When discovering your Enneagram type, it is common to get confused and to see yourself in more than one personality style. It can be helpful to remember that the Enneagram is about identifying a habit of attention. Behavioral traits radiate out from these thought patterns, but the behavior is secondary to the question “where does your attention go?” Behavior on its own is a seductive, but often misleading, indicator of type.

The Enneagram Type 1, Perfectionist and Type 3, Achiever look-alike phenomenon is a great example of how you can't judge a book by its cover and how similar external behaviors can be based on very different internal motivations. 

These Enneagram types are often confused because both share many observable characteristics and behavioral patterns. But when you pull back the curtain, you’ll see a very different set of motivations.

Behavioral Similarities Between Enneagram Type 1 and Type 3

Both Type 1s and Type 3s are achievement-oriented go-getters, focused on setting and accomplishing their goals. Both often rise high in their chosen fields, due largely to their pragmatic, goal-oriented focus. Both types may have themes of workaholism and both types exhibit difficulty slowing down and deeply relaxing. Impatience is a trait both may share.

Type 1s and Type 3s may have themes of wanting more and a subconscious sense they can never achieve enough. Both can package up their emotions and put them off to the side to allow more space for practical achievement. Type 1s and Type 3s share a spirit of competition and a drive to deliver high quality results. And both can have challenges truly connecting to their softer emotions and speaking from their heart.

But while all these similarities might lead you to think these two types are cut from the same cloth, that would be a mistake. While the actions might look similar, the internal experience is completely different. Let’s take a closer look inside the mind of a Type 1 and the mind of a Type 3.

The Mind of an Enneagram Type 1

The Type 1 habit of attention gravitates towards improvement, and Type 1s don’t easily resonate with the idea of “good enough.” Their mind notices mistakes and flaws, seeks efficiency and order, and they have a natural gift for practical problem-solving. Need a trip scheduled or a living space remodeled? Give that task to your Type 1 friend, partner, or co-worker and watch as all the details fall into place with an impressive level of precision. The Type 1 mind has an eye for the nitty-gritty and organizing, structuring, and implementing solutions is something that comes easily and naturally to them.

This is a person who works hard to get all the details correct, even if these details will never be in the public eye. Their focus stays on the task at hand and internally, Type 1s describe a never-ending to-do list of things to accomplish circulating through their mind. These are usually practical, tangible goals and with a Type 1, no task is too small and no detail too unimportant. They don’t need the limelight or seek the high profile project. They just need to know the measures of success and perfection so they can move towards that as their eventual outcome. Hardworking, diligent, thorough, and reliable, these are the folks that put work before play and try hard to avoid mistakes and errors. 

The Mind of an Enneagram Type 3

While also hard-working, in surprising contrast, the mind of a Type 3 is much less focused on the more mundane details. The Type 3 habit of attention gravitates towards success, and specifically success in the eyes of other people. With this as the backdrop, image and image-management take up a lot of space in their mind. There can be a relentless focus on achievement, but this achievement is predicated on gaining approval from others. Reputation matters a lot, and appearance can trump substance in the hierarchy of goals. 

In practical terms this can mean that details get missed, corners get cut, and a slick presentation may be favored over a substantive one. High profile work may be preferred to important but lower profile tasks. Everything is filtered through the eyes of others, and the Type 3 drive for perfection is more aligned around a role: the perfect partner, the perfect boss, the perfect teammate instead of the actual goal itself.

With these contrasting internal landscapes, differences begin to arise. A Type 3 on a business trip may care deeply about the color of their rental car whereas the Type 1 is focused on the gas mileage and amount of space in the same car. A Type 1 architect may spend hours designing an interior storage space no one will ever see while the Type 3 co-worker focuses on the front door and entryway. 

Not sure if you are a Type 1 or a Type 3? Ask yourself these questions:

1. Do you cut corners or do you feel a need to get every detail correct?

One of the most clarifying questions when trying to determine if someone is a Type 1 or a Type 3 is this attention to detail. Most Type 3s are willing to cut corners in order to go faster and get more accomplished. Type 1s are much less willing to sacrifice the details and may go at a slower pace, making sure all the finer points are addressed.

2. Which is more likely to keep you up at night: worrying that you made a mistake or worrying about what other people are saying about you?

Type 1s feel mistakes and errors very intensely. In a work environment, a Type 1 might be haunted for weeks or even months by an error they made. Being correct gives Type 1s a sense of security and making mistakes can be very destabilizing for them. 

Type 3s also dislike getting things wrong, but their sensitivity is more around their image and how the others are speaking about them. A mistake that doesn’t draw a lot of attention might roll off their back whereas an off-handed gibe from their co-worker may bother them for days.

3. How important is it to you that other people see your achievements?

Most people like praise but not everyone needs it in the same amount. Type 1s enjoy being told they did something well, and they appreciate when their hard work is recognized. But they typically have a strong internal compass so even if others overlook their achievements, they may feel very proud of themselves.  

Type 3s have a weaker internal compass and look to the outside world to tell them how they are doing. With a faulty internal GPS, it becomes really important that others see their achievements and recognize their accomplishments. They may be covert or overt about it, but most Type 3s will admit they seek praise and recognition from others.

4. How easy is it for you to tell the whole, unembellished truth (especially around your failures)?

The growth path for Type 3s is to move from fraud to authenticity. This is a challenging path for a mental type structure that feels failure very intensely. As such, Type 3s sometimes stretch the truth and even lie as a way to preserve their positive image. Telling the full, unedited reality of a situation may not come easily to them. Some Type 3s describe this truth stretching and embellishment as a matter of survival - it can feel that intense for them.

Type 1s on the other hand, are more comfortable with self-criticism, so while admitting their flaws may be painful, it is usually within their capacity. It is easier for them to come forward with an honest self-critique, and their habit of attention makes it easier for them to stay closely aligned with the truth.

As you can see, the internal worlds of these two types differ dramatically but as the external behavior can be so similar, it may take a lot of self-reflection to determine which thought pattern is yours. And the Enneagram typing process reminds us that behavior is useful, but the habit of attention is definitive. To take a closer look at  Type 1 go here and Type 3 go here.

Lynn Roulo
Lynn Roulo is an Enneagram instructor and Kundalini Yoga teacher who teaches a unique combination of the two systems, combining the physical benefits of Kundalini Yoga with the psychological growth tools of the Enneagram. She has written two books combining the two systems. Headstart for Happiness, her first book is an introduction to the systems. The Nine Keys, her second book, focuses on the two systems in intimate relationships. Learn more about Lynn and her work here at LynnRoulo.com.