When you uncover a limiting belief or an unconscious bias you become more able to see past them. This means you can create more social connections which are a proven tool for increasing happiness. What are limiting beliefs and unconscious biases and what do they have to do with happiness anyways?
A belief is an acceptance by the mind that something is true or real. Beliefs are the lens that you see the world through and they:
- tell you what you like or don’t like
- define for you what is possible or impossible
- anchor your judgments
- affect your relationships
- contract or expand your potential
- harness or hijack your passion
- lower or raise your level of happiness
Each of us lives within and operates out of a complex set of beliefs that define us and the world in which we live. Beliefs are our reality-making blueprint and limiting ones are the ones that keep us from doing, going, being or feeling something. They are not truths but when they are not questioned they can feel true.
Unconscious bias refers to bias that happens automatically, triggered by our brain’s judgments of people and situations, influenced by our background, cultural environment creating an unexamined belief about a particular category of people. We all have them and having them does not make you a hateful person; examining them allows you to remove your blinders and open your mind.
I always think of dominant and subordinate populations when I explore biases. Dominant groups of people are those who fit into the majority. An obvious example is straight white men. They are dominant to gay white men, men of colour, and women.
Subordinate refers to a group that is a minority and who regard themselves as objects of collective discrimination. Depending on who you are with, you may be the dominant person OR the subordinate person in a relationship or conversation. This fluctuates from one relationship to another. When you are the dominant person, your job is always to listen with an open mind in order to examine your biases.
There are many ways to define happiness but one of my favourites comes from positive psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky who says happiness is ” the experience of joy, contentment, or positive well-being, combined with a sense that one’s life is good, meaningful, and worthwhile.” When you connect with those around you; friends, family members, and colleagues you both get the benefits of increased well-being. Positive social connection is a shortcut to happier living.
I’ve Uncovered It- Now What?
Discovering limiting beliefs and unconscious biases is only the first step. Once you have identified one, here are a few steps to take to help you let it go and change your pattern:
- Celebrate that you noticed a belief or bias- it’s the first step!
- Observe your pattern. You’ve noticed it, now become a student of when, where, why, and how it happens.
- Drop self-judgment. It won’t help you. We all have beliefs and biases. If you think you don’t, that’s one of yours!
- Replace your negative with something positive. In habit formation, you have to replace your old action/thought with a new supportive one.
Go out of your way to learn what you need to in order to open your mind. Children who go to a diverse pre-school are way less likely to hate people according to Sally Kohn, author of We Need to Fix Hate. If you notice your friends of choice are all just like you, perhaps it’s time to expand a bit.
- Are all my friends the same ethnicity as me?
- Are all my friends in the same line of work as me?
- Do my friends all send their children to the same school that mine attend?
- Do I have friends who are more/less wealthy than me?
- Do I have friends who are younger/older than me?
- Do I have friends from various religions?
- Do I have friends who vote differently than I do?
Make it a priority to expand your social circle or if you are lucky enough to already have a rich and varied group of friends spend time reflecting on how your differences enrich your relationship.
We will always have judgements about others. We are wired, for safety, to notice differences. When you discover a difference celebrate the opportunity for expanded awareness. When differences cause friction, as they frequently do, look for common ground to build from.
I can look at someone I see as nothing like me and still find a sense of shared human experience. I do not support Trump but I can see that we are both parents and business owners and spouses. I don’t believe that guns should be widely available for purchase but I understand that I want my family to be safe just like the NRA supporters do. Focusing on where we are similar helps break down and fear or anger that drives our differences.
Do not believe in anything (simply) because you have heard it ; Do not believe in traditions, because they been handed down for many generations ; Do not believe in anything, because it is spoken and rumoured by many ; Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books ; But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.