Is there an unconscious mechanism influencing our decision making? How to be more conscious in decision making through cultivating mindfulness?
When you go hiking, you may enjoy appreciating the beautiful scenery of the trail and engaging in chatting with you friends. Almost always, we are not aware of how we walk and adjust ourselves to accelerate and descend the slope of the trails. The amazing orchestra of our body during walking is the work of our unconscious brain. It is easy to understand that these unconscious brain mechanisms are necessary for us to function properly in daily life. You can imagine the awkwardness of our gait if we need to be conscious in every movement of our muscles all over our body in every step we make. The wiring program of our brain for walking in automation can save our brain energy for some other tasks. However, there are some costs for having this energy-saving unconscious mind.
In voting, research showed that our feeling or physical condition of the day can actually influence our decision on voting without our knowing. For example, people who feel unwell on the day of election will be more likely to vote under biases. It was found that they are more likely to vote for the more physically attractive candidates. In another example, if we give hot drinks to a couple and cold drinks to another couple, research showed that it is more likely that the couple with hot drinks rates their relationship as better and more intimate. This priming effect is related to our unconscious mind in the brain. This means that our unconscious mind saves our mental energy for many daily tasks, but at the same time makes us more susceptible to biases and prejudices.
In fact, we need both the conscious and unconscious mind of our brain for us to function properly. In daily living, we need our unconscious mind to automatically do the work for us, such as walking, eating and driving, etc. On the other hand, we need to be more conscious of our thoughts and feelings when we need to make important decisions in our lives, so that we would be influenced less by our unconscious biases and prejudices.
Cultivating mindfulness is one of the ways to bring our conscious awareness to our present moment experience. By practicing mindfulness exercises regularly, we cultivate conscious awareness of our automatic pilot. For instance, we can be more aware of our slight change in bodily sensations when we are starting to feel angry at someone. This can enhance our ability to hold back our immediate automatic response of lashing out.
We can engage in both formal and informal practice of mindfulness regularly. For formal exercises, we may do sitting meditation, body scan or mindful walking. For informal practice, we may practice mindfulness while we are doing our daily chores, such washing the dishes. By bring our awareness to our sensations and the action of washing the dishes, we are practicing mindfulness informally.
Regular practice of mindfulness can reduce our mind wandering in our daily lives. With focus and concentration, we may be more likely to be aware of our automatic (unconscious) responses in the face of a decision-making task. As a result, we may be less influenced by our own biases and prejudices. Being more mindful can help us to make wiser decisions for our daily life.