Working with Bias in the Heat of the Moment

As we work toward building a more compassionate world, we must find the courage to face our biases on the spot. Here are four steps to consider.

Asia/Adobe Stock

The path of mindfulness, awareness, kindness, and compassion will take us as deep as we’re willing to go. Not only can it help us to relieve our stress, but it can arouse in us the courage to pull back the curtain and honestly face our patterns and conditioning, tracing them back to unconscious stories that shape how we see the world, and the other people in it.

It can be helpful to notice our preconceptions and stories in the quiet of a meditation session, but it can also be powerful to notice our biases on the spot, in the heat of the moment, and switch things up. Here are some steps to consider.

1. Notice Your Habitual Thought Patterns

Based on some old information, you find yourself trapped in a habit pattern. You’re prejudging a person, people, or a situation, and it’s all attached to a story you’re holding onto: These people always…

When lost like this, you need to find out where you are, what’s really happening in your mind as it interprets what’s in front of you. Do you feel uncomfortable, awkward, nervous? Are you reacting more to the story about the situation than the present circumstances? Are you disengaging and distancing yourself from what’s right there?

2. Uncover Your Preconceptions

It’s good to familiarize yourself with the territory, the terrain of what you’re uncovering in your mind. Consciously explore yourself and your patterns particular to these conditions: Every time I see this, I think this…

When you can see the lens you’re looking through, you can see the stories that have been running you and the reason you’ve lost touch with the living, breathing people in front of you.

3. Question Your Initial Response

Acknowledge the story or stories that are governing your responses. Question them. Being doggedly honest is the key here, no matter what comes up. Ask yourself:

  • What is informing this story? Why would I think that?
  • This happened and what I made that out to mean is…
  • The culture or the system I’ve grown up in may play a role in shaping my stories, but is there anything going on that I can own?

4. Let Go of What You Think You Know

Having taken a fresh look at what’s going on, it’s time to consider the possibility that you are not seeing the whole picture. Now that you’re loosening your grip on your version of things, ask yourself whether you like what you’re contributing to the present moment, both internally (in your mind) and externally (in your actions).

If you allow yourself to stay stuck on your original habit pattern, and have the same old reaction, you won’t really notice the impact you’re having on others. You will feel what your story tells you to feel.

Better to feel the vulnerability of not being right—or at least not quite so certain. Not knowing is tenderhearted.

5. Be Open to Shifting Your Perspective

Our map of the world and our place in it is so often too small. Our stories have shrunk what is a very big and wild place and left out a lot of terrain.

Reflect on and update your GPS. Connect and realign with your actual beliefs and values, the ones you hold deep down. Educate yourself, break the old cycles, cut a new groove.

Following this kind of process in the middle of things may seem difficult, but it really doesn’t take long to examine and dislodge our story, and we can do it over and over again. It may slow things down a bit, but that’s not so bad.

And remember the old saloon wisdom: “If you sit down to gamble and you don’t see the sucker, it’s probably you.” Where our biases are concerned, if we don’t see what the big problem is, we may be a part of it.

read more


How We Learn To Observe Our Own Biases 

Mindfulness is often taught to and by middle-aged white women, but some of the most intense and interesting work is being offered to diverse and disenfranchised communities—bringing our cultural and class biases out into the open. Read More 

  • Patricia Rockman and Evan Collins
  • September 3, 2019
Using Mindfulness to Break Racial Bias
Daily Practices

Using Mindfulness to Break Racial Bias 

Anu Gupta, founder and CEO of BE MORE with Anu, offers five portable compassion-based tools to face and transform racial bias at work and in day-to-day life. Read More 

  • Anu Gupta
  • July 2, 2020