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Using the Instincts as an Accelerator for Growth

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photo-mar-30-11-39-08-amThe Enneagram’s three Instincts describe unconscious drives that shape our behavior. Knowing about them is helpful for many reasons, from maintaining healthy relationships to getting your needs met in the workplace. Most importantly, working on the Instincts, even more than working on our type, can act as an accelerator for personal growth.

All of us have three Instincts – Self-Preservation, Sexual, and Social. The Instincts influence how we interact with the world to get our unconscious needs met. We all have a preferred order in which we use the Instincts, called an Instinctual Stacking; we have one Instinct we obsess over and tend to overuse (our Dominant Instinct), one secondary Instinct, and a tertiary Instinct we tend to underuse (our Blind Spot Instinct). When we bring our Instincts closer into balance, our lives follow suit.

“Great,” you might be thinking, “I’ll just stop obsessing over my Dominant Instinct.” That’s a challenging proposition, though, because our Instincts operate unconsciously. We tend to rely on our Dominant, assuming it will provide the solution to our problems. What works better is to work with our Blind Spot Instinct. It’s scary to work on the Blind Spot, because we feel inexperienced and incompetent in that area. However, it’s a game changer. By consciously focusing on Blind Spot activities we normally neglect, we develop new strategies and resources. Our lives become fuller as we realize that our potential is much broader than we’d imagined.    

Below, we describe how each Instinct works as a Blind Spot, and offer growth practices for bringing that Instinct into balance. We also share composite case studies of students we’ve worked with and strategies they’ve found to cultivate the Blind Spot Instinct’s strengths within.

The Self-Preservation Instinct: If the Self-Preservation Instinct is your blind spot, you probably have difficulty focusing on the day-to-day practicalities of life. You may not have a strong inclination toward activities such as establishing a home, taking care of your diet, or saving for retirement. You may frequently feel immature and like you need others to support you through even basic tasks. To balance this Blind Spot, take the time to explore and write down ways you neglect your comfort, well-being, and health, and make time to do one thing every day focused on maintaining your stability. Try to do this independently, without the help of other people!

Consider the case of Becky, who’s 50 and recently divorced. She had relied on her husband to manage household tasks and organization. Now on her own, she’s nervous about being self-reliant, and admits that she feels like “a kid rather than a grown-up.” She’s let her new apartment become cluttered and chaotic. With the help of a group of Enneagram brainstormers, she recognizes that she finds upbeat music to be a good motivator. She decides to set a weekly date for a solo “cleanup party” with rock music in the background. She feels more confident with her favorite songs on, and her cleaning parties become a fun, productive ritual.  

The Sexual Instinct: If the Sexual Instinct is your blind spot, you probably have a difficult time doing things that stimulate and energize you. You may tend to put off doing activities that are exciting to you, displaying your strengths to others, and pursuing your “selfish, impractical” passions. You may frequently feel like you’re stuck in a rut and caught in a boring, humdrum routine that you are unable to get out of. To balance this Blind Spot, take some time to explore and write down what things fuel and inspire you. Make time to do one thing every day that brings the energy back into your life and makes you feel your vibrant and colorful self.

DeMarcus is a 35-year-old accountant who has worked hard to establish a secure career and provide for his young family. Between working long hours, contributing to household chores, and caring for his toddler, DeMarcus feels tired and listless. His Enneagram group suggests reconnecting with an activity that inspires and energizes him. As a student, DeMarcus had enjoyed painting with splashy, colorful acrylics, but he’s let his hobby fall by the wayside in his efforts to be responsible. He decides to fit weekly “painting dates” into his schedule. He begins involving his wife and daughter, and their home is filled with new creativity.  

The Social Instinct: If the Social Instinct is your blind spot, you probably have a difficult time interacting with the world around you. You may tend to put off activities that involve connecting with others, participating in communities, and having fun for its own sake. You may frequently feel like you’re overly serious and can’t talk to others unless you need something from them. To balance this Blind Spot, take some time to write down ways you’d like to contribute to the world around you and support other people. Make time to have a fun interaction with no agenda every day or to do something that makes you feel part of the larger social fabric.

Sonia considered herself an introvert, but the truth went beyond that label. While the 43-year-old freelance writer had a job and home she was comfortable with, she also had a very narrow social circle. She described herself as “not knowing how to make small talk.” Her Enneagram group suggested she connect with other writers, so Sonia found a group that looked interesting. She started reading the books they talked about, and had fun discussing them with like-minded, intelligent peers. Soon she was getting invited to events and meeting more people. Her life was infused with a new sense of fun and freedom.

We all have an Instinctual Blind Spot, and moving toward rather than away from it can bring us a renewed sense of balance. What small, regular strategies can you apply to bring your Blind Spot Instinct’s joys and gifts into your life?

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