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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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Daniel Wallen

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

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