to uncommunicate: distortion (the traditional expression was “lying,” deletion, (hence “the whole truth and nothing but the truth) and then one other that I find more pernicious and widespread than the others. It is the generalization. I have a talented therapist friend who says he spends half his time breaking down generalizations. The worst, most general of these generalizations is “to be,” called in grade school grammars, the copulative verb because it links two things.
So when someone says “I am a Three,” your followup question is “How do you do that?” You cannot cure, fix, ameliorate, modify or heal “threeness.” You can, however, cure, fix, ameliorate, modify or heal one small expression that flows from being a Three. “Can you quit work at 5:45?” “Can you talk to your daughter without the TV on or a computer in your lap for 12 minutes?”
My favorite story around this was the therapist who asked me (on a teleconference with Mary) how she should respond to a style eight who asserted with some force and pleasure, “I am an asshole.” I stuck to my principle and told the therapist to ask her “How do you do asshole?” One of the sadnesses of my career is that I wasn’t able to learn about the conversation that ensued. It is one thing to brag about your (vague) externalized hostility, it is quite another to detail how you bully your coworkers.

kaizen, new and improved

For anyone trying to change something in their life, the principle of small incremental steps every day – called Kaizen in many places because the principle was articulated first in Japanese manufacturing. (Or at least that is the example frequently given).
Enter the Enneagram. If you have a fixation, small incremental changes (gambling less each day) may work, but what can be overlooked are the side effects of any action. When you have an established pattern, you will often have a lot of resistance. Gambling a little less each day might create anxiety that will make you want to either gamble more or switch to eating more.
The notion that one cause creates one effect is so Newtonian. 🙂 The medical profession uses this theory: this drug makes this symptom go away. Oh, by the way, there are “side” effects. Every action has “side” effects which are not “side” at all. When you change any pattern, you change the pattern. Period.
So when you know the enneagram, you mess with one small element of the enneagram pattern and the “side” effects are to weaken or change the whole pattern.
For example, I asked a style Four to walk through Wal-Mart and compare herself to a number of people there. Fours unconsciously compare themselves, but they also idealize the person or principle they compare with. I couldn’t take the habit of comparison head on — it’s too central. So I changed the point of comparison. Kaizen.  My stylish Four client reported on her experience with laughter and tears.

Negative thinking

Most self-help books encourage (cheerlead?) positive thinking. From Norman Vincent Peale through Shawn Achor (The Happiness Advantage), we are encouraged-bullied at times — to think positively. Actually, good liquor does that quite well. A few drinks and most people think quite positively.
When you learn the Enneagram, you tend to lose some confidence in thinking positively. Some styles think positively most of the time and others do not. Sevens, of course, think positively but we employ lavish doses of denial to accomplish this. Threes tend to think positively, but assign themselves huge goals and long hours of work to accomplish their positive goals. Fours, on the other hand, have a difficult time squaring a rosy outlook with the way they’re feeling right now. And sixes know darn well you’re kidding yourselves if you this (any this) is going to end well. You just wait. The sky is already showing stress cracks.
Begin to understanding that our enneagram attitude is not created primarily by thinking. Telling, prodding, affirming or any other admonishment to “think differently,” is way too rational and rather futile.
But I can’t end negatively. What should an enneagram coach to? First, find out the filters, then weaken the filters to let more and different information in. So don’t think positively, think wider, deeper and differently. That’s really hard and interesting and fruitful. Stay tuned. It’s about all I do as a coach.

Old trick

If you wish to help a client break out of a focus that is too tight, you can use this old trick. Have them think of the color red or diagonal lines and then after a few seconds, have them open their eyes and see so much more of that in their environment. Explain that we see what we are thinking about. You can then encourage them to notice things that conflict with their tight focus: an eight might be encouraged to think about how friendly people are or a nine might think about how easy it is to ask for what she wants.
Because the enneagram starts with focus, anything you can do to help people see things differently will be of considerable help. (In medieval times, sin was always located in the intellect – perception – not the will. Their theory was that we always do what we perceive as good. What we perceive is the problem.)
What are you looking at?

Maybe not your problem

Because my early training was in biblical literature, I learned to think contextually. So when I coach, I think and advise clients to look at context. Many clients suffer for blaming themselves for what is really a cultural problem. Thom Hartman has an anthology of his long and illustrious career of writing. He writes today, Few ever pause to question whether the evil or dysfunction may be in the nature of our culture rather than in the humans our culture comprises.
I watched young Dylan playing on the monkey bars, remarkable strong and sure, exuberant and joyous. He is a superb athlete. He will most likely be considered ADHD or some alphabet of malaise because he will have trouble with the two most frequent commands in grade school: “sit down,” and “be quiet.”
Read the feminist literature. Educated women are more aware, as relative newcomers, of the hostile corporate culture. I have coached half a dozen in the past year who accused themselves of failing to succeed in a culture that is fundamentally hostile.
So before you take any drugs for anxiety, fatigue, untethered attention or adopt any addictions to deal with boredom, loneliness, or stagnation, look at your context. From an enneagram point of view, our culture is the lower side of unhealthy three, with what the orientals would call too much yang and westerners would describe as hyper-masculine – an ominous blend of steroids and testosterone. (Or do you think it healthy that you can turn on your TV and watch football from Saturday morning until Sunday night without having to watch anything else? And hear the first part of the game devoted to temporary or permanent injuries?)