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How Meditation Helps You Make Better Decisions

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How Meditation Helps You Make Better Decisions

Do you ever feel like you make the same bad decisions over and over again? If so, you might be interested to know that meditation could make a monumental impact on your decision-making ability.

You’re not as rational as you think you are.

You probably consider yourself a rational person, but what if I told you that most of your decisions don’t make any sense? Consider that book you started to read, but then realized it was terrible a few chapters in. Did you stop reading, or did you keep on reading despite your distaste? Imagine a person you dated in the past, but then you realized you were not compatible with. Did you end the relationship immediately, or did you let it drag on for months (or years)? Recall a concert or sporting event you bought tickets for, but then you realized you were miserably ill. Did you call it off so you could rest and recover, or did you force yourself to go (even though you were too sick to have any fun)?

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The problem: You are consumed in your past.

The scenarios above illustrate the sunk cost fallacy, which sounds obvious in theory. A sunk cost is a past cost that’s already been paid and cannot be recovered. If you read a few chapters of a book that sucks, you can’t “wish” that time back. Continuing to read drivel won’t make the situation any better. If you find yourself in a relationship that wasn’t meant to be, you can’t delay the inevitable, so you might as well pull the trigger. If you buy tickets to visit a theme park on the weekend, but wake up with a stomach bug so severe that you couldn’t ride any roller coasters, why not give your tickets to a friend who could enjoy the experience?

The solution: Meditate to focus on the present.

Meditating helps you let go of the past, forget about the future, and focus on the present. An academic paper published in Psychological Science, “Debiasing the Mind through Meditation: Mindfulness and the Sunk-Cost Bias,” proposes that meditation could help you make better decisions. Two groups of 15 people were asked to perform decision-making exercises. One of those groups performed 15 minutes of focused-breathing guided meditation first, while the other performed the same exercises without preparation. The group that meditated made more effective decisions that were free from bias. Researcher Andrew C. Hafenbrack observed:

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“If you can take these breaks in the day, if you can do a short time-out, you can get yourself to a place that’s going to help you think better.If you find yourself in a position where you need to change the way you’re thinking and be sure you’re thinking in a less biased way…meditation is a way to do that.”

Why you shouldn’t say “stop being emotional”.

Researchers discovered that part of meditation’s power comes from its ability to boost your mood. Put simply, a calm person is going to make better decisions than one who is stressed out. It’s a lot harder to focus on the present moment if you have nasty, negative thoughts screaming inside your head. As co-author Sigal Barsade told Knowledge@Wharton:

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“Meditation changes your cognitive state and your mood, both of which are changing your decision-making. Everyone always says ‘stop being emotional’ when they discuss decision-making, but in essence that’s the wrong thing to say. Just don’t let the wrong emotions cloud the decision-making process.”

Put meditation in practice for a better life.

I know you’re busy, but meditation is totally worth your time. It would be foolish to say you don’t have 15 minutes to meditate, since taking that time to clear your thoughts could save you from making bad decisions that you’d regret. Working on an important project that’s crucial for your success? Debating whether an expensive investment is worth your money? Thinking about ending a long-term relationship that doesn’t fulfill you? Stressing out because you have an awful lot to do and don’t know where to start? Before making a final decision in important matters like these, perform a brief meditation with these five steps:

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  1. Go to a quiet place where you won’t be bothered.
  2. Sit in a comfortable position, close your eyes, and breathe deeply.
  3. On each exhale, imagine past-based beliefs and biases exiting your body.
  4. On each inhale, imagine present-based focus and clarity entering your body.
  5. Light a candle and play soothing piano music or nature sounds (waves crashing?) if that calms you.

Please share if you’d like to help your friends meditate their way to better decisions like you.

Featured photo credit: Meditation/mrhayata via flickr.com

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More by this author

Daniel Wallen

Daniel is a writer who focuses on blogging about happiness and motivation at Lifehack.

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Last Updated on November 22, 2021

Thanksgiving: It’s About The Simple Things

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Thanksgiving: It’s About The Simple Things

Thanksgiving, a day of pure gluttony, football, and possible uncomfortable situations with family members that you may or may not like. Oh, yeah, and the whole “know and reflect on what it is to be thankful and grateful.”

During the holiday season many people forget what this time of year is bout and are too worried about getting the “early-bird” deals on Black Friday and making sure that they have the perfect gifts for their loved ones. I am sort of a “Grinch” when it comes to the holiday season, mostly because of that mentality by many of the poeple around me.

But instead of being grinch-like this holiday season, I decided to simplify things and get back to what this time of year is actually is about; being thankful for what I have and what I can give.

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Simplify

I’m not a “minimalist” in any real sense, but in the last few months the talks of Patrick Rhone and others have got me to rethink my stance. Can you really have too much stuff?

Absolutely.

And with all that stuff comes the burden and the weight of it on your back.

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If you feel that the things around you are out of control, maybe it’s time to simplify and be thankful and grateful for what you have and use. Here are a few things that you can do to simplify:

  • You know those gadgets in the drawer that you said you were going to sell? Well, time to get the listing on eBay and sell them. Or, send them to a place like Gazelle. Even if they are old and won’t get money, you can at least recycle them.
  • Get rid of things you don’t need. Like old books, clothes, tools, etc. Have something that’s been laying around forever with no use? Donate it to a charity or church. If you aren’t using it, someone else could be.
  • Find your productivity tools and stick with them. Use tools and gadgets that serve multiple purposes so you can simplify your tool set.

Be Mindful

You don’t have to be a master Buddhist or meditator to be mindful (although, it can definitely help). Being mindful comes down to being cognizant of the present and not keeping yourself in the past or future. It’s about living in the moment and being aware of yourself and everything around you. It’s just being.

Without getting too “California” on you, it is super important to be mindful during the holiday rush. Rather than worrying about the things that you forgot at your house on the way to relatives or thinking about the next stop in your endless holiday travels, just breath and think about what you are currently doing.

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Spend the time with your family and friends and don’t crush the moment. Try not to concentrate so hard on getting the perfect photo of the “awesome moment” of the day and actually miss the awesome moment.

Being mindful over the holidays will help you be with your families, friends, and yourself allowing you to enjoy your time.

Reflect

As the year is coming to a close (yes, it really is that close!) it’s a great time to start reflecting on what you have accomplished and what you haven’t. Within the next few weeks we will have a more throrough reflection article here at Lifehack.org, but reflecting every now and then over your holiday break is a great way to see where you have been doing well in your life and where you need to improve.

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Reflection shouldn’t be used to “get down” on yourself. Reflection should be used to take an honset inventory of what you have accomplished, how you handeled situations, and what you can do better. If you journal everyday (a daily form of reflection) it may be a good time to start going over some of the things that you have written and start to put together a year’s end journal entry. I mean, how else will you write your autobiography?

But, seriously, reflecting on yourself makes you aware of your successes and faults and helps you plan and make goals for the coming year. It makes you a better person.

So, while you are stuffing your face with bird, stuffing, and mashed taters’, remember that the holidays are much more than the superficial things. Use this holiday to become a better person.

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Featured photo credit: Libby Penner via unsplash.com

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