Category Archives: Habit

No Explanation Needed

No One Is to Blame

No One Is to Blame (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I previously wrote a post for one of my other blogs about the idea that everything happens for a reason. There are a couple of odd things about this notion. For one, we tend to apply it only to unpleasant events and not to pleasant ones. For another, it carries an implication that the bad thing that has happened will in some mysterious way lead to something good.

Horrendous things do happen in the world, and everything happens for a reason is a proverb that’s meant to comfort. But it’s indicative of a worldview that bears examining. For one thing, it can be used as a palliative response that ignores the underlying cause of the situation or event, in which case it’s worse than useless.

Many of us habitually explain our current difficulties, bad habits, negative outlook, or troublesome behavior by referring back to our childhoods or other events from the past. Negative traits, behaviors, circumstances, or events require some kind of an explanation, even if it’s the not very satisfactory everything happens for a reason.

But how often do we explain our present good fortune, good habits, positive outlook, or admirable behavior by referring back to our childhoods or events from our past? We may recognize and even acknowledge luck and the kindness and generosity of others when we’re treated to it. But by and large, we don’t look for explanations for our positive traits, behaviors, or circumstances. We expect the good stuff; the bad stuff is an aberration.

Are you prompt, kind, generous, trustworthy, responsible, productive, optimistic, helpful, imaginative, creative, insightful, cheerful, broad-minded, well-read, accomplished or successful (at anything), happy, healthy, generally law-abiding, thoughtful, courageous, tolerant, objective, conscientious, or cooperative? Whatever positive characteristics you have, do you spend much time questioning how you got them?


One of the great benefits of the Enneagram is that it shows us that, to a significant extent, we are the way we are because…that’s just the way we are. We were born with the temperament and the tendencies we have. It’s easy to give up the search for explanations for what we thought were our own individual quirks and proclivities once we discover how many other people who have very little, if anything, in common with us also have the very same quirks and proclivities.

When we give up the exhausting, stuck-in-place examination into our backgrounds to try to figure out why we are the way we are, we can begin to accept what and who we are and go on from there.

I wonder if we might not achieve the same result by starting to look for explanations not for the negative but for everything positive in ourselves and in our lives. I’m not talking about being grateful. I’m not advocating always looking on the bright side or maintaining a positive attitude. I’m suggesting we analyze everything that’s positive the same way we habitually analyze the things we define as negative as a way to break out of the habit of looking for explanations. Unless we’re really and truly trying to understand something and/or learn from an experience, simply trying to figure out why something is what it is isn’t particularly fruitful.

Focusing our attention on explaining the negative stuff leads to taking the stuff that’s OK—or even really good—for granted or assigning it less value than we assign the negative stuff. The underlying assumption is that good (at least our definition of it) should be the steady state and therefore good requires no examination. If things are not good, however, someone or something is to blame.

Most of us know from experience that observing ourselves without judgment, blame, or searching for explanations doesn’t come naturally. And the habit of judging, blaming, and searching for explanations extends outward into the world. But isn’t there anything better–or more product or even more enjoyable–that we could be doing with all the time, attention, and energy we spend on these futile activities?

Type 8: Embrace Your Inner Weak Sister

Powerful, I take responsibility for who I am, ...

(Photo credit: Tomas Sobek)

8s are pretty darn capable people. They will do whatever it takes to get the job done. Sometimes they will even do more than it takes. They are proud of being able to accomplish what they set out to do and of their ability to deal with adversity, challenges, and obstacles. 8s tend to feel as if they can weather whatever storm nature throws at them. If you are being treated unfairly—caught in a metaphorical or an actual storm—8s will also direct their considerable energy on your behalf.

But their tough exterior covers the same kind of fear every other type has, which is that deep down—or when push comes to shove—they are not all that. 8s whose identities are completely wrapped up in being a powerful force of nature expend quite a lot of energy proving it over and over again to themselves and to everyone else. Once is definitely not enough.

However, no man is an island—and no woman is, either. We are interdependent. We need each other. As far as 8s are concerned, it’s perfectly OK for someone else to be needy. But it’s definitely not OK for 8s to feel needy, actually be needy, or—horrors!—be seen as needy. It’s kind of the opposite situation to the boy who cried wolf. 8s do such a good job convincing everyone else of their hardiness and durability that others assume they don’t need help. Ever.

