Imagine you could make a great decision just by closing your eyes, clearing your head, and focusing on your breathing.
If the notion sounds appealing, it's worth trying it out. A new paper by researchers from INSEAD and the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton Business School finds that meditation can help you make better decisions when leading your company.
In "Debiasing the Mind through Meditation: Mindfulness and the Sunk-Cost Bias," the authors write that short meditation sessions can reduce the amount of decisions you make based on information from the past that has no correlation with the choice you're making now.
The researchers tell Knowledge@Wharton, Penn's business school blog, that they looked at how meditation can help leaders avoid making a decision with what's called a "sunk-cost bias," where they continue with a losing course of action after investing time and money. The sunk-cost bias is the reason wars don't end quickly, why partnerships-gone-bad continue, and why you can't cut your losses on that investment even after you realize it won't bounce back.
The key to meditation is to shift your state of mind away from a focus on past events, relationships, and situations--as well as from future likely outcomes--to a focus on the present. In two studies the researchers conducted, two groups of people were made to make decisions, with members of one of the groups meditating for 15 minutes first. That group made decisions unrelated to their sunk-cost bias.
"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," researcher Andrew C. Hafenbrack tells Knowledge@Wharton. "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."
The team also found that meditation can lift your mood--another way in which your mind makes better, clearer decisions.
"Everyone always says 'stop being emotional' when they discuss decision-making, but in essence that's the wrong thing to say," says Sigal Barsade, another one of the researchers. "Just don't let the wrong emotions cloud the decision-making process."