Reclaiming the Narrative from Your Non-conscious Brain

As evolution's way of protecting us, the brain is wired to rapidly identify cues as they come at us and evaluate them for threats or rewards. This nonconscious (or subconscious) processing happens within a fifth of a second and drives most of our decision making. We presume we make fully conscious, rational choices, but our nonconscious has a lot more influence than we realize.

Is there a way to make decisions with more consciousness? In his podcast episode, 20 Key Brain Questions, Dr. Evian Gordon, M.D., Ph.D., Founder and Chief Medical Officer of Total Brain, discusses the impact of nonconscious processing on conscious thinking and emotions. He shares some ways we can achieve more alignment between the nonconscious and the conscious so we can be better connected to our authentic selves and to others.

You're Not as Impartial as You Think

Many of our decisions are driven by nonconscious processing based on our existing biases, yet we believe we make these choices consciously. In his 2011 book, "Thinking Fast and Slow," world-renowned psychologist and winner of the Nobel Prize in economics Daniel Kahneman highlights how even the smallest and most random non-consious cues or biases influence our conscious judgments. For example, we like or dislike a boss or coworker simply based on a "vibe" they give us. Without even doing a full analysis, we get the feeling whether a company will succeed or not. We think we judge and choose objectively, when in reality, the brain nudges us to choose the "facts" we want to believe. When we accept that the brain is not as impartial as we may think, we can work toward greater levels of consciousness in our decision-making. In the workplace, this can have a huge impact on our interactions with others if we take the time to consider the influence of our biases more carefully.

How Biases Sway Our Behavior and Decisions

Our non-conscious biases influence our thinking, oftentimes in irrational ways, and we see the behavioral impact of this regularly. For example, in his 1984 book "Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion," psychology professor Robert Cialdini cites six common non-conscious biases commonly exploited in marketing to get our attention -- and our money:

  • Consistency bias, which makes us more confident about a decision immediately after we've made it.
  • Reciprocation bias, in which we automatically feel obliged to offer something in return for what's been given.
  • Social proof bias, in which someone else's opinion factors into our own.
  • Authority bias, in which an expert or authority figure's status influences our compliance.  
  • Like bias, which prompts us to say yes to people we like because we want to feel the instant reward of bonding and being associated with someone we find attractive.  
  • Scarcity bias, which motivates us to desire what we can't have and skews our perspective of what's valuable based on availability.

Biases activate the brain's prioritization of safety and push us to choose what feels comfortable or familiar. They also lead us to claim more responsibility for our successes than our failures because we see our decisions as conscious choices rather than nonconscious responses. When we slow down to examine these knee-jerk nonconscious responses, we can see the big picture and make more thoughtful, rational decisions. 

How Biases Impact Our Emotions and Relationships

Not only do our biases impact our thinking, they also influence our emotional reactions to the cues around us. We have six primary nonconscious emotional reactions that allow us to rapidly avoid danger or seek reward: 

  1. Fear, for our flight response.
  2. Anger, for our fight response.
  3. Disgust, for withdrawal from toxicity or mismatches.
  4. Surprise, for dealing with novel information.
  5. Sadness, for withdrawal and comfort-seeking.
  6. Happiness, for social engagement.

These emotions can have a powerful nonconscious influence on our interpersonal interactions. For example, if someone says they're not upset, but their facial and body language cues signal differently, this can negatively affect communication and teamwork. Training with tools like Total Brain's Emotion Booster and Body Language to better tune into our emotions can help us overcome our biases and enhance our relationships with others, which is especially important for healthy collaboration at work. 

Finding Authenticity Through Alignment

With the knowledge that non-conscious biases affect every aspect of our conscious decision-making and behavior, we can work toward closer alignment between the two to think, feel, say and do what we truly mean. Achieving this authenticity enables us to bring the best, most effective versions of ourselves to the table consistently. 

If you want to help empower your employees to achieve authentic alignment within themselves and with each other, schedule a call with us today. 

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