Using the Enneagram for Greater Self-Understanding

A few years ago, a friend and I embarked on a cross-country road trip to Omaha, Nebraska where we attended an Enneagram workshop. We spent all day in an art space, talking with strangers about our numbers and wings and self-revelations. In the evening, my friend and I took our conversation to a seemingly misplaced French restaurant on the cobblestoned main street. We talked for hours until the restaurant closed, eating tartines and fromages in the midwest heat and feeling alive with our newfound knowledge. Finally, we had language for the fears and feelings that we’d buried for too long.

[The Enneagram] has the power to point us all towards self-awareness and healthier living.

Since that experience, the Enneagram has been sacred for me. It sounds cliché—to say that it’s changed my life—but learning about this ancient tool has been essential for self-understanding and growth; it’s transformed my relationships with loved ones and strengthened my marriage.

Knowing my Enneagram number has also brought me into a deeper relationship with myself, gifting me tools to thrive, even in my shortcomings. The Enneagram, while not the end-all-be-all, has the power to point us all towards self-awareness and healthier living.

Discovering Your Enneagram Number

Learning your Enneagram number is not as simple as taking an online survey. While there are tests to point you in the right direction (these are our favorites), most Enneagram teachers advocate for discovery through reading, self-reflection, and meditation. You need to learn about all nine numbers and listen for the one that speaks most to you (sorry, there’s no quick answer here). Trust me, though; it’s worth the journey. Even mistyping yourself can be an essential step in arriving at your number.

A few tips as you research: pay particular attention to the core fears and motivations. Don’t mind the jokes and memes and social media posts about number behavior patterns. Being organized doesn’t make you an Enneagram one; just like being a musician doesn’t mean you’re a four. Ignore the stereotypes, and focus instead on the desires and rationales of each number.

Everyone’s discovery process is different. Your number may be incredibly obvious to you, or it may take years to reveal itself.

Also, remember that everyone’s discovery process is different. Your number may be incredibly obvious, or it may take years to reveal itself. I’ve mistyped myself more than once, but I’ve learned as much about who I am in the mistyping as I have in discovering my number. Take your time with the process, and, at the risk of sounding a bit woo, allow your number to speak to you when its ready. 

Finally, the Enneagram is not all-encompassing, and it’s helpful to keep that in mind as you move forward. While the tool is helpful for growth and awareness, people are not the sum of their Enneagram number—or any other typing system for that matter. We are unique, even those of us with the same numbers. Work through that lens, realizing that, while your type can help you better understand your inner wiring, it is not reductive, nor is it a complete reflection of who you are.

Thriving in Your Enneagram Number

Discovering your number is not the end of the Enneagram journey; it’s the beginning. You know that saying, “ignorance is bliss?” Sometimes that can feel true with this work. Unlike many personality typing systems, the Enneagram invites us to confront, explore, and work through our fears and inner shadows, which can feel discouraging. 

Discovering your number is not the end of the Enneagram journey; it’s the beginning.

The good news is that growth happens when we learn to see and name our shadows and celebrate our unique strengths. Through honest self-reflection and conversations with loved ones, we can see the bigger picture and recognize when we’re entering unhealthy mindsets. Only then can we adopt tools and self-care habits to move us towards wellbeing.

A quick disclaimer: I am not a trained teacher or Enneagram expert (more like the ‘in-house Enneagram enthusiast’ 🤩). While this piece includes comprehensive summaries for each number as I best understand them from my own research, I recommend these expert sources (teachers, books, and podcasts) to learn more about the history, function, and present-day use of the Enneagram.

Type One: The Reformer
I desire to be good. I fear being defective.

Ones are the reformers, the builders, the fixers, and the perfectionists most of us wish to be. They leave things better than they found them, and they have a deep yearning to improve the world and positively impact society. Ones can be incredibly judgmental of themselves and others, and of all the numbers on the Enneagram, they have the strongest inner critic. Ones carry with them a harsh voice that perpetually critiques their decisions and performances.

