When you've invested a lot of time and money into a business or idea that's not working, it's difficult to stop or change course. Throwing more time and resources into a bad idea is a common, albeit poor, decision made by many an entrepreneur. In fact, the tendency to continue throwing good money after bad, or persist in behavior that has a negative impact, even has a name. Scientists say that this behavior is caused by something they call sunk-cost bias.
Sunk-cost bias occurs when your investment, financial or emotional, is so large that you refuse to change your mind or shift directions. It may feel nearly impossible to stop investing due to hopes of recovering funds as well as the need to save face and a fear of failure.
Entrepreneurs and corporate leaders fall down this rabbit hole often. But if leaders could learn to live in the present moment, to still their mind so the truth of the situation could sink in, they are likely to make better decisions.
New research suggests that one simple methodology can have a dramatic impact on sunk-cost bias. Researcher Andrew Hafenbrack and his team at INSEAD in Singapore, as well as the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, have concluded that 15 minutes of mindfulness meditation daily can reduce people's tendency to persist with lost causes because of past investment. In my experience this practice supports sound decision-making all around.
Right about now you're probably thinking that you don't have the time to meditate, but I'm going to argue that belief. After all, if multibillion-dollar corporations invest in mindfulness, maybe you should find the time to do the same. This is just the shortlist:
Google has an internal course called "Search Inside Yourself" and more than 1,000 people have taken the class, which has a waiting list of 400 and growing. The company offers a series of "mindful lunches" conducted in complete silence except for the ringing of prayer bells. The search giant even built a labyrinth for walking meditations.
Aetna Health Insurance partnered in a research project with Duke University that found Aetna employees' stress levels were 1/3 lower after one-hour of yoga a week. The company had 3,500 people sign up for its mindfulness and yoga programs.
General Mills educates its employees on the benefits of meditation and have found that it improves productivity as well as creativity. They believe that it helps people focus on their work instead of other things going on in their life.
Even the traditionally conservative McKinsey & Company is embracing meditation to keep employees healthy and happy.
Meditation takes practice but it's well worth it. In its simplest form, mediation is not as difficult as you may think. Try one or more of these steps and see how you do. I've rated them based on my personal experience, as well as those of my clients. Always take 5 minutes after your meditation to slowly begin moving into the rest of your day. Aim to practice at least three times a week and give it a few weeks before judging the outcome.
Download a guided visualization from a reputable online resource. Most sites will allow you to listen to a sample visualization; it's important that you like the narrator's voice and find it soothing.
Once you have your recording in place, find a quiet, comfortable space, close your eyes, and follow your guide's instructions.
Allow your mind to get lost in the music while your body relaxes and releases tension. Remember that the goal is not to have a blank mind. You may see beautiful places, images, and other creative visuals. You may even have a brilliant idea or two! Some of my most challenging situations are resolved during or soon after a meditation.
For the pro.
It may be difficult to imagine, but as you become adept at the art of meditation you will be able to still your mind and sit in relaxation with ease for 30 minutes or more. Focus on your breathing to help eliminate distractions. Take 3 minutes to just inhale and exhale deeply, forgetting everything and focusing only on the breath and the body. Practice focusing on nothing or consider choosing a mantra--a word or phrase that distills or instills mindful moments.
These certainly are not the only meditation techniques available to you--there are hundreds of ways to practice mindfulness. Certainly, there is one that's just right for you.