Note: This was originally published on 12/16/07, by Mary Beth, of all people.
If you've been following along extremely closely, you know I've been in Tallahassee for the past week. While in Tallahassee I did three things and three things only: work, gain weight, and read books and articles related to the Enneagram. Before I left I had printed out Enneagram Monthly for Nov. of 2006 (one of three issues available for free, here.) My favorite article from it is Notes and Melody #6: Composing the Tune by Mario Sikora. (As you might imagine it is the sixth article in a series; the entire series as well as many of his other articles are available on his website, here, and here is the link to his home page.)
Sikora captured my attention right out of the gate with this clause from his first sentence: "...and being by temperament indifferent to the gentle sound of rustling angels' feathers and earnest tones that accompany much of the talk about the Enneagram...." Hee! I feel the same way. More on that point in a few days.
The article as a whole focuses on coaching Sevens; the part I am going to discuss is about working with Point 5 (whether with Sevens, Fives, or whomever.) I am about to quote a massive amount of Sikora's text; read it here, or read it in the original article (then come back to see what my points are.) It 's the part of the article beginning with the bolded title Point Five. And here begins Mario Sikora's material:
I don’t know what you mean when you say Big Mind and Little Mind. First of all there is the brain.
There is a famous medical case discussed in neuroscience literature in which a woman suffered brain damage that impaired her short-term memory. Much like the character in the film “Memento,” she was unable to form memories of events that occurred after the injury. Each time she visited her doctor, he would hold out his hand and introduce himself anew as if it was the first time they met. If he left the room, even momentarily, she would forget who he was and he would have to introduce himself all over again. One day, the doctor decided to try an experiment: He hid a thumb tack in his hand before entering the examination room. When she
shook his hand, she was pricked by the tack and recoiled in pain. The doctor apologized profusely and left the room after calming the patient. Upon returning a short while later, the patient again had no recollection of the doctor, but she refused to shake his hand. She refused to shake his hand at subsequent visits as well, but when asked why she would offer weak justifications, such as explaining that she feared she would spread a cold or catch germs from the doctor. She had no resistance to shaking other people’s hands, however.
The point of retelling this story is to show that the brain processes information in ways that we are not consciously aware of, either because we have habituated the behavior and no longer need to be consciously aware of it or because we do not have the capacity be consciously aware of it. The first situation happens through repetition. If you do something enough times it becomes automatic. The second situation occurs because of the way the brain evolved—giving us the capacity for mental function before giving us the capacity for consciousness of those functions. (See Part Two for more on this.) Therefore, we have the capacity to process information, store experiences, and manufacture responses in ways that are non-conscious. We “simply” do them, not really understanding why. There is a reason, but the reason is formed through cognitive functions that are not connected to the parts of the brain that we have conscious
This phenomenon—“knowing” something without being aware of how we know it— is Intuition, the core quality found at Point Five of the Enneagram. (Merriam- Webster Online defines “intuition” as “the power or faculty of attaining to direct knowledge or cognition without evident rational thought and inference.”)
Alec’s younger brother, Alexei, will be six months old when this article goes to print. He has recently begun to learn things—most importantly how to soothe himself to sleep at night by sticking his fingers in his mouth or reaching for the pacifier. Today, Alexei naturally and unconsciously soothes himself with his fingers, but he is still figuring out how to wrangle the pacifier. Manipulating an external object is a more-complex task than sucking on his fingers and he is figuring it out with some effort struggling to coordinate emerging mental skills with emerging manual dexterity. Soon, however, he will be popping the pacifier in and out, literally in his
sleep, as if it were an appendage.
As we grow, we develop the ability to intuitively process more complex situations or tasks. The oldest of the three Sikora boys, Adrian, is three and a half and can catch a ball thrown from a short distance. Last summer, a thrown ball would bounce off Adrian’s chest as his arms flailed together a beat too slowly. In a few years he will be chasing down pop-ups as effortlessly as you or I shoo away a mosquito.
While they are the easiest to describe, it is not only physical activities that we learn to perform intuitively; the brain is constantly habituating thinking processes and carrying them out below the surface of our awareness. We intuitively step away from a dark alley, resist getting onto an elevator with someone who looks “wrong,” and turn one direction rather than the other when lost. We all have the experience of “knowing” something without being sure why we know it.
Once again, however, the socialization process inhibits our trust in our intuition. As children we think we know what is best for us based on what we feel, but our parents—if we are lucky—do their best to keep us from hurting ourselves. The unintended consequence is that we learn to doubt ourselves when we shouldn’t. And the bigger the risk is, the more we doubt ourselves. We stop relying on our inner knowing and we begin to consciously analyze our circumstances and figure out our responses. Casual situations—catching a ball, driving a car on a familiar road, making small talk by the water cooler—are comfortably handled intuitively. Larger, more-critical situations—who should I marry, where should I live, what car should I buy, etc.—are pulled into consciousness for analysis and resolution.
Again, this is as it should be. The problem, which is typically one of efficacy rather than dire consequence, occurs when situations that can be handled intuitively are forced into the conscious: Decisions are delayed or deferred and opportunities are missed. In the business world this phenomenon is called “paralysis through analysis”: deadlines are missed, market opportunities come and go, time is wasted.
This is the central dilemma found at Point Five of the Enneagram. Again, it occurs for each of us, Ennea-type Five feels the disconnection from intuition most acutely. Rather than trusting inner knowing based on experience, they step back and analyze, weigh options, and cogitate. This stepping back, or detaching, leads to the Five’s not actually doing things, robbing them of opportunities to internalize actions and processes and further reinforcing the need to step back and analyze some
Mature intuition, because it is based on internalized experience, takes time to nurture, just like the rest of the core qualities. One way to assist that development is through the accelerator of “conscious practice.”
