Can Mindfulness Really Enhance Problem Solving and Decision making?
‘If you want to discover your creativity, and make more insightful decisions, then read this book.’ Professor Mark Williams, Emeritus Professor of Clinical Psychology, University of Oxford.
Exclusive extract from Mindfulness for Creativity: Adapt, Create and Thrive in a Frantic World
Mindfulness has become such a buzzword in the fields of health and wellbeing that it’s easy to forget it has many other benefits too. For example, recent research shows that it also helps with decision making by clarifying the mind and enhancing creativity. According to Dr Natalia Karelaia, Assistant Professor of Decision Sciences at the INSEAD Business School in Paris, mindfulness is being incorporated into ‘every area of business where strong decisions are required’.1
Mindfulness enhances creativity largely by encouraging divergent thinking. But the benefits run much deeper. According to Dr Karelaia mindfulness not only helps decision makers reach conclusions, it also impacts the way decisions are identified, made, implemented and assessed.
There are four main stages to making an effective decision and mindfulness helps with all of them:
- Framing the decision: sometimes, the best course of action is to not make a decision at all, but instead simply to observe while events take their course. Mindfulness gives you the insight, courage and patience to follow this course of action (when it’s the most appropriate one). If a decision is required, then mindfulness can help you clarify your objectives, generate options and avoid irrationally aggravating a previously flawed decision. Mindfulness is extremely effective for avoiding the so-called ‘sunk-cost bias’.2 This is the irrational tendency to continue with a course of action simply because you have already made an investment of time, effort or money. A classic example is the refusal to sell a failing company’s shares simply because you hope the price will recover. In other words, it’s when you throw good money after bad. Mindfulness can also help you make more strategic decisions too – those that are more in keeping with your long-term goals and underlying ethics.
- Gathering ideas and information: mindfulness can help you avoid information overload by enhancing working memory and cognition.3 It can also help you to focus your efforts on gathering the most relevant information available; that which is more likely to be in accordance with a correctly framed decision and your long-term aims. It helps you to avoid habitual search patterns too. This will increase the likelihood of discovering new or unexpected ideas. In addition, mindfulness can help put information in context by enhancing your overall perspective. According to Dr Karelaia: ‘Mindful decision makers are also more likely to recognise the limits of their knowledge and to objectively assess uncertainty. In fact, research has found that people who are more mindful have a greater tolerance of uncertainty and are more decisive when faced with making a choice despite many unknowns.’
- Coming to a conclusion: mindfulness reduces ‘cognitive rigidity’ – the tendency to make decisions using habitual thought patterns.4 Such cognitive rigidity can seriously impair decision making and force you to ‘think inside the box’. Mindfulness also helps you to make more rational – and less emotionally biased – decisions. It does this by helping you to sense your emotional landscape and to gauge when it is beginning to bias your decisions.5 Mindful people also tend to be more intuitive. Intuition arises from unconscious thought processes and can be very effective in helping you to deal with complexity and ambiguity. It often lies behind creative ‘Aha!’ moments.6 But equally importantly, mindfulness enhances the courage and resilience necessary to implement decisions.
- Learning from experience: the final stage of decision making is arguably the most important – learning from experience. Accepting mistakes can be particularly difficult. Mindfulness can make this process a little easier because it reduces defensiveness and promotes courage and resilience.
In addition, says Dr Karelaia: ‘Heightened awareness ensures that mindful individuals may be more likely to learn the right lessons from experience. It’s a well-known phenomenon in psychology that we often attribute our past success to our own skill and our past failures to some external circumstance. This can lead to overconfidence, which can be quite disastrous in organisational or entrepreneurial situations. More mindful individuals are more likely to disengage from their ego, making them more open to negative feedback. So mindfulness helps decision makers learn in an unbiased way.’
You can download the first chapter of Mindfulness for Creativity: Adapt, Create and Thrive for free from here:
1 Karelaia, N. (2014), ‘Why mindful individuals make better deci- sions’, INSEAD Knowledge, 23 July, at http://knowledge.insead. edu/leadership-management/why-mindful-individuals-make-better- decisions-3479.
2 Hafenbrack, A. C., Kinias, Z. and Barsade, S. G. (2014), ‘Debiasing the mind through meditation: mindfulness and the sunk-cost bias’, Psychological Science, 25(2), pp. 369–76.
3 Mrazek, M. D., Franklin, M. S., Phillips, D. T., Baird, B. and Schooler, J. W. (2013), ‘Mindfulness training improves working memory capacity and GRE performance while reducing mind wandering’, Psychological Science, 24, pp. 776–81; Jha, A. P., Stanley, E. A., Kiyonaga, A., Wong, L. and Gelfand, L. (2010), ‘Examining the protective effects of mindfulness training on working memory capacity and affective experience’, Emotion, 10, pp. 54–64; Jha, A. P., Krompinger, J. and Baime, M. J. (2007), ‘Mindfulness training modifies subsystems of attention’, Cognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience, 7, pp. 109–19; Zeidan, F., Johnson, S. K., Diamond, B. J., David, Z. and Goolkasian, P. (2010), ‘Mindfulness meditation improves cognition: evidence of brief mental training’, Consciousness and Cognition, 19(2), pp. 597–605.
4 Zeidan, F., Johnson, S. K., Diamond, B. J., David, Z. and Goolkasian, P. (2010), ‘Mindfulness meditation improves cogni- tion: evidence of brief mental training’, Consciousness and Cognition, 19(2), pp. 597–605; Greenberg, J., Reiner, K. and Meiran, N. (2012), ‘“Mind the trap”: mindfulness practice reduces cognitive rigidity’, PLoS One, 7(5): e36206, doi:10.1371/ journal.pone.0036206
5 Hafenbrack, A. C., Kinias, Z. and Barsade, S. G. (2014), ‘Debiasing the mind through meditation: mindfulness and the sunk-cost bias’, Psychological Science, 25(2), p. 369; Kirk, U., Downar, J. and Montague, P. R. (2011), ‘Interoception drives increased rational decision-making in meditators playing the ulti- matum game’, Frontiers in Neuroscience, 5:49, doi: 10.3389/ fnins.2011.00049.
Ostafin, B. and Kassman, K. (2012), ‘Stepping out of history: mindfulness improves insight problem solving’, Consciousness and Cognition, 21(2), pp. 1031–6.