The Core Qualities and Intuition

Mario Sikora
Apr 12, 2012

In my recent article on “Awareness to Action Coaching” I briefly discussed the nine core qualities. These are innate aspects of the human condition that correlate to the points on the Enneagram and provide a particular existential dilemma for each Ennea-type. In this post I will say a few words about the core qualities and then talk about the quality associated with Point Five, intuition.

I step gingerly any time the topic of “human nature” comes up; there is so much we don’t know and far too many unsupported assumptions that people make. Essentialists believe that humans have certain characteristics that have been there since the beginning of time; others would argue that there is no such thing as “human nature.” I think the truth is somewhere in the middle: the Essentialists are wrong because we are an evolved species and thus our nature must have evolved (and be evolving still); however, it is hard to ignore that there are certain shared temperamental characteristics about humans.

Another argument occurs about whether these characteristics are fully formed at the beginning or whether they mature over time. I fall into the latter camp on this and it shapes the way I think about these fundamental qualities of our nature.

Some traditions teach that we have some sort of a priori perfect nature that only waits to be uncovered before it can shine forth. All we have to do is stop doing our “personality” and something fully formed will simply appear. This view flies in the face of all we know about the rest of nature (and all that we know from modern cognitive science); nothing in nature exists in its finished state. Everything is in the process of becoming and evolving.

My understanding of core qualities is that they work the same way. When we are born, they exist in us in an immature form and over the course of our life they mature. However, circumstances can stunt their maturation and part of our work on ourselves should be to create circumstances that allow that maturation to occur.

The analogy I like to use is that the core qualities are like acorns that have the capacity to grow into an oak tree, but their development can be inhibited by circumstances. They need good soil, water, enough sunlight, etc. Nurtured, they will grow into something grand; hindered, they will not.

Let’s look at intuition, the core quality at Point Five of the Enneagram.

Intuition, according to Merriam Webster, is “the power or faculty of attaining to direct knowledge or cognition without evident rational thought and inference.” When we are born, we have only intuition to rely on because we have not yet developed any capacity for rational thought or inference. We approach life relying on instinctive, non-conscious tools, trusting some inner guidance because it is all we have to rely on. Those intuitive faculties do not go away as we develop the capacities for rational thought, and an inner conflict can start to develop as we wrestle with when to rely on our intuition and when to rely on rational, deliberative thought.

In his excellent book, “Thinking, Fast and Slow,” Daniel Kahneman presents a model of two systems of thinking. System 1 is “fast, intuitive, and emotional” while System 2 is “slower, more deliberative, and more logical.” In describing System 1, Kahneman identifies a variety of heuristics, or intuitive mental models, that generally aid us in coping with the world around us, but that are imperfect and sometimes unreliable. While System 1 is great for solving simple problems, when we over-rely on it we are hindered by a variety cognitive errors that can deceive and mislead us (on this latter note, I would also recommend to the reader Robert Trivers’ bracing “The Folly of Fools: The Logic of Deceit and Self-Deception in Human Life”).

The core quality of intuition, in it’s immature or naive form, is rooted in System 1. It is an innate set of mechanisms that help us process and act on stimuli in quick and non-conscious ways. For simple matters it is usually sufficient, but for more complex matters it often falls short. 

As I said, we develop a complicated relationship with our intuition as we grow. On the one hand, we are frequently compelled to trust it and often over-rely on it, misinterpreting reality with great confidence in our assessment. At other times, we don’t trust it when we should. 

A variety of forces conspire early in life to stunt the healthy maturation of our intuitive capabilities. Humans are not natural critical thinkers, so we don’t always develop the critical thinking skills that help us overcome the inaccuracies of our naive intuitions. We receive messages from those who are charged with our care that we can’t rely on our intuitions and must instead rely on them for insight. When we do have a naive intuition we mistake if for objective truth.

