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Meditation and Exercise: Life Routines You Should Follow

Meditation and Exercise: Life Routines You Should Follow

We live in an increasingly frantic world where life has become a non-stop bombardment of the senses. Younger readers have never really known any other reality, but most people born before the 90s will remember what life was like without the now ubiquitous internet and the dawn of social media. These changes to the culture within which we live in have undoubtedly had more benefits to the global population than they have negative repercussions, but it can all get a little bit overwhelming sometimes.

Many people thrive on the hustle and bustle of modern life, but a lot of us also feel a little bit spun out by it all. In what I see as a direct response to this, practices that were traditionally associated with the East have gained more and more popularity in the West. Yoga and meditation, with their roots in Buddhism and Hinduism, have been popular in some circles for decades, but their rise into the mainstream continues at a pace today.

Stepping out of Samsara

For those that don’t know, Samsara is the Buddhist notion of the material world in which we live as being nothing more than a illusion which we should all be seeking to escape through enlightenment. Or by becoming the Buddha.  This may sound quite like a dramatic goal to set oneself, but it is the basic aim of all Buddhist traditions.

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Becoming the Buddha may be too much hard work for most of us to take on in this cycle of life, but the practice of mediation is an excellent one for those people out there who want to take a step back each day and simply observe.

This may in itself not seem like much of a challenge, but the practice of sitting in meditation is actually a lot more difficult than it sounds.  It’s only when you come to try it for yourself that you will appreciate just how difficult it is to just let go of things and empty your mind, but at the same time you will also get an immediate grasp of its benefits.

Meditation is Not Enough

If you can settle into the habit of doing meditation each day that is awesome. Getting into the practice of meditation will almost certainly have a positive impact on your life and allow you to feel a little bit more in control of the world around you, but in my experience that is still not enough.

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I believe this is particularly true as you get older and fall into the bad habit of doing little or no exercise. In my experience I also realised that one of the biggest difficulties of feeling comfortable with meditation was that I had too much nervous energy in my body when I came to sit down. A great way to counter this was by implementing my meditation into a daily work out.

I have to admit that this ideal combination of meditation and exercise that I found was actually one that was given to me through my interest in the work of the American philosopher Ken Wilber and his Integral theory. The regime I found there is a 35 minute work-out that can easily be done in the privacy of a medium sized room and needs nothing more than a towel or yoga mat.

The beauty of this simple work is that it gives my body a solid daily work out, and after 35 minutes I’m feeling focussed and able to concentrate much more when it comes to my meditation.

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Maintaining the Practice

As with all things, the novelty of doing exercise and meditation does wear off after a not very long time. At least it did for me. There are just so many things that can get in the way. One night you may go out with friends and have one drink too many and not feel like getting up earlier to maintain your practice the following morning. Or you may go on holiday, or a business trip, and have your routine broken that way.

There are a whole host of other reasons why you might let go of your meditation and exercise practices, but I think the most important thing is that you don’t allow a break to ever become a definitive one. Genuine habits take a long time to form. Just because you stop once does not mean that you have to stop for good.

When you do find yourself in a position where you have fallen out of your practice, you should just take the time out to think about how you and your perspectives on life were different when you were sticking to your regime. I’m almost certain that you’ll look back on that period as one where you were feeling more in control and had a greater sense of overall satisfaction with the way things were going.

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Be Flexible. Be Kind

There are not all that many ways in which you can approach meditation. All you need to do is sit down and concentrate on your breathing, or a mantra, or on completely emptying your mind. Exercise on the other hand can take up so many forms. And one of the great benefits of living in this digital age is that we can never complain of not having access to lots of interesting and inspirational resources to help us get back on track.

One other key thing is to make sure you never get frustrated at yourself for not sticking to your routine. If you take your failure to stick to your meditation and exercise regime as a sign that you were just wasting your time anyway, you’ll probably find yourself getting pretty down.

The reality is probably more likely to be that the routine you had found just wasn’t the perfect one for you. Be patient, be kind, and you’ll be getting back into those good habits in no time at all.

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Published on June 30, 2020

What Is Unconscious Bias (And How to Reduce It for Good)

What Is Unconscious Bias (And How to Reduce It for Good)

Many conversations are being held nowadays regarding unconscious bias, but what does it really mean and how can it affect your life and the people around you? With many types of biases, it can get quite confusing. In this article, we’ll touch on cognitive bias, and then zero in on unconscious bias. Both types of biases have an immediate impact on your life because they relate to how you and others think about yourself and other people.

If you want to protect your relationships and make good decisions about other people, you need to know what these biases mean[1]. Once we have clarity about that, we can explore in more depth unconscious bias and how to address it[2].

Cognitive Bias

Let’s start with cognitive bias[3], a predictable pattern of mental errors that result in us misperceiving reality and, as a result, deviating away from the most likely way of reaching our goals[4].

These mental blind spots impact all areas of our life, from health to relationships and even shopping, as a study recently revealed[5]. In other words, from the perspective of what is best for us as individuals, falling for a cognitive bias always harms us by lowering our probability of getting what we want.

Cognitive biases have to do with judgment, not mood. Ironically, cognitive biases — such as the optimism bias and overconfidence effect — more often lead to positive moods. Of course, the consequence of falling into cognitive biases, once discovered, usually leaves us in a bad mood due to the disastrous results of these dangerous judgment errors.

