For a month I spent the better part of each day trying to relax my body and mind as deeply as I could. It helped that I was sick and had little ability to do much else. I was also aided by a slew of British archeology TV shows which hovered perfectly between sparkly and soothing. Over a couple of weeks I was finally able to get to a place of physical and mental ease I had never before experienced. You may be thinking, "Really? You were practicing relaxing? How hard is that?" Well, if you have a personality like mine, it's really, REALLY hard.
The impetus for this experiment was the Enneagram, a personality typology system which outlines nine basic types of people. We've been working with this system for many years, and we find it does an excellent job of describing a wide range of human motivations, goals, and worldviews. One common concern about typologies is that they pigeonhole people in limiting and inaccurate ways. While this is possible, we find that a good typing system actually expands perceptions by describing ways of thinking and behaving beyond our personal awareness. Instead of interpreting the world from just one perspective—our own—we can come to see the world from a variety of points of view.
The first test of any typology system is whether or not it describes you in ways you find accurate and insightful. You may think that having your personality reflected back to you is of modest value, but this kind of feedback can be useful for developing a clearer and more complete picture of yourself. Imagine being told all of your life that you are "shy" but then discovering that you are in fact "introverted." Instead of thinking of yourself as lacking social skills, you come to realize you are naturally gifted to focus on inward thoughts and emotions.
While designing our online personality test, we found that people are generally more aware of their positive and aspirational qualities—loyal, friendly, strong, etc.—and less willing or able to acknowledge their more challenging attributes—stubborn, forgetful, judgmental, etc. (We know, what a surprise!) Blind spots about personal qualities are some of the biggest factors impeding people from realizing their fullest potential. The greater your awareness about who you are at your best and your worst, the better you can fully stand in your whole self, drawing upon your strengths while consciously addressing your challenges.
But wait, there's more!
What we really like about the Enneagram is how it is also a tool for mental and spiritual development. In their book The Wisdom of the Enneagram, Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson describe nine levels of health for each personality type ranging from severely dysfunctional to highly aware. What is so valuable is that they offer a unique picture of what it's like for you to be operating from your highest self given your particular personality. For my Enneagram type Six this means shedding my fear-based thinking and vigilance about the future, and learning to trust myself. As I do, I feel more genuinely secure and become more easy-going and—you guessed it—relaxed.
This growth path is unique to my type, and it doesn't apply to all you other types who can relax at the drop of a hat. Each type has their own specific issues to work through as they become free from limiting personality dynamics. In so doing they come to inhabit an expanded self, and are much more capable of realizing their true goals and potential. For example, when type Ones become less critical in their outlook, they become more positively engaging as they operate from their more spontaneous and joyful selves. (The general consensus is Hillary Clinton is a One). When types Eights (Trump?) learn to be less controlling and aggressive, they are able to open their hearts to others and become more truly powerful. (We aren't predicting here; just reporting on the directions of growth.)
So here's to doing personal work, and the possibilities for a better world that creates!
We have a free on-line personality test that takes about 12 minutes to complete and will offer our best estimate of your Enneagram and Jungian types.
There are lots of books on the Enneagram. Our top three picks:
The Enneagram Made Easy by Baron and Wagele, a fun introduction.
The Wisdom of the Enneagram by Riso and Hudson, for long term study and development.
Bringing Out the Best in Yourself at Work by Lapid-Bodga, good for workplace and team dynamics.
If you were going to write a personal owner's manual to give to someone working or living with you, what would you say are the best ways to get along with you? What should people do when you are upset? How should they give you feedback?
Wishing us all moments of growth and ease in the coming months,
Beth (and Eric)
This monthly slow essay is from Beth Meredith & Eric Storm of Create The Good Life.
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