A Coaching Power Tool Created by Emily Rayburn
(Self-Development Coach, UNITED STATES)
Knowing yourself the beginning of all wisdom – Aristotle
This is a familiar adage by one of the most famous philosophers, and while I don’t assume to understand all the mysteries of the human psyche, I think this quote provides some valuable insight in that direction. What does it mean to “know yourself?” How does one go about that process and is it really that helpful? In my power tool – Inner-expectation vs Inner-observation I explore that concept. I illustrate how clients can often find themselves unable to reach their personal growth goals because they are focused on inner expectation instead of inner observation. By understanding the differences between inner-expectation and inner-observation, clients are empowered to look at everyday evidence of who they are, rather than ideas or beliefs about who they are, or who they think they should be. Furthermore, inner-observation can help clients explore why they are acting or behaving in certain ways in different situations. This enables them to change what they want to change, accept who they are, and ultimately become more self-aware and live their life the way they desire. An important concept to note is when using inner-observation a level of self-awareness around a certain behavior or situation must be present. If you don’t have any self-awareness you can’t begin to use inner-observation as a tool for transformation. This isn’t often an issue in coaching because clients come to a session already aware that they want to change, they just are stuck trying to make the change.
Inner-expectation vs Inner-observation
Inner-expectation means having an intellectual idea of who you are and/or who you think you should be and moving through life often in “autopilot mode” without taking time to stop and get curious about what you think about yourself and your behavior. It’s likely an unconscious perception of ourselves we formed at some point and now struggle to keep up or change. Often this knowledge is based on other’s opinions and input, underlying beliefs, and perceived childhood and life experiences. It’s not based on empirical knowing or the ability to step back and look at yourself in real-time and evaluate the situation for what it is. Inner-observation, on the other hand, offers us just that – a real-time acknowledgment of our behavior without judgment. When we use inner observation we can better assess what’s really happening with our behavioral patterns and from there make real changes that reflect who we truly are and what we want out of life. Another benefit to using inner-observation is the ability to get curious about our behavior and choices. While inner-expectation makes assumptions and clings to preconceived notions about ourselves, inner-observation leaves room to ask ourselves why we are doing what we do as we notice ourselves actually doing them.
Application – An Example
“Autopilot Mode” which fuels living based in inner-expectation
Unconscious Self-Perception and Performance also impact how we view ourselves and our work performance. Decisions are made primarily in ways that confirm the beliefs we already have. This occurs unconsciously in both positive and negative ways. – MindingDiversity.org
While we can go into autopilot mode and it sometimes works in our favor (in this case we may not need inner-observation because we don’t need to change anything) we have all found ourselves trying to change something we do and we can’t seem to “make it happen.” In this sense, the “autopilot” mode takes over. For example, let’s say you want to change a certain behavior like getting defensive when confronted with feedback at work. You have an inner expectation that says “it’s not good to be a defensive person,” and you don’t want to act that way anymore. You have a belief that people should be open and accept feedback as a positive experience. You vow you will be open when next confronted with feedback and accept it graciously. Then the next day the situation comes up, a manager offers feedback, and you get defensive again. You act in this “autopilot mode” and regret it immediately. You go back to your desk and get mad at yourself for failing, or maybe you blame the other person and how they confronted you. You ask yourself “why do I keep acting this way when I don’t want to?” If all you have is inner expectation telling you you don’t want to act this way, what can you do to change this? Not much, unfortunately. All this is based on some idea you have about yourself that you shouldn’t be defensive because someone told you not to or you believe you shouldn’t act this way. When you were being defensive you were in the inner-expectation auto-pilot mode that wasn’t engaging in the situation as it was happening but just responding in the way you always do. You had no information to help you change you simply told yourself you would change and expected that to happen. This is often where we find ourselves “stuck,” unable to change, and getting frustrated when we keep repeating undesired behaviors.
Switching off auto-pilot by using inner-observation
We all have an Inner Observer. The observing self can discern the differences between thoughts, memories, plans, fantasies, emotions, and physical sensations. This Inner Observer is ‘what’s left,’ the awareness that remains, as the personality recedes. – from The Narrative Enneagram program.
When we can access this “inner observer” we can catch behavior in real-time as it arises. In the example of getting defensive at work, when using inner-observation, you pause and notice that you are getting defensive. This turns off the inner-expectation part of you and allows you to be open and curious about what’s going on. You can look at this isolated incident and determine how you need to respond. Often this is different from a non-conscious habitual response formed in self-expectation. Instead, you can evaluate from real-time evidence given in your body, heart, and mind. You are responding at the moment to what’s actually happening, not what has happened before or what might happen in the future. You are not responding from an idea of what you “should do” or “should be.” This gives you control to respond how you see most fit at the moment. It doesn’t guarantee you will always do the right thing, but the more you can use inner observation and catch your behavior as it happens, the more you can figure out why you are responding that way, and what you need to do to change it. Another important part of the inner observation is the ability to accept reality and let go of judgment. In our example perhaps there are times where being defensive is a reaction that isn’t the best choice for you, but sometimes maybe it is. Now we can use the inner observer to get curious about why we are wanting to get defensive. Is it because you know the manager is correct in her assessment of you? Then maybe you can look at what you can change. Maybe you’re getting defensive because your manager never tells you what she expects and you are always trying to hit a moving target – perhaps then your defensiveness is “justified” and you can approach the problem from another angle. When we use inner observation instead of inner expectation we can slow down and notice what’s actually happening, get curious about ourselves, and then approach the situation in ways that support real change.
