During Unconscious Bias training we learn that we do a lot on “autopilot”. It’s essential, as instantaneous responses are critical to functioning and survival. But this miraculous ability of the brain to make snap decisions is also an Achilles heel. Unchecked, it limits our power to see a more diverse world.
Deep in the reservoir of the unconscious mind are innumerable biases (i.e. preferences and prejudices)and stereotypes. “Reliable” prior experiences mapped and organized to largely dictate in the moment responses. This includes feelings, motives, judgements, decisions, and behaviors. Tragically confirmation bias and validity illusion, which lead us to be overconfident in our predictions and decisions, reinforce unconscious bias making the probability of change slim.
No one wants to be naturally at the mercy of the unconscious, particularly when the organization of prior experience includes powerful biases and stereotypes. Progress seems an unnerving challenge.
Curbing the Unconscious
So, what can we do when we come face to face with this misalignment? The conflict between who we want to be ethically and who we are implicitly wired to be? Thankfully the conscious mind contains awareness at any given moment. Therefore, these conscious unconscious bias revelations are sparks of enlightenment. The Insights are keys to unlocking remedial possibilities.
Whilst in psychology we talk of the conscious, preconscious, and unconscious as separate, we know they are interrelated. This linkage is an opportunity. Recent research in neuroscience and neuroplasticity indicates brain processes are pliable, capable of reshaping over time. The really exciting bit is that the brain, the organ of experience, is no different from the body. Certain mental activities can reorganize and even change their wiring. We just need to uncover which mental workouts give us the best different results.
We reference unconscious bias training as awareness training. This is not only because it shines a spotlight on the negative aspects of unconscious bias and the extent to which it undermines fair judgment. It is also because increased conscious awareness itself lays the platform for enhanced mental agility. The mental practices with the most potential to rewrite our internal experience scripts. During unconscious bias training we are encouraged to embrace exercises that will transform our lived reality as never before.
In becoming more mindful of unconscious bias, mindfulness as a mental process takes center stage. Combined with the deep insight into the nature of our own experience, we learn to expand our field of awareness, particularly related to others. Purposefully controlling attention at the moment, as an act of will, allowing us to short circuit the natural impulse to predetermine.
Awareness of being aware becomes something to aspire to. Suspending our responses, as well as looking and listening for more before making judgements, becomes pivotal.
It is as if the mind were a lake. If the lake is calm and a peddle is dropped into it, it is immediately noticed. However, if the lake is rough with all sorts of turbulence, it will be missed. With mindfulness, we are less inclined to immediately believe the barrage of thoughts our minds automatically produce as truth. As we mentally practice where our minds are, the quality of our awareness grows. It becomes easier and more natural to be more discerning. Suddenly new insight comes to the fore. The normal mental cycle is broken with a greater ability to take thinking in a direction that is beneficial and aligned to our intent.
Awareness gives us more control over the value and meaning assigned to events. This helps us to get off autopilot.
The natural companion of awareness enhancement is feedback from others. This compliments our changing internal dialogue with new insights and perceptions. Combined, full open-hearted listening and mindful presence convert to new experiences as we rewrite the mental stories of them and us.