I can see clearly now, my sunk-cost bias is gone.
Meditation has long been known for its mental health benefits, but new research shows that just a few minutes of mindfulness can improve physical health and personal life as well. A recent study conducted by researchers at INSEAD and The Wharton School found that 15 minutes of mindful meditation can help you make better decisions.
The research, published in the Association for Psychological Science’s journal Psychological Science, comes from four studies (varying in sample size from 69 to 178 adults) in which participants responded to sunk-cost scenarios at different degrees of mindful awareness. The results consistently showed that increased mindfulness decreases the sunk-cost bias.
WOAH, hold the phone. What’s a sunk cost and what’s a sunk-cost bias??
Sunk cost is an economics term that psychologists have adopted. In economics, sunk costs are defined as non-recoverable investment costs like the cost of employee training or a lease on office space. In psychology, sunk costs are basically the same thing: The time and energy we put into our personal lives. Though we might not sit down with a calculator at the kitchen table when deciding who to take as our plus one to our second cousin’s wedding next weekend, we do a cost-benefit analysis every time we make a decision. And we take these sunk costs into account.
The sunk-cost bias, then, is the tendency to allow sunk costs to overly influence current decisions. Mindfulness meditation can provide improved clarity, which helps you stay present and make better decisions, the study says. This protects you from that manipulative sunk-cost bias.
“We are really good about getting wrapped up in the hustle and bustle of the each day,” said Dr. Adam Naylor, a sports psychology consultant and clinical assistant professor at Boston University. “Even seemingly benign hassles chip away at cognitive freshness and physical readiness. Meditation can be a way to cleanse oneself of the performance sapping, mental clutter.”
Say you realize that the guy you’re dating in a total doofus. Do you break up with him? Our trusted friend the Magic 8 Ball says all signs lead to yes. But wait, you’ve already invested so much time and energy (sunk costs!) in this relationship, not to mention the $1,000 you spent fixing that dent in his car last month, maybe you should just wait it out. No! All signs led to yes! You’re sunk-cost biased!
So how does it work?
“The debiasing effect of mindfulness meditation in sunk-cost situations was due to a two-step process,” wrote study co-author Zoe Kinias, Assistant Professor of Organisational Behavior at INSEAD in an article about the study for the journal. “First, meditation reduced how much people focused on the past and future, and this psychological shift led to less negative emotion. The reduced negative emotion then facilitated their ability to let go of sunk costs.”
But mindfulness doesn’t just help with the big decisions. It can help with the little ones, too. Should you eat an apple or a brownie? Should you go to the gym or watch Netflix? Rather than convincing yourself that you’ll be too tired if you go to the gym, mindfulness practice can provide the clarity you need to realize that’s just an excuse and that you should go.
Mindfulness meditation can have physical benefits, too. Fitness experts say that mindfulness meditation can increase your focus so that you actually get more out of your workout.
“Purposeful meditation givess the mind a moment to reset, so it can be creatively and fully engaged on the tasks we choose to embrace,” Naylor said.
So start meditating, break up with the doofus, and head to the gym.