Thriving Tips for Enneagram Ones | Practice silencing your inner critic by remaining skeptical of its claims, and counter negative self-talk with gentle truths and affirmations. Invite loved ones into this journey and lean on them during your hardest days. Believe others when they say: You are good.

Try These Practices:

  • Seek out lighthearted & inconsequential activities—have fun!

  • Use to-do lists to clear your head & time blocks to separate work and rest.

  • Start a morning meditation practice & use breathing apps.

  • Keep a gratitude journal & use sticky notes for visual affirmations.

Type Two: The Helper
I desire to be loved. I fear being unworthy of love.

Twos are genuine, warm, and naturally-intuitive. They have a sincere eagerness to help and care for others. Sometimes, though, they allow their needs to go unmet. Self-care can be challenging for them because Twos fear that, if they aren’t needed, they may not be worthy of love.

Thriving Tips for Enneagram Twos | You are loved and worthy regardless of how much you do for others. Lean into this truth, and carve out space for uninterrupted YOU time as a regular practice (here are 99 free self-care ideas!). Be greedy about it! Don’t let your fears or negative thoughts get in the way of self-care.

Try These Practices:

  • Yoga, dancing, and/or stretching for physical self-care.

  • Cook an elaborate meal for yourself—splurge on your favorite ingredients!

  • Take yourself on a solo date. Treat yourself the way you would a friend.

Type Three: The Achiever
I desire to be enough. I fear being worthless.

Also called The Performers, Threes are success-oriented, image-conscious, and motivated by affirmation. At their best, they are driven, productive, focused, and fast-paced individuals. Threes tend to overwork themselves and often get caught up in tasks because they want to look successful. Nicknamed the shape-shifters, they are professionals at adapting to become whoever they believe others want them to be.

Thriving Tips for Enneagram Threes | Take time to explore activities you genuinely enjoy, especially ones that go unnoticed and are solely for you. Social media breaks are also essential for wellbeing. 

Try These Practices:

  • Set work & screen-time boundaries—especially if you are working from home.

  • Try non-competitive & non-performance-based hobbies.

  • Journal, meditate, and practice slowing down. Resist the urge to stay busy.

  • Acknowledge and vocalize your emotions and needs.

Type Four: The Individualist
I desire to be understood. I fear insignificance.

Learning I am an Enneagram Four has helped me develop a language for so many of my unnamed feelings (and Fours have many feelings). I’ve learned how to recognize my triggers for mood swings and withdrawal, as well as the importance of pouring myself into creative projects. I’ve also discovered how to be skeptical of emotions and ask myself hard questions, such as “How do my feelings differ from reality, from what I know to be true vs. how I feel?” Often these are opposing answers. I may feel misunderstood or like I don’t belong, but a chain of texts from loved ones say otherwise.

Thriving Tips for Enneagram Fours | Feelings can get the best of us, so use physical activities to stay embodied and grounded. Pour your energy into art, volunteering, and relationships—these practices will gift you the significance you crave while directing your attention outward.

Try These Practices:

  • Start your morning with embodied activities: drink water, eat breakfast, stretch.

  • Get out of your head by getting outside. Go for regular walks.

  • When feeling withdrawn, write down your feelings alongside measurable truths to combat false narratives.

  • Create! Channel all those feelings into hands-on activities. Make art, plant a garden, build furniture, etc.

Type Five: The Investigator 
I desire to be all-knowing. I fear incompetence.

Enneagram Fives are visionaries, curious explorers, and seekers of knowledge. Generally, they are private people and feel most comfortable when alone. Fives can also struggle with detachment, sometimes feeling the need to choose between social relationships and the journey towards discovery and understanding.

Thriving Tips for Enneagram Fives | Commit to a hands-on project this year (preferably one with accountability), and be intentional with your relationships. Remember that you can still ask big questions while being physical and present in the world. Do something every day to ground yourself.

Try These Practices:

  • Train for a race or set out to accomplish a physical feat by the end of the year.

  • Create space to honor your intellect and big questions. Join a virtual book club, keep a journal, or start a blog to channel your thoughts.

