Cutting your losses is hard. When you've already invested so much time and energy into something, it's not easy to make the decision to call it quits (you can thank stubbornness, and a sense of not wanting to be wasteful, for that) -- something called "sunk-cost bias." It's the reason why you will continue to stand in line for that exhibit for another two hours even though you've already been waiting for three ("Well, I've been here this long…").
Sometimes sticking around and refusing to admit you were wrong can lead to even more bad outcomes. However, researchers from INSEAD and The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania have found that mindfulness meditation -- which is awareness of the present moment -- can help you to make a rational decision in the face of this sunk-cost bias.
Mindfulness meditation helps to combat the bias in two ways: "First, meditation reduced how much people focused on the past and future, and this psychological shift led to less negative emotion," study researcher Zoe Kinias, assistant professor of organizational behavior at INSEAD, explained in a statement. "The reduced negative emotion then facilitated their ability to let go of sunk costs."
The findings, published in the journal Psychological Science, are based on several experiments. In one of them, study participants answered questions online about how often they focused on the present moment. They also read a number of scenarios with sunk-cost situations (like whether they would go to a music festival that they'd already paid for if they were sick or the weather was bad), and said what decision they would make in each of the scenarios.
Researchers found an association between increased focus on the present moment, and an increased willingness to ignore the sunk costs and make the rational decision to cut the losses.
In other experiments, study participants actually went through brief mindfulness meditation training before making hypothetical decisions on sunk-cost scenarios. Like the first experiment, researchers found an association between mindfulness and making rational decisions in the face of sunk-cost bias.
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