Notice that 8 over there who just fell through the ice? No worries. He’s got everything under control. See, he’s signaling that he’s just fine. Yes, he’ll be waving everyone off until the moment he slips under the ice and is gone, victim to his compulsion to always be the rescuer and never the one who is rescued.

It’s great to be able to tough things out, but it’s not so great to risk life and limb out of the compulsion to tough them out.

People…people Who Need People…*

One of the things 8s fail to recognize, in addition to the utter folly of their total commitment to their position, is that other people like to be needed. They appreciate being able to help each other. Another thing is that always being the one to lend a hand and never being willing to accept a hand creates an imbalance in all of one’s personal relationships. This ought to make an impact on 8s, who are greatly concerned with fairness and balance. Give and take—or give and accept—would make a good mantra for 8s.

When 8s embrace their inner Weak Sister (whether male or female), they can let down their guard and admit they don’t have every single thing under control. They may not be able to deal with a thing or two life throws at them. So once in a while, they could possibly use a little help from their friends. It’s OK to ask. When they do, they may be surprised to find out that expressing vulnerability does not knock them down a notch in everyone else’s eyes. It might even raise them up a notch or two.

*not an endorsement of the song

The Image in the Mirror

Raistlin Majere. Image by Vera Gentinetta. Tic...

Image by Vera Gentinetta. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A self-image is a lot like a work of fiction in that it is heavily edited before being presented to an audience. It is seen first by an audience of one—oneself—and then the public audience of friends, family, co-workers, and even strangers.

One of the ways we maintain a consistent self-image is by repeatedly telling ourselves stories that reinforce it. Another way we do it is by repeatedly telling other people stories about ourselves that reinforce it. We are, as Jonathan Gottschall puts it, storytelling animals. It’s our nature to pull together our experiences and perceptions into a coherent linear narrative. That’s how we make sense of the world. And that’s how we create the fictional characters we claim to be.

It isn’t as if we’re intending to lie about who we are. It’s that we are invested in being—and being seen—in a particular light. So we edit out the parts of our lives, past and present, that don’t fit the role we’re playing.

While it’s true that image is the primary issue of the three Feeling Center types, they aren’t the only people who construct and nurture their own self-image and the image they present to the world. We all do it.

What’s Your Self-Schema?

A lot of our efforts to maintain a consistent self-image are habitual and automatic, so we aren’t even aware of them. In the process of developing generalizations about ourselves, we form cognitive structures called self-schemas. These self-schemas then organize and guide the processing of information that is self-related. That means they determine what we pay attention to and how events and experiences are encoded in our memories. Self-schemas are biased on their own behalf. If something fits our self-schema, for example, we are likely to pay more attention to it and to remember it more easily. We tend to dismiss what doesn’t fit our self-schemas.

We don’t have just one self-schema; we have several, depending on the different roles we play in life. But there are some aspects of our self-schema that are consistent across all of them. If you know your Enneagram type, you know what many of those are for you.

Self-schemas are self-perpetuating and very difficult to change. You have to be open and willing to explore the possibility that you are not your self-image. Your self-image is a fictional character you have been developing—usually with some help from the people closest to you—for most of your life.

Wei Ji, the Chinese symbol for crisis

When something happens that significantly messes with our self-image, the result can be denial or a crisis of identity. But while such an experience can present a danger to our self-schema, it is also an opportunity to step out of character and address the audience directly (authentically).

Is that Really True?

There are a couple of simple steps you can take to become more aware of how you are perpetuating your self-image.

  • When you catch yourself telling stories, whether to yourself or someone else, you can stop and ask yourself if they are really true–or if they represent the “whole” story.
  • You can make a list of things you believe about yourself, and then for each one, ask yourself if it is really true. Be ruthless.

Trying to uncover the truth of who we are can be like chasing a moving target, difficult to hone in on. But it’s a liberating experience that’s well worth the effort. The reward is that we get to break free of the confines of the structure that has defined us and dictated what is possible for us.

Each one of us has many more dimensions than the scripted characters we have been playing.

Psychic Entropy: What Gets in the Way?

Sometimes a temper tantrum is the most appropriate response to upsetting people, events, or situations. Or maybe it’s the only response we’re capable of when we’re overloaded with stress, which Webster’s Ninth defines as “a state of … bodily or mental tension resulting from factors that tend to alter an existing equilibrium.

So being off balance also means being stressed. And change tends to put us off balance.