The focus of the Five tends to be on observing from a distance rather than engaging and doing. They can nurture intuition by consciously practicing activities so that they develop the ability to do them naturally and unconsciously (that is, intuitively). When we practice something we carve neural pathways in our brain that allow for habituated behavior. While I’ve written in past articles about the danger of habitual behavior and how to overcome it, I am not against unconscious behavior. I
am against ineffective unconscious behavior. There are many times when
unconscious behavior works for us: when swerving the car to avoid a collision, snatching a child out of harm’s way, catching a ball.
Conscious practice allows us to create patterns of effective unconscious behavior.
Learning follows four typical phases:
1. Unconscious incompetence (“I don’t even know that I don’t know how to do this”),
2. Conscious incompetence (“I now see that I don’t know how to do this”),
3. Conscious competence (“I now see that I know how to do this”), and
4. Unconscious competence (“I no longer pay attention to how I do this”).
Making this cycle conscious is what the accelerator of conscious practice is all about. It means not just “practicing” something, but practicing deliberately in a structured manner.(1) Here are two examples:
Beginning martial artists spend countless hours practicing their techniques individually, executing thousands of single kicks, punches, and blocks until they develop adequate coordination. Then they will string the individual techniques into sequences called “kata” or forms and practice pre-arranged combinations with an opponent. Eventually, they will practice free-style sparring. The martial artist who is new to sparring will be trapped in his head, constantly thinking about what his opponent is doing, might do, and how he will respond. This will cause his movement to be hesitant and stiff, and he will easily be defeated by a more experienced fighter. Eventually, however, with enough practice the martial artist will begin to unconsciously act out his training and experience. His movements will be natural and relaxed, he will find himself automatically executing the techniques he has practiced countless times at just the right moments. He has learned to fight intuitively.
Fives are often plagued by an inability to be decisive. They want one more piece of data to analyze, one more variable to factor, or one more day to consider the evidence before being ready to act. This capacity for patient analysis is a gift and has great potential benefit; it is also the source of frustration for many people who expect decisions from Fives and it is the most common behavioral inhibitor of Fives’ careers.
Fives (and others who struggle to be more decisive) benefit from consciously practicing making decisions, starting small and working up to larger matters. I sometimes urge Fives to pick a simple decision they have to make each day, such as what to have for breakfast, what kind of coffee to have, or what to wear to work, and put a short time limit on themselves. Rather than deliberate for the 30 seconds they may usually take at the Starbucks counter (at the risk of being thrashed by the large and irritated Eight behind them), they limit themselves to 10 seconds. Since the stakes are relatively small, the Five doesn’t lose much by making a decision he
later regrets. As time goes on, he can move to larger and more complicated
decisions to practice.
Despite our view of ourselves and rational creatures, most decisions are based on emotion, and there is a specific feeling that accompanies decisiveness. It is important to learn to recognize the feeling that accompanies this exercise. This feeling can then be deliberately recalled in the future as a useful aid in making more important decisions. What typically happens, however, is that practicing decisiveness eventually makes it an unconscious skill that no longer needs to be practiced.
The goal here is not to make anyone rush to decisions; there are many times when that is a mistake. The goal is to develop the ability to be more decisive when the situation requires. Practicing being decisive at Starbucks today helps one be more decisive in critical matters tomorrow.
Thus ends Mario Sikora's writing, and now back to me:
I love the clarity and specificity with which he lays out his points, and I particularly like his use of brain science (with references to popular cinema and observations of his son's development, too!)
The article also has a long section on working with a 7; as a 6, I identify with both 7 and 5 issues, so I found the article helpful. However, I was quite surprised that the difference between explicit and implicit knowledge is used to discuss point 5, rather than point 6. I associate 6 with needing and wanting more certainty before making decisions, rather than 5. I also associate 6 with the compulsive need to drag things into conscious awareness instead of just doing them.
Sikora's discussion of developing decisiveness and learning to trust to one's intuition reminds me of my task as a 6, which is to learn to trust my Inner Guidance. As a 6 (i.e. as the primary type in the thinking triad), I am supposed to be "most out of touch with" thinking. Riso and Hudson in The Wisdom of the Enneagram say "Sixes are the primary type in the Thinking Triad, meaning that they have the most trouble connecting to their own inner guidance. As a result, they do not have confidence in their own minds and judgment. This does not mean that they do not think. On the contrary, they think -- and worry -- a lot." Riso and Hudson discuss contact with Essence as what helps 6s realize that they are on a firm foundation with their own inner guidance: "When Sixes experience this truth, they feel solid, steady, and supported, as if they were standing on a massive bed of granite. They realize that this ground is the only real security in life, and it is what gives Sixes immense courage. This is the real meaning of faith, their particular Essential quality. Faith is not belief, but a real, immediate knowing that comes from experience. Faith without experience is belief. Faith with experience brings reliable guidance. Much of the personality of Sixes can be seen in an effort to imitate or recreate faith in terms of beliefs and to find a substitute for the certainty that they are already secure as an expression of the Divine."
I find this problematic. As a 6, my central sin is faithlessness (as Cindi and I teach it, anyway -- many others teach that the 6's sin is fear.) The 6's dilemma is how to get there from here? (That is, if you haven't had the kind of experiences Riso and Hudson describe.)
As for Sikora's prescription, frankly, I don't find the advice to practice making small decisions ALL THAT satisfying as a way to access one's intuition, but I do see how it would help, and I see why, and it has the added virtue of not making me extremely uncomfortable.
I am interested in reading more by Mario Sikora, for the reasons enumerated above, and I am in luck, because Cindi received his book, Awareness to Action, for Christmas.
Sikora's discussion of practice and martial arts reminds me of this idea about dreams as the dojo for waking life.