“Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.” (Mark Twain)
We’re all looking for the Big Bang, quick fix, something that will take us from good to great with just seven highly effective habits in seven days. The question is how quickly can you change and form a habit anyway?
It’s so important to keep an open mind, surely we all know that. We’re often reminded of this when we are faced with challenging situations. What does keeping an open mind mean? It’s all about our unconscious bias. From the moment we begin to gather and fill our brain with information as a baby, we begin to develop our beliefs and our subsequent biases. It’s that information and bias that enables you to form an opinion and make a decision almost instantly. It’s so fast we’re not even sure how we reached that position, so we don’t reflect on it. But it’s that information and the immovable seal we put on our beliefs that closes our mind. None of us want to break that seal and let loose all the questions and associated flimsy and convenient answers that form our truths.
My posts are very often about personal and professional development and I always finding myself coming back to this one critical point and that is: you can’t make real change until you know, understand and accept your current reality. Who am I, how do I feel, how do I react, what do I believe, what is my truth? At that point you can really set your goals, look at your options and determine your way forward. If you don’t know where you’re starting, how do you know what you’re changing, let alone why you want or need to change?
Now I know as soon as I say unconscious bias, you want to tackle the biggies – race, gender, ethnicity, religion, social demographics – but I want to get back to the everyday issues where we can learn the change process. My advice is baby steps. Less is often more when forming new habits and making change.
Every day run of the mill bias
I was having dinner the other evening with my family, and it so happens we were having fish. It was very tasty and so I said to my wife, “We should buy more of this, particularly since fish is good for us.” We all agreed, but then my daughter threw in an aside question.
“You can have too much fish oil, can’t you?”
“What!,” I exclaimed in disbelief, “that’s mad!”
“Yes, they say now you can have too much fish oil.”
I couldn’t believe my ears. If you’ve been getting your average fill of TV commercials over the last couple of years you would most certainly be of the belief that a whale a day keeps the doctor away (not advocating eating whales, I can assure you), but you should certainly get your fill of krill. Ah, you see now, a firm belief – an unconscious bias – is proven wrong or drawn into question. A little uncomfortable, isn’t it?
When I was a kid, I had two poached eggs a day with my breakfast. By the time I hit my early twenties research was telling us too many eggs was bad for you – they would load you with cholesterol and you were a heart-attack waiting to happen. How much damage have I done!? Of course I backed right off. But some time later, hang on, there’s good cholesterol and bad cholesterol (that’s convenient) and eggs are fighting for the goodies, not the baddies. I have never quite recovered my two a day habit, but we are back in love, the eggs and I.
If it’s credible, I reckon it’s edible
These are pretty basic illustrations of a very complex situation. We are constantly bombarded with information, and when we assume the source is credible we will very quickly form a bias about anything, even eggs and fish oil. Who’d question a great looking model in a white lab coat holding up a test tube of fish oil to the light? Who’d question mum, dad, your uncle, the newspaper, a magazine, a water cooler conversation?
In order to learn we have to put all of our beliefs out there for reflection and examination, and that takes a lot of self-awareness. The point is, we don’t know what we don’t know and our beliefs are always subject to challenge as we learn and discover. Our belief is our truth and the same applies for everyone else. If you know something to be true and you believe in it, that’s a pretty powerful state of mind. In fact you might just say, “Case closed – I have the file and it’s locked away in the cabinet, so no need to get that out for review.”
Every now and again though, something comes along that shakes the certainty in your belief. Sometimes it’s a small crack in your resolve and other times it blows things to pieces. When things are blown to pieces this is often referred to as a paradigm shift.
A paradigm shift is:
“A fundamental change in approach or underlying assumptions” Oxford Dictionaries
Things are often blown apart by significant events and discoveries, e.g. the world is flat. But unconscious bias can be moved in more subtle and gentle ways.
When we start to think in terms of every belief being truth only to the extent of the information we have, then we start to question our reality in a healthy way and open up our minds to change. For many people this is pretty exciting, but I guess for some it is scary and disappointing. I am a person who loves change; I crave it to keep me engaged. There’s always a new hobby, a new way to organise or improve myself. After the initial shock of discovery, I often find changing my truth very rewarding, like opening a new book or moving to a new house or job.
Breaking Bias – Some simple things to consider
- Awareness is the key to change. You need to be aware of what you believe and be open to challenge the truths – be curious.
- Learn to stop, hit the pause button and think about your immediate opinions. Are you a public transport user? That’s a great place to practice. I often sit on a train, look at people and become aware I have formed an immediate opinion. I then go about giving that person a story that’s quite different to my initial response or even giving them my story. It’s amazing how quickly you can unpaint the picture you’ve created. It teaches you to slow down your immediate profiling. Check out an article I wrote Beware the Single Story
- Challenge yourself, Always be open to questioning your beliefs and appreciating the beliefs of others. None of us really know who or what is right. We seek comfort in certainty so we vehemently defend our beliefs, but none of us can ever really be sure.
- Take the time to mix with people who are nothing like you. When we all pool together in our like-minded and like demographic groups, all we do is solidify our biases to support our beliefs. Have a look around at who you mix with and mix it up.
- Don’t immediately accept the opinion of another, even when you believe they’re a credible source. Be curious and form your opinion based on your understandings.
- Be conscious of emotions associated with bias. Why do you feel this way? Can you attach the feeling to an incident, a time in your life? You’ve met 100 tram conductors, had an argument with one and so now attach that incident and the associated emotions to every tram conductor you see. Come on, we all do that.
Good luck with opening your mind. If you automatically think this article and the suggested actions won’t help, then … you had better reread it.