Systems 1 and 2 need not be at odds with each other and, in fact, consciously and deliberately developing our System 2 thinking helps us become more effective System 1 thinkers. In other words, when we become better “thinkers”we become better “intuiters.”

This happens because the brain likes to automate as many activities as it can. When we we become strong critical thinkers who are aware of cognitive biases, skilled reasoning vs. logical fallacies, the scientific method, etc., we will gradually incorporate the use of those tools into our habitual (i.e., System 1) thinking. 

At its heart, what we are talking about when we talk about better integrating System 1 and System 2 thinking is moving from naive intuition, where we are convinced of the accuracy our suspicions, biases, and emotion-based reasoning, to mature and informed intuition, which springs from mastery of a topic.

An example of this transition from naive intuition to mature intuition is to look at the way anyone gains proficiency in a sport. The first time most people pick up a tennis racket to try to serve a tennis ball, they follow their instincts on how to hit the ball. They don’t think too much about it; they just hit the ball. The result will be, at best, suboptimal. Others, however, may be paralyzed the first time they try to serve a tennis ball, being so uncomfortable with the natural process of hitting a ball that they think too much and never swing the racket. They don’t trust their instincts and intuitions at all. Regardless of one’s starting point–pure intuition or paralyzing intellectualization (or somewhere in between), people can become better tennis players. With instruction and a great deal of practice, they go through a phase of thinking a lot about how to serve a tennis ball before they end up back at a place where they no longer think about it anymore, but the result is a masterful serve. They go though the stages of unconscious incompetence to conscious incompetence to conscious competence to unconscious competence.

This same process applies to all physical activities, and to mental activities as well. Our intellectual intuition grows when we spend the time to master a topic and go through the four stages listed above.

Unfortunately, mature intuition does not seem to be a general capacity. That is, having mature intuition in one area does not necessarily mean that one will have mature intuition in all areas. However, our intuitive capacities can mature more quickly with the right nurturing. In the coaching article referenced at the beginning of this post, I also talk about nine accelerators, practices that speed the maturation of the core qualities. The accelerator associated with intuition is conscious practice. By this I mean mastering a topic intellectually though methodical study and (if relevant) mastering it physically through deliberate and methodical practice. It is also important to be aware of all of the tricks of naive intuition; cognitive biases, errors of logic, false assumptions, etc. that can keep us trapped in naive intuition.

This core quality is placed at Point Five on the Enneagram because while we all fall victim to the stunting of our intuitive capacities, it is a more acute issue for Ennea-type Fives. Because Fives can throw themselves so deeply into a topic they frequently become experts in a variety of topics and become pretty intuitive about those topics. I’ve worked with a number of Fives who were subject-matter experts in a particular area of technology, for instance, who were highly regarded for their intuitive understanding of their field. However, in areas in which they are not subject-matter experts, Fives tend to be distrustful of their intuitions and overly intellectualize issues. This is particularly noticeable in topics that have a physical or social element. I have met Fives who are good athletes, but it is not uncommon for Fives to know everything there is to know about a sport or physical activity without ever having actually engaged in it. Likewise, they may spend time analyzing relationships but not trusting their ability to actually relate to others. They fail to practice the small social interactions and behaviors that allow one to develop better interpersonal skills.

Further, if the Five has not mastered critical thinking skills they can be overly confident in their intuitive assumptions about any variety of matters. An example of this is the reclusive Five conspiracy theorist who can’t be swayed from their opinions no matter what evidence they face.

The maturation of intuition, like all of the core qualities, can be nurtured with a few relatively simple activities: 

  • Work on developing critical thinking skills and recognizing and avoiding the cognitive traps of the mind.
  • Engage in structured, deliberate practice related to the area in which you are trying to become more intuitive.
  • Recognize that intuition is not a general quality and just because we have developed intuitive capacities in some area does not mean that our intuitions are equally skillful in other areas.
  • Learn to differentiate areas in which it is acceptable to rely on our intuitions and when we need to use more deliberate processes.

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