The Holmes and Rahe Social Readjustment Rating Scale, also called the Life Change Index Scale, classifies the degree of impact that 43 different events—both positive and negative—are likely to have on a person’s life. Each event is assigned a numerical value, and the respondent is asked to check the events he or she has experienced in the past 12 months. Stress is often a precursor to illness, so the score not only indicates the amount of stress the person is under, but also the percent chance of illness: Continue reading

Choose Thyself

At the moment of decision we all feel we are acting freely, selecting at will from an infinity of choices.

– Richard Restak, The Brain Has a Mind of Its Own

We may prefer to believe we’re acting freely, making our own decisions, determining every little thing we do—but believing doesn’t make it so. And anyone intimately familiar with the Enneagram knows that much of what we do involves little conscious choice. We tend to run on autopilot most of the time—maybe all of the time.

The generally-accepted theory is that we make a conscious decision to do something, and that conscious decision directs our brain to signal our body to perform whatever action we’ve decided to take.

It seems obvious on the face of it. But then along came Benjamin Libet whose experiments proved that our brains know we’re going to do something before we’re consciously aware of our intention to do it.

In The Brain Has a Mind of Its Own, Richard Restak describes the results of Libet’s research:

An inexplicable but plainly measurable burst amount of activity occurs in your brain prior to your conscious desire to act. An outside observer monitoring electrical fluctuations in your brain can anticipate your action about a third of a second before you are aware that you have decided to act. Continue reading

Playing with Dice

A few weeks ago, I came across a reference to a book called The Dice Man, written by Luke Rhinehart. It was published in the 1970s, deemed “a cult classic,” and banned in some places, although I don’t know why. Anthony Burgess (A Clockwork Orange) endorsed it; some compared it to Catch-22. So why haven’t I heard about it until now?

The protagonist, also named Luke Rhinehart, is a psychiatrist disillusioned with—as far as I can tell from reading about the book—just about everything, but especially about the fact that he has a self he feels compelled to be true to. He decides to liberate himself by letting chance determine his actions from that point forward, rather than by remaining true to character, so to speak.

Fortuitously, he finds a single die on the floor at that very moment, and he resolves to henceforth let the die determine his course of action.

While I have no intention of reading the 500+ page book, the premise intrigues me. Personality typing systems such as the Enneagram and the MBTI are based on defining and explaining us by our temperaments. Our temperaments, experiences, and genes combine to form our selves. Generally, we tend to behave like ourselves, but sometimes we notice we are not ourselves or other people comment that we were not ourselves last night or last week or earlier this morning. When it comes to personality, consistency is very highly prized. Continue reading

An Idling Mind

Most of the time, without realizing it, we leave the mind idling on the street with the key still in the ignition, where it wastes gas and pollutes the air until some vagrant thought drives off with it.

Eknath Easwaran
Spiritual Teacher

Blue Mountain Center of Meditation

The Path of Most Resistance

In the TV series Star Trek: Voyager, the Borg told everyone they encountered that resistance was futile. Before that, Carl Jung said, “What we resist persists.” But no matter who said it or when, we resist accepting the limits of our resistance.

All we want to do is travel unobstructed along our particular garden path. So just as we move through life scanning the environment for what helps reinforce our self-concept and screening out what threatens it, we also put a great deal of effort into resisting what gets in the way on our particular path. Not only is such resistance futile, it also uses up an incredible amount of energy.

Scanning, screening out, and resisting are the triumvirate of activities that keep us assembling the world in a particular way. The more successful we are at them, the more comfortable we become in our well-worn ruts to the point where we can’t see or imagine any other way to be or think or feel. It’s like a narrowing of the arteries of the psyche. Yet all these behaviors seem so natural we may not even be aware we’re making choices or doing anything.

The other problem, of course, is that no matter how much we resist something, our resistance won’t make it go away. A great deal of what we resist persists simply because it’s an unalterable part of life. What we resist exists. Acceptance might be a more appropriate response. But whatever we resist may be so important to us that we go to enormous lengths to avoid confronting or dealing with it. That’s the biggest difference between what we simply screen out (ignore) and what we resist (actively work at avoiding).

  • Type 1s are aiming for perfection—and if not that, at least correctness. They want to be irreproachable, at least in their own eyes. Therefore, they resist criticism from the environment. Continue reading

A 6 Notices . . . Everything!