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Unconscious Bias

Unconscious bias is different from cognitive bias. Also known as implicit bias, it refers to unconscious forms of discrimination and stereotyping based on race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, ability, age, and so on[6]. Despite cognitive biases sometimes leading to discriminatory thinking and feeling patterns, these are two separate and distinct concepts.

Cognitive biases are common across humankind and relate to the particular wiring of our brains, while unconscious bias relates to perceptions between different groups and are specific for the society in which we live. For example, I bet you don’t care or even think about whether someone is a noble or a commoner, yet that distinction was fundamentally important a few centuries ago across Europe. To take another example, most people in the US don’t have strong feelings about Sunni vs. Shiite Muslims, yet this distinction is incredibly meaningful in many parts of the world.

Unconscious Bias and Discriminatory Behavior

Organizations often bring me in as a speaker on diversity and inclusion to address potential unconscious discriminatory behavior. When I share in speeches that black Americans suffer from police harassment and violence at a much higher rate than white people, some participants (usually white) occasionally try to defend the police by claiming that black people are more violent and likely to break the law than whites. They thus attribute police harassment to the internal characteristics of black people (implying that it is deserved), and not to the external context of police behavior.

In reality – as I point out in my response to these folks – research shows that black people are harassed and harmed by police at a much higher rate for the same kind of activity. A white person walking by a cop, for example, is statistically much less likely to be stopped and frisked than a black one[7].

At the other end of things, a white person resisting arrest is much less likely to be violently beaten than a black one. In other words, statistics show that the higher rate of harassment and violence against black Americans by police is due to the prejudice of the police officers, at least to a large extent[8].

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However, I am careful to clarify that this discrimination is not necessarily intentional. Sometimes, it indeed is deliberate, with white police officers consciously believing that black Americans deserve much more scrutiny than whites. At other times, the discriminatory behavior results from unconscious, implicit thought processes that the police officer would not consciously endorse[9].

After becoming aware that unconscious bias does exist, the next step would be learning how to recognize it in order to reduce it. I’ve outlined three crucial points to keep in mind below while further exploring the unconscious prejudice discussed above.

How to Reduce Unconscious Bias

Remember these three important points if you want to work on reducing your unconscious bias.

1. Unconscious Bias is a Systemic Issue

When we understand that unconscious bias is ultimately a systemic issue, we understand that internal cultures need to be checked and addressed first.

Interestingly, research shows that many black police officers have an unconscious prejudice against other black people, perceiving them in a more negative light than white people when evaluating potential suspects. This unconscious bias carried by many — not all — black police officers helps show that such prejudices come – at least to a significant extent – from internal cultures within police departments, rather than pre-existing racist attitudes present before someone joins a police department.

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Such cultures are perpetuated by internal norms, policies, and training procedures, and any police department wishing to address unconscious bias needs to address internal culture first and foremost, rather than attributing racism to individual officers.

In other words, instead of saying it’s a few bad apples in a barrel of overall good ones, the key is recognizing that unconscious bias is a systemic issue, and the structure and joints of the barrel needs to be fixed[10].

2. There Is No Shame in Unconscious Bias

Another crucial thing that needs to be highlighted is that there is no shame or blame in unconscious bias as it’s not stemming from any fault in the individual. This no-shame approach decreases the fight, freeze, or flight defensive response among reluctant audiences, helping them hear and accept the issue.

Unconscious bias is prevalent and often doesn’t match our conscious values. Everyone holds unconscious beliefs and prejudices stemming from our tendency to categorize people into social groups. This developed naturally as a way for our ancestors to quickly size up a possible threat. Unfortunately, it doesn’t translate well in modern life.

3. It Takes a Sustained Effort to Prevent and Protect Against Unconscious Bias

After being presented with additional statistics and discussion of unconscious bias, the issue is generally settled. Still, from their subsequent behavior it’s clear that some of these audience members don’t immediately internalize this evidence. It’s much more comforting for their gut reactions to believe that police officers are right and anyone targeted by police deserves it; in turn, they are highly reluctant to accept the need to focus more efforts and energy on protecting black Americans from police violence due to the structural challenges facing these groups.

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The issue of unconscious bias doesn’t match their intuitions, so they reject this concept, despite extensive and strong evidence for its pervasive role in policing. It takes a series of subsequent follow-up conversations and interventions to move the needle. A single training is almost never sufficient, both in my experience and according to research[11].

Conclusion

The examples and points raised illustrate broader patterns you need to follow to recognize unconscious bias. Only by doing so will you be able to determine if, and what type of, intervention is needed to address it.

Unfortunately, our gut reactions lead us to make poor judgment choices when we simply follow our intuitions. Unconscious biases are systemic and need to be addressed in order to make the best decisions[12].

We need to learn about the kind of problems that result from unconscious bias. Then, you need to develop the right mental habits to help you make the best choices[13]. A one-time training is insufficient for doing so. It takes a long-term commitment and constant discipline and efforts to overcome unconscious bias, so get started now.

More Tips on Overcoming Unconscious Bias

Featured photo credit: M.T ElGassier via unsplash.com

Reference

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