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Mindful ethics

Watch Craig and Richard discuss the concept of mindful ethics and decision making, and explore how mindfulness can inform the decisions we make.
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CRAIG HASSED: Mindfulness can really help us to understand our core values, our goals in life, the things that we really find are important. But also, this can inform our ethics, the decisions we make, and why we make those decisions, and how to choose better for ourselves and to live a more valued life.
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RICHARD CHAMBERS: And so you might just want to take a moment to think about times in your life where you’ve really acted in accordance with your values and your ethics. Something’s just felt completely right or completely wrong, and you’ve gone ahead and made a decision based on that. What’s that been like? What does it feel like in the body? What effect does it have on your mental state, on your thoughts, on your behaviours? And what effect has it had on your life, on the people around you, on your relationships?
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CRAIG HASSED: And it’s also important to reflect on times where we make what we might otherwise think of as a mistake, perhaps where we go against our values, when we make a decision that doesn’t actually accord with what we feel really is something that we’d like to live by. So notice what that feels like. What does it feel like physically? What does it feel like emotionally? What kind of residue does it leave? Now you might notice that when you make a decision that really accords, perhaps, with your deeper ethical values, you might find that it leads to a calmer state of mind. You take less baggage away from the situation.
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You feel more at ease with yourself afterwards, although it might have been quite challenging for one reason or another to make that decision at the time. Because very often when we’re making decisions about things of an ethical nature, what can feel right or wrong at a given moment, or what feels intuitive to us, what accords with our conscience sometimes, is overridden by some further gain we’d like to make or something we’d like to avoid in the future. So how can we be present with that decision, and actually say, well, what, as it were, is the better part of ourselves that’s really governing that decision?
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RICHARD CHAMBERS: And it can get very confusing, particularly when things are moving quickly, and we have to make decisions very fast, or when other people want something from us, or when we’re just trying to do too much in our day. It can be very hard to even know what our values are, let alone whether we’re living in accordance with them. But mindfulness gives us a tool to actually tune into ourselves and to notice how does it feel when we’re acting? Does it align with what we know about ourselves and what we really want in the world?
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CRAIG HASSED: You know, we’ve all heard of lie detector tests. And the lie detector test is actually just a measure of stress. It just measures the stress response. Because being untruthful to ourselves and to others actually causes stress. It causes mental agitation. It causes a kind of preoccupation. It makes us feel like we’ve got something to hide, which never actually allows us to feel at peace. But that’s just measuring our stress response. Whereas, we might find that if we’re more authentic to ourselves, more authentic to our values in the decisions we make, then we may find that we feel a lot more at peace and at ease with ourselves, and there’s less baggage that we take away from situations.
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RICHARD CHAMBERS: Now of course, it’s not always easy to do that in the middle of life, you know, when things are busy and people are demanding things of us, and when we’re trying to multitask, and when we’re just reacting and trying to get through the day. And so mindfulness gives us a very powerful tool for helping us to do these. So the first thing that we need to do is just to maybe stop for a moment.
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If we’ve got to make a big decision, if we have to do something that really requires a little bit of consciousness, we want to stop and tune in, maybe just to notice what we’re thinking, what we’re feeling, what mindsets might be operating, what cognitive biases might be in place. And then get in touch with our values. Just remember, perhaps, what is it that we value most in the world? What is it that we want to contribute to this moment or to our life in general? What are some of the goals that we have? Just to take a moment to access all of this can be a very useful thing to do. Then, of course, we need to act.
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So we might say or do something. But we can do that with mindfulness as well. To really, as we do that, notice what does it feel like to say that thing? What does it feel like to take that course of action? And then, if we keep paying attention, what effect does that have? What happens to the relationships, to our work, to our study, or to whatever we’re doing? What happens to the people around us? What’s the broader effect of that particular course of action? And so when we do this, we get into a bit of a feedback loop. So we’re tuning in and noticing what’s true for ourselves, and then we’re acting.
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And we’re noticing the effect that has on the world around us.
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CRAIG HASSED: We often use words like intuition and conscience when we’re talking about decision making and ethics. And they’re interesting words in themselves. Intuition means like an inner sight, like a deep sight, to see into something deeply, often beneath the surface of things. Our initial surface preoccupation or wants may actually cover something that’s much more important and deeper. Or conscience– to connect with science, as it were, which is a word for knowledge, to connect with an inner knowledge. And we need to learn to trust ourselves. But in order to know what those conscience or intuition might be saying to us, we need to be quiet enough.
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Because the mind, when it’s very noisy, often creates a kind of fog or confusion. I suppose it’s a little bit like Hamlet, the mind sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought, not knowing what to do. Whereas it’s only in the quieter mind that it’s time to reflect, like the pond of water becoming quiet, that very often we get that clear reflection of what we actually need to do. And so it’s in the quieter moments. It’s not overthinking things that sometimes helps those answers to come to the surface.
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To use, perhaps, a more technical way of understanding this decision making as well, we can refer back to some issues in relation to the different parts of our psyche or soul, as it were, that govern our decision making. And in neuroscience, they talk about executive functioning. And when we’re more mindful, the executive functions or higher functions work better– being able to process information, being able to regulate emotions, et cetera, being able to make a clearer decision, perhaps a more considered one. The other areas of our psyche that often vie for decision making are our emotion centres. And there’s nothing wrong with those, but also the appetitive centres, the mesolimbic reward system, and so on.
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And so they will often have a very different perspective on what’s a good decision to make. And so, for example, we might recognise, well, look, the truly ethical thing to do in a given situation is this. But we might have an emotion like anger or bitterness over something. And so we feel tempted to do something else. We might be feeling a little bit greedy, a little bit avaricious. And so there’s something else that we might be tempted to do. And so it just depends on whether or not we’re quiet enough and aware enough to actually realise, well, what’s the better part of the decision making?
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What part of myself am I going to give the nod to– to, as it were, govern this decision? If we’re just on automatic pilot and so on, then the emotions or the appetites can operate. And sometimes, in not very considered ways. That’s just as a footnote to all the previous discussion. That being human means making mistakes sometimes for various reasons. And so one of the things that we might like to do in a mindful way is to cultivate a kind of objectivity, a kind of authenticity about those mistakes, a kind of self-compassion. It’s so that we can look at them, we can learn from them. But also, having learned, we can move on.

Watch Craig and Richard discuss the concept of mindful ethics and decision making, and explore how mindfulness can inform the decisions we make to help us lead a better life.

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Maintaining a Mindful Life

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