Each one of us carries personal bias to some degree. It is a natural cognitive process, but what we do with it matters. When biases are left unchecked, they can lead to discrimination, poor decision making, and unrealistic or negative perceptions, among other things. But what is personal bias exactly? Why do we have it and what can we do about it?
In this guide to reducing personal biases with mindfulness, we will explore:
“Fortunately for serious minds, a bias recognized is a bias sterilized.”
- Benjamin Haydon -
What Is Personal Bias?
The term ‘bias’ is commonly used, but what is it exactly? Put simply, a bias is:
A tendency, inclination, or prejudice toward or against something or someone
Personal bias is our individual way of viewing the world around us and is largely shaped by our conditioning. For example, if we grew up in a family or community that had a particular political leaning, we might find that we have a bias in favour of similar thinking. This is of course not always the case as there are many factors that play into why we think the way we think.
Furthermore, there are many different categories of bias that can illuminate the many different shapes this cognitive tendency can take. For example:
These are just a few of the many different shapes that biases can take. While understanding the various types can help us to understand the way the brain works, what underlies each type is the same. That is, the tendency to make assumptions based on limited information and pre-existing views. How we address each of these biases is the same: we can meet each one with mindful awareness.
Learn more about the different types of biases.
How to Reduce Biases With Mindfulness
Regardless of what type of bias we are working with, we can address our assumptions, judgments, and inclinations with the same thing. That is, mindful awareness. By bringing mindfulness to the way that we think and make decisions, we empower ourselves to step beyond our habitual reactions. For example, take the previous example about having grown up surrounded by particular political views. If we are mindfully aware of what has formed our political beliefs, we will become more open to new information and ideas. At the same time, we will find ourselves less judgmental of those with different political leanings.
It is also important to note that by reducing biases, what we are actually attempting is to reduce the impact that our biases have – or the tendency for them to negatively impact our actions. We cannot completely get rid of all biases as we all hold unique experiences and values. However, as we become more mindful of why we think the way we think, it becomes easier to balance our personal views with other ideas or possibilities.
To reduce personal bias, the following considerations may be helpful:
1. Recognize that we all have personal biases – and that this does not make us ‘bad’.
The first step to mindfully easing the impact of our biases is to acknowledge that we all have them. Part of being human is having a personal outlook on the world. We do not need to feel shame for having biases; instead, we can practice self-compassion and curiosity. These two qualities will help us to open up to where our biases might lead us astray.
2. Reflect on some of the biases that you hold, tracing them back to their root.
Spend some time practicing introspection, curiously inquiring into some of the beliefs that you hold. Where do they stem from? How have they been reinforced? Remember that you do not need to harshly judge or try to remove your biases. Simply open up to your inner world and cognitive processing with curiosity and tenderness. Trust that they will soften naturally over time.
3. Practice responding rather than reacting.
Additionally, it can be helpful to cultivate the skill of responding versus reacting. When we react automatically to any given situation, we have no time to weigh other possibilities or variables. Take pause before making decisions so that you can respond with greater awareness. A pause could take the form of a long breath in the middle of a conversation or it could look like a three-day wait before responding to something on social media.
4. Mind the way that you listen and speak.
Mindful communication is another helpful practice to help ease the weight of our biases. Mindful listening enables us to hear what another person is saying with greater openness and curiosity. It helps us to become aware of our inner voice of judgment or resistance when faced with an opposing idea. On the other hand, mindful speech allows us to convey our feelings and perspective with greater accuracy. This can lead to more fruitful, harmonious conversations.
5. Open up to new ideas and perspectives with curiosity.
Lastly, explore where you might be able to open up to new ideas and perspectives. For instance, if you have a family member or friend who has a different view than you on a particular issue, consider exploring this topic with them. Let them know you’d like to weigh both sides to discover the different possible ‘truths’ that both parties might hold. This will likely help the person you are speaking with to become more open-minded as well.
“When you show deep empathy toward others, their defensive energy goes down, and positive energy replaces it. That’s when you can get more creative in solving problems.”
- Stephen Covey -
Learn more about how to protect your mind and why it matters.
7 Mindfulness Exercises to Reduce Bias
For more ideas about how to reduce biases with mindfulness, consider the following exercises. These practices work through a variety of means, such as by increasing our compassion for others and by enhancing our ability to witness our thoughts without reacting. Explore these on your own, with a friend or partner, or share them within your workplace.
This mindfulness worksheet invites us to examine the judgments that we make. For instance, if we hold a negative view about someone, how might we cultivate increased curiosity about this person? This exercise can help to increase curiosity as a daily practice.
Another practice to reduce negative judgments about other people is this guided meditation led by Sean Fargo. The ‘Just Like Me’ practice serves as a reminder of our shared humanity, helping us to reconnect with a sense of love and compassion for others. When we engage with others from the heart space, we are less likely to react from a place of bias.
This lesson on attentional bias helps us to become more aware of where we place our attention. For example, we might begin to ask ourselves: What inputs are negatively impacting my mindset? What inputs might broaden my perspective if I place my attention there? This lesson is one of many in the Reducing Workplace Bias Course.
When faced with alternative views or opinions, we often become more rigid in our existing beliefs. This lesson helps to enhance our awareness of this cognitive tendency, making it easier to see new ideas not as threats but as ways to learn. This lesson is another of the Reducing Workplace Bias Course.
If you are interested in exploring the many faces of bias and how it impacts the workplace, consider this free course on reducing workplace bias. As you get to know the many ways that cognitive tendencies can be limiting, it becomes easier to overcome them in ways that are beneficial for all.
Another helpful exercise for assessing our biases is this worksheet, which introduces additional common errors in our thought processes. Some of these errors include: all-or-nothing thinking, emotional reasoning, jumping to conclusions, and denial of change. As you explore these common errors, reflect (with compassion and curiosity) about where you might exhibit any of these tendencies.
Lastly, this guided meditation script can help to increase personal awareness of the judgments that we make. This is not about criticizing or forcing our judgments to disappear. Rather, it is a practice to simply enhance mindful awareness of our cognitive tendencies.
As you explore these exercises and tips on how to reduce biases, remember to have compassion for your humanity. By cultivating mindful awareness, you will naturally develop a more open and curious mind that will support you in the days and years to come. Focus on your own journey and lead by example. As we become more aware ourselves, we naturally invite others to follow in the same light.