Last week, after I wrote my blog post on decision-making, I went to yoga. There were other things pulling at me - playing outside with my daughter, eating dinner with family, work (always). But I knew I wouldn't be showing up as my best self if I didn't get on my mat.
In the yoga studio, everything is stripped away. Very little about each individual's identity matters. We are all there to work as hard as we can at the same thing, and that's all that matters. Couple that with the fact that the physical practice is so difficult that it's impossible to think about anything other than the asana you are currently engaged with, and yoga becomes a powerful way to clear one's mind.
After a rigorous Ashtanga practice, I am often able to see clearly through a situation that was previously baffling.
And I'm not the only one. Our friend and landlord at nido sent me this article last week. It details how practicing meditation can aid decision-making. The research shows that meditation causes the practitioner to focus only on the present situation, and to let go of emotions tied to past events that might be affecting the decision at hand. The researchers looked at the sunk-cost bias - how previous emotional or financial investment in a project can cloud one's judgement, causing the individual to continue in the same direction even when it is not the right decision.
I imagine a lot of people can relate to the sunk-cost bias. For myself, it affected my decision to continue taking piano lessons even after it was clear that they were adding no value to my life (all of those years of practice!). Later, it was to blame for my decision to finish out certain sequences of coursework during college, even though they no longer served my goals. It can cause people to stay in jobs that have long out-lived their fruitfulness, or stay in unfulfilling relationships simply because of the time invested. At work, it can cause business owners to continue down the same path with a product or service, even when it isn't working out.
A lot of what goes into the sunk-cost bias is emotional. We hate to lose things. We would rather not have something at all than to have it then lose it. The idea that we have put time and effort into something that needs to be abandoned hurts.
That's where meditation comes in. Meditation alters our thinking and gives us perspective. More often than not, this lifts our mood. If we make decisions without the negative emotions in play, we make better decisions. As the study author Sigal Barsade says, "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."
Lucky for us, this study shows that even a short period of meditation can help. So, the next time you're facing a difficult and complicated decision, take 10 minutes to breathe deeply and clear your head and emotions. Your future self will thank you.