In The View from Here, I wrote that, as a result of their constant vigilance, 6s don’t do as much screening out as the other types do. The following piece is a journal writing exercise completed by a Type 6 for a group I facilitated. The subject was self-observation, and she chose “notice” as her prompt for flow-writing.

Noticing What I Notice

I can’t help but notice things. That’s just what I do. I don’t deliberately notice this, but ignore that. I just notice things—everything. I see patterns. I see behaviors. I notice all the stupid inconsequential things in life, it seems. Although I know that some of the things I notice truly don’t matter, I notice them anyway. It’s more than just noticing, however. I notice something, then I study it, label it, and file it away in its appropriate folder, so that when I need it, I can readily find it.

So what is all this noticing about? I surely don’t lavish the same amount of attention on noticing what I’m doing—it’s only others. So I notice everything others are doing, but not myself. Well, isn’t that about the most useless piece of time wasting there is? Why will I notice you, but not me? What don’t I want to see in myself? Do I see that I am the same, or do I not see my flaws? Can’t face my flaws? Or maybe I don’t have the flaws that I am noticing? Maybe I think I notice everything, but really I just notice what I want to notice. Because I also know that there is a whole lot that I don’t notice, that I don’t see, that I am willing to ignore—things that go right by me.

What is all this attention to things that usually don’t matter really about? I guess it’s that focusing on others rather than on myself is a whole lot easier. The next time I catch myself noticing what someone else is doing, I am going to recall this writing, and at that moment, I will remember to remind myself that this probably does not need to be filed away. This will be a gentle reminder to myself that I am being too busy noticing others, and it’s time to turn my attention inward.

This diffused attention can create a fair amount of mental clutter, which the writer alludes to. 6s are extremely attentive to reactions from other people and threats or even just changes in their environments, which makes it difficult for them to turn their attention inward. Even their defense mechanism—projection—is aimed out there!

But when they can relax (crazy concept, I know) and soften their attention to the outer world, they can then tune in to their inner world—to themselves—with some compassion, acceptance, and humor.

~ ~ ~

Things have been going so well that he’s taking an anxiety break to keep centered.


Fuzzy Focus: a 4 “lets ‘er rip”

Type 4s are strange birds to many of the rest of us, and of course they are secretly, if not outright, proud to be seen as such. After all, who would want to be just like everyone else? In my last post, I mentioned that 4s scan the environment for raw material, and that material can be tangible or intangible. Here’s an example of how this scanning affects 4s’ ability to focus—or not. My partner, who was a 4w5, wrote this piece for one of my newsletters about 10 years ago. I’m operating on the assumption he won’t object to my posting it here now. In any case, he can’t.

A Four Looks at Focus
R.C. Jones

A rather drab auditorium in the public school mode. I grip the edges of the podium and clear my throat.

“Thank you for asking me here” … I peer nervously into the wings to my left and right … “to discuss ‘focus.’” I glance at my notes: a single bond sheet bearing unconnected words scrawled at arbitrary angles, which, while possibly from the same pen, are as various in style as a Saul Steinberg. Is his work, particularly the later pieces, drawing or cartooning? The editors are in on it, one would think; they present him almost solemnly—a double-truck in The New Yorker. Geez! There I go with the print media jargon, after lo, these many years. So, a cliché, already. I enjoy a well-worn cliché (itself a cliché, that.).

Got to regain my focus, I suppose. After all, what’s the point? A water glass has been thoughtfully or, for all I know, automatically provided by the lecture committee. Or the lecher committee (if they only knew me!). I’m here about … water. That’s it! Last moment consideration: left over from previous speaker? No lip prints. I sip with caution.

Humans are about ninety-seven percent water, unless I made that last fact up. I do sometimes, which is okay with me except that sometimes I forget I did so. I’m already keeping track of a “gazillion” factoids. (I’m running an inquiry as to the origin of “gazillion”—suspect it’s commercially fabricated teen-speak. Not like “googol,” which is a real word for a real number: one followed by one hundred zeros. It was supplied by a mathematician’s eight-year-old kid.) If humans are mostly water, why do they carry plastic liter jugs of the stuff and hit on them while they’re driving, whenever they can tear themselves away from their cell phones? If they intake that last three percent, will they morph into slurpy, silvery water creatures like in “The Abyss”?

I always have trouble with these two film titles. “The Abyss” is the underwater rat in real time, and “The Deep” is Jacqueline Bisset in a wet tee-shirt. No rat. Continue reading