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How to Grow in Our Second and Third Instinctual Biases

AUC Slides March 2019 AswanIn working on ourselves regarding the Instinctual Biases, it is important to remember three principles:

  • The expression of our instinctual biases follow a specific pattern.
  • We often use the secondary and tertiary domains in a way that supports our needs in the primary domain.
  • If we want to change, we have to move toward something we value rather than away from it.

Let’s look at each one of these in turn:

The expression of our instinctual biases follow a specific pattern.

There is a predictable pattern of expression with the instinctual biases.

One of the biases is dominant and consumes the majority of our focus of attention, and it is related to the things we place importance on or value.

A second domain can be thought of as “adolescent territory”: we value it more than we realize and it takes up more space in our psyche than we may actually see, but we often feel insecurity or a lack of comfort in behaviors related to it.

The third domain tends to hold little interest for us; we typically ignore it and thus end up often having little competence in that domain, meaning that it can cause many of our troubles.

Which of our biases are secondary and tertiary are not random, and it is my experience that once we know what a person’s dominant instinctual bias is we can predict what his or her secondary and tertiary instinctual focus will be.*

Those with a dominant Preserving bias will have Navigating as their secondary bias and Transmitting as their tertiary bias.

Those with a dominant Navigating bias will have Transmitting as their secondary bias and Preserving as a tertiary focus of attention.

Those with a Transmitting bias will have Preserving as a secondary bias and Navigating as a tertiary focus of attention.

We are more likely to use the secondary and tertiary domain to support our needs in domain of our primary bias.

Preservers, for example, may do some of the same instinctual bias-related behaviors as Navigators or Transmitters, but they do it to satisfy very different needs than the other two. They may ensure that they are keeping up on the local gossip or regularly connecting with friends (Navigating behaviors), but they do it because it implicitly satisfies a need for security and comfort (Preserving needs).

Navigators may find some sort of instinctual satisfaction in cooking (a Preserving need) but do it because they like to cook for guests and host gatherings (a Navigating need).

Transmitters may also be drawn to cooking, but the satisfaction is that it makes them more desireable (a Transmitting need) and not to satisfy basic survival needs (a Preserving need).

Understanding these first two facts allow us to skillfully address the third:

If we want to change, we have to move toward something we value rather than away from it.

People familiar with the Enneagram and subtypes often feel like they need to set a developmental goal related the secondary or tertiary domain. For example, a Preserver may decide that they need to develop some skill related to the Transmitting domain. They come to believe they would be better off if only they had this new skill, but they find it difficult to improve. This difficulty is typically because, deep down inside, they lack sufficient motivation. They lack this motivation is because if feels as if they are trying to divert precious time and energy to something that they do not truly value. The struggle is made worse because the time and energy they now expend on this “unimportant” thing is time that could be devoted to something they think is genuinely import–some Preserving activity, in this case.

For all of us, resistance to change comes from insufficient motivation and unresolved conflicting psychological commitments. In order to make change easier we need to find a way in which the new behavior supports something we value at a deep level. Thus, if a Preserver wants to change a behavior related to the Navigating or Transmitting domain, it helps to frame the change in a way that will help them feel that this new behavior can help them meet their Preserving needs rather than trying to get them care about the other domains to the same degree.

For example, if a Preserver is self-employed, their tendency will usually be to focus on doing the work (rather than promoting themselves) and they often struggle with building their network and marketing their offering. Part of their mind knows that something needs to be done differently in order for them to grow, but another part gets in the way. Despite their attempts to change, they will often struggle to get over some internal rationale that holds their existing patterns in place and undermines their efforts: “My work will speak for itself,” or “I don’t want to look like I am tooting my own horn too much…” are common examples of such rationalizations.

Preservers have a much better chance of successfully making the change if they can strategically reframe the new behavior in the context of the Preserving domain. They may, for example, tell themselves “I will be more financially secure if I learn to promote myself better,” or “Building a wide range of relationships will provide me a support network if I face difficult times.”

In short, framing new behaviors within the context of what they truly value–satisfaction of their dominant instinctual bias–makes it easier for Preservers to improve in behaviors related to Navigating or Transmitting.

The same works for the other two instinctual biases as well. Navigators can grow as in the Preserving and Transmitting domains by exploring how doing so will make them better Navigators. Transmitters can grow in the Preserving and Navigating domains by exploring how it will make them better Transmitters.

Change is difficult. Working on our second and third instinctual domains is particularly difficult because most of the time we are responding to their impulses non-consciously and fall quickly into old patterns that feel like they satisfy some need, even if they are in reality making life more difficult in some way. Learning to frame new behaviors as a way of achieving something we already implicitly value makes those behaviors much easier to adopt.

*Not everyone agrees that their are only three instinctual patterns or “stacks,” but in my experience of working with hundreds of clients over time in organizations I have not seen anyone yet who genuinely does not fit the pattern once the concepts are properly understood.