  • Spend time each week investing in your relationships. If it’s safe in your area, go on a socially distant hike with a friend or cook a meal over Facetime with a loved one.

Type Six: The Loyalist
I desire security. I fear abandonment.

Enneagram Sixes are calculated, driven by responsibility, loyalty, and need a secure environment. They are the ‘go down with the ship’ number, although this comes with a hefty dose of skepticism. Sixes struggle with trust, and they’re especially distrusting of their own instincts. Fear tends to immobilize them, keeping them from moving forward and making decisions.

Thriving Tips for Enneagram Sixes | You need to feel safe and assured in your steps before making decisions—and that’s okay. But don’t allow fear to keep you from taking necessary risks. Learn to trust yourself and set reasonable timelines for making decisions. Ask your family and friends to hold you accountable.

Try These Practices:

  • Keep your living & work environments organized to avoid unnecessary chaos.

  • Routine and habits are essential for your stability. Embrace them.

  • Write down your long-term goals & the practical steps you need to take to get there.

Type Seven: The Enthusiast
I desire contentment. I fear pain.

Enneagram Sevens are pegged the fun number. They are enthusiastic about life and know how to have a good time. They also love to be busy and surrounded by people. Sevens also struggle with embracing harder feelings, and they tend to avoid acknowledging deeper emotions. Despite being ‘life of the party’ numbers, they can easily slip into pain avoidance and emotional detachment.

Thriving Tips for Enneagram Sevens | Direct all your energy and enthusiasm into only a few tasks, and practice doing nothing (like stretching in silence) for a few moments each day. When you feel yourself resisting your feelings, pull out a journal and write them down.

Try These Practices:

  • Allocate regular time to journal, meditate, or talk to someone about your feelings.

  • Spend a few hours a week in nature & solitude. Be protective of this time, even when spontaneity tries to creep in.

  • Direct your energy & enthusiasm into a few tasks instead of saying ‘yes’ to everything.

Type Eight: The Challenger
I desire control. I fear being harmed.

Enneagram Eights long for authenticity and honest conversations. Eights are incredible leaders; they fight for the underdogs and love challenging systems. This makes them especially valuable in social justice and human rights positions. Eights can be confrontational and cynical, and they fear losing control or being exposed as weak (this can manifest as anger). To help with these emotions, Enneagram teachers recommend Eights spend time helping others, practice intentional listening, and delegate tasks.

Thriving Tips for Enneagram Eights | Spend time by yourself doing an activity you love, and keep a gratitude journal for reflection. Be conscious of when you’re speaking over people, and practice intentional, judgment-free listening.

Try These Practices:

  • Use breathing exercises to center yourself when feeling angry or cynical.

  • Resist the urge to take charge all the time. Invite others to speak & lead.

  • Channel your leadership skills into volunteering for charitable organizations & political causes.

Type Nine: The Peacemaker
I desire stability. I fear separation.

Nines are peacemakers. As optimists and supporters, they are the number that can identify with everyone else on the Enneagram—aside from themselves. Nines often get lost in the mix and forgo their needs and desires, much like Twos. Self-care is challenging for them because they’re focused on the wellbeing of everyone else. This leaves Nines feeling depleted and without a sense of identity.

Thriving Tips for Enneagram Nines | Even peacemakers need alone time. Carve out time for self-care each week. Make choices (gasp!) with self-interest in mind, and advocate for your wants and needs (they matter). When someone asks for your opinion, speak up.

Try These Practices:

  • Spend time exploring your passions, desires, & needs. Carve out ‘you’ time.

  • Set firm boundaries so that you’re not always helping others & playing mediator—even if that means (gently) turning away a friend.

  • Rather than going with the flow, practice voicing your opinions & making decisions in group settings.


Kayti Christian (she/her) is an Editor at The Good Trade. She has a Master’s in Nonfiction Writing from the University of London and is the creator of Feelings Not Aside, a newsletter for enneagram 4s and other sensitive-identifying people. Outside of writing, she loves hiking, reading memoir, and the Oxford comma.