This power tool is based on my work with the Narrative Enneagram Tradition. When I began my training program I expected to learn more about the Enneagram and how to use it in my coaching practice. I’d been fascinated by the Enneagram, its accuracy, and its ability to help me understand and express myself and wanted to help others do the same. What I didn’t realize is that I would be transformed through the process. I personally had very high and unattainable self-expectations. I would move through life quickly striving to reach all my goals in record time. I had a difficult time connecting to my emotions until they would overflow and I would find myself overwhelmed and burnt out. I would feel as though I was failing at life and would judge myself harshly. I also didn’t realize it at the time, but I would shy away from challenges I wasn’t confident about, this way I could avoid failure. I often had self-expectations based on what I thought others would admire instead of what I wanted from life. All this can be explained by the type structure of Enneagram 3. Once I realized this self-expectation was based on my personality, a shadow of the whole person I was created to be, I had some new and very valuable self-awareness. This is when I needed to use inner-observation like never before. Once I learned how to stop going through life in auto-pilot mode of self-expectation, I was able to really see the changes I desired in my life as they presented themselves. I was able to better prioritize. I gave myself much more grace and kindness. I was able to decide what it was that I really wanted, not just what I assumed others wanted of me. I was able to pinpoint more and more what I was feeling in the moment and be with those feelings – observing them without judgment or needing to move into action. My life hasn’t been the same. I still have a long way to go on my journey, our inner work never really ends, but I’m so grateful to be on the path and using inner observation as I continue to walk the road of life.
Application – How to Use Inner-Observation
This process was taught to me by my teachers Renee Rosario and Terry Saracino at the Enneagram Intensive Part 1. The teaching is based on the works of Helen Palmer and Associates and David Daniels, MD. who founded the Narrative Enneagram.
The Process is as follows:
The Inner Observer is needed to step away from self-expectation and use self-observation. There are 3 steps to use (and it generally takes us a lifetime to master doing so) when using self-observation via the “inner observer.”
- Notice – this requires “catching” yourself at the moment when the behavior/thought/feeling in question comes up. Often we play “Monday morning quarterback” when we find ourselves disappointed in our reactions and behaviors. Sometimes we blame others or circumstances, sometimes we blame ourselves, but it’s always easier to see “what I should have done” in hindsight. To change this we need to learn to notice in real-time when we see our personality, or type structure, get “triggered.” This doesn’t mean we need to do anything about it – we just need to learn to notice it when it happens. There are resources for us to foster this “noticing” in our logical thought, emotional intelligence, and instinctual intelligence. When we begin to use self-observation we let go of self-expectations and simply notice what’s happening as it happens. According to NewScientist’s newsletter, “ Our autopilot mode seems to be run by a set of brain structures called the default mode network (DMN). It was discovered in the 1990s when researchers noticed that people lying in brain scanners show patterns of brain activity even when they aren’t really doing anything. This research provided the first evidence that our brains are active even when we aren’t consciously putting our minds to work. This suggests that when we “switch off”, our brains go into an autopilot mode which allows us to perform tasks reasonably without thinking much about them.” By actively noticing what’s happening at the moment we can turn off auto-pilot mode and cue the inner-observer, keeping us present at the moment.
- Pause – Stopping for just 11-20 seconds, the amount of time it takes to take 3 deep breaths, can help us process the situation and become present at the moment instead of letting the autopilot take hold. “The mind has neuro-pathways that sort for familiar patterns from past experiences to make sense of current experiences.” – Overview of Somatic Intelligence – The Narrative Enneagram.
- Allow – This may be the most important part and really allows us to use inner-observation versus inner-expectation. Allow means to give permission to, accept, or simply acknowledge what’s going on. That means acknowledging that you are being triggered, or that you are about to lose your temper again, or that you are backing down from a fight again, etc… You don’t have to do anything about this at this point – just allow it.
When we notice, pause, and allow we can open up to curiosity without judgment. We can really look at what’s going on. The more you know about yourself, using tools like the Enneagram, the easier this process becomes.
In summary, moving from a place of self-expectation to self-observation is a powerful tool to help clients move from a place of blame, shame, and judgment – a powerless place where they are unable to change behaviors, feelings, and expectation – to self-observation – a very empowering ability to take what is real at the moment, assess that situation and apply your learning for change.
Hidden Bias at Work. (2015, October). Https://Mindingdiversity.Org/
Hamzelou, J. (2017, October 23). Your autopilot is real – now we know how the brain does it. Https://Www.Newscientist.Com/
Rosario, R., & Saracino, T. (2019, October 25–27). Enneagram Intensive – Part 1 [The Narrative Enneagram Training]. The Narrative Enneagram, Denver, CO, USA.