The Interview | Anurag Gupta

Anu Gupta

Working for human rights and ending bias started as an inspiration that Anurag Gupta (Anu) turns into reality on a daily basis.  He is a Cambridge educated, Fulbright Scholar that has utilized his experiences and background to “realizing a world where people can break down bias in the brain and make decisions based on conscious awareness”.

To date he and his organization BE MORE have helped over 10,000 people in this aim.  And the work is worldwide, recently his travels took him to Beirut, Mumbai, Medellin, Bangkok and Taipei.

Look out for BE MORE’s upcoming mobile app to help professionals like doctors, bankers, and teachers learn skills that break unconscious bias.

How did you come up with the idea for BE MORE?

What an interesting question! The funny thing is that I did not come up with the idea for BE MORE, rather the idea of BE MORE came to me – if that makes any sense. Since I was fairly young, I loved different human cultures and I was always puzzled about why people from different cultures didn’t like each other. As I went through the schooling process, I noticed that these “feelings” of better/worse often translated into policies and practices that created so much human suffering and inequality. For example, as a law student, I worked in the courts in New Orleans and I was absolutely disgusted by the way our system churned out poor, black, children in and out of the system for petty offenses like breaking cell phones or trespass to property. For me, this is of course unjust, but I could not understand the nature of cruelty with which humans treated one another, particularly in a country like ours! As a science nerd, I saw that the people in the courts weren’t intentionally malicious, but there was a perception of good/bad – also known as unconscious bias – that dictated much of their interactions with others.

Thankfully, there has been enough research to show that we as human beings have the ability to change our perceptions and behaviors through daily practices. This also applies to unconscious bias. Not only that, the tools that help break unconscious can also help people significantly improve their personal and family life by being better able to handle stress, anxiety, and lots of responsibilities. These tools are rooted in contemplative sciences – such as mindfulness – and for me this is our charge in the 21st century. Even Yuval Noah Hariri, the author of Sapiens and a preeminent scholar of human history and behavior, has cited that practices rooted in mindfulness will truly help humans move towards greater contentment, equity, peace, and justice. This is my aspiration. And I want to use businesses as the vehicle. Thus, at BE MORE, we work with companies and organizations and train their staff in measurably reducing unconscious bias in their workplace and with their clients. We do that using our unique approach that is science-based, solutions-oriented, and completely shame-free. For us, the last part is really important because we are looking to change behavior. Based on science again, we know that when we have shame in any conversation, it forces people’s defenses to go up, thwarting learning and behavior change. For us, there is no us versus them – it’s just us.  Some of us are ready to work with us, and others not yet. So far we have worked with over 75 organizations like PBS, Lululemon, and Maimonides Hospital, and we hope to expand our reach to many more this year (knock on wood!).

What inspires you the most in your work?

Human beings! I am so inspired by the legacy of social movement leaders – particularly American Civil Rights, the Indian Independence Movement, and the Suffrage Movement –  who despite so many restrictions on their ability to learn, work, live, mingle, and flourish had in their minds a vision for a different reality for all of us. A reality that enabled us to flourish and enjoy all of the beautiful aspects of this world and to bring down the barriers between people. This capacity is inherent in all of us and I am inspired by the creative ways humans use their imagination to unite, bridge, and build in light of separation, hatred, and injustice.

How do you personally define success for yourself?

Two things. First, do I feel happier, more self-full (not selfish or self-less), and more connected to other people than I did yesterday?

Second, have my efforts helped other humans to be happier, more self-full, and more connected to others?

The second aspect is crucial for me because we as humans are social animals. Without healthy social interactions, as scientists have shown repeatedly, we either go mad or die. Thus, success for me has to be about helping myself and others feel more connected with other humans and central to that connection are two tendencies: understanding and compassion.

You have great skin, what is your typical daily skincare and routine and how has it evolved over the years?

Haha! Thank you for that compliment – I so appreciate it. As someone who’s battled with acne and oily skin most of my life, it is so wonderful to hear that my skin has gotten better. And you’re right, I have had to test and try a variety of methods to get it to a place of ease.

I have oily skin so I need to make sure that my skin receives sufficient moisture but does not accumulate oil, which often clogs my pores resulting in unwanted bumps. To do that, I do the following twice a day: wash my face, put some toner on, and then moisturize. In addition to caring for my skin with products, I also try to eat lots of fruits and vegetables on a daily basis, drink at least 8 glasses of water, and do a few face exercises to help my skin stay supple and clear.

What do you do to stay healthy and in shape, what are your wellness habits?

Fitness and nutrition are incredibly important to me. Actually, taking care of my body in this way fuels my ability to serve others and stay focused on my mission to break unconscious bias. To do that, there are three musts for me on a weekly basis:

  1. Meditation. I meditate for at least 20 minutes daily. This is a crucial part of my day. We live in a culture where are hearts and minds are hyperactive due to so many distractions and stimulants that enter our body through our five senses. Meditating daily gives me a chance to floss my mind and stay rooted on what is most important to me – my family, friends, values, and work – without letting the distractions of world take the best of my mental energy, physical efforts, and time. I am actually going to begin teaching meditation weekly (finally!). I’d love for you and your readers to join. Wednesdays, 6.30 – 7.30 pm, 424 West 54th Street, 2nd Floor, New York.
  2. Exercise & Yoga. I have a daily yoga practice. Usually it is 5-10 minutes, but sometimes it is as little as a single downward facing dog. For me, yoga brings me the connection to my body in order to feel more connected to my values and mind. I also exercise at least 4 – 5 times a week. Lately, I’ve been going to CrossFit which has transformed the way I thought about fitness!
  3. Nutrition. I am a big believer in Ayurveda and the crux of a healthy mind and body is the nutrition we put in our body. To me, this means that I am what I eat. Therefore, I try to eat a balanced diet on a daily basis with lots of vegetables and fruits with a healthy dose of protein. I also try to avoid processed foods – though I do have a sweet spot for popcorn when I go to the movies! A friend once told me a technique that a lot of companies use to keep us addicted to fast foods: pickable, poppable, unstoppable. If you’re looking to transition to a healthier lifestyle, notice what in your life fits that formula and try to avoid those foods slowly.