Mindfulness – helping you make good decisions

Life is full of making decisions, and over the past 5 months people have had to make many momentous decisions and make them swiftly. This has highlighted the necessity of being able to focus, to separate thoughts from facts and to avoid fear based decisions.

At Reeves Independent, we have held in-house ‘Mindfulness for Business Success’ staff-training sessions and have been excited to see what a powerful tool mindfulness can be, particularly when it comes to making effective decisions.

We wanted to share this insight with our clients and friends who are seeking to develop their own ability to make the best decisions. So, towards the end of July, Reeves Independent, alongside Mark Sidney from Mindful Therapies, held an online evening webinar: Mindfulness for Decision Making. We were pleased to have a sizeable audience for this Webinar and have been encouraged by the feedback from our clients.

We will be holding more of these sessions in the future as we are firmly committed to helping our clients. A video of the session is available or if you think you would like to learn more about mindfulness and meditations please visit: https://www.mindfultherapies.org.uk/about-us/

In case you missed it, here’s a brief report from the session.

Mark gave a definition of mindfulness as: “paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgementally’’.

He pointed out that the present moment is the only moment in which we can take a decision and yet we spend a lot of time trying to look into the future or brooding on the past.

“Being able to pay attention to what is going on now can really help us to make better and wider decisions,’’ he said.

Apart from that, it can also reduce stress, enhance productivity and improve creativity, and organisations, including Google and Hewlett Packard, have been using it for several years to improve decision making.

There are three elements to mindfulness: intention; attention; and attitude. The intention is to pay attention in the present moment and then it’s a question of how we make use of what we notice or become aware of in that moment, applying a kindly acceptance and being non-judgemental.

“We are observing what we are feeling, we are observing what we are noticing, rather than reacting to it automatically,’’ explained Mark.

To settle and ground yourself for a meditation, to create space to be with yourself, you need to set your intentions, your desire for something to happen and believing that it can. It’s internally generated and is about how you want to be in the world. For example, when planning for a pension, what kind of retirement you want to have.

“So the first part of mindfulness and the first part of decision making is being really clear on your own values and your own beliefs, what you want to happen and what you want to be,’’ said Mark.

To meditate, you should adopt a relaxed sitting position, with the feet flat in the floor, your back fairly upright, with your hands resting by your side or in your lap and maybe allowing the eyes to close. Then observe your breathing and what it feels like to breath in and out, allowing the breaths to deepen slightly and keeping the inward and outward breaths of equal length. It might be useful to count to three or four on the breaths.

Soon the mind will begin to wander and you should acknowledge the thoughts without engaging with them and then, with kindly acceptance, return to the breath and the counting.

“Each time you notice that the mind has wandered, there’s a moment of awareness, a moment of mindfulness, a moment of choice, choosing each time to gently come back to the breath and back to the counting,’’ said Mark.

Next, pay a little more attention to the out-breath and the physical sensations as you release each breath and the body’s natural tendency to relax at the same time. Similarly, as the mind releases involvement with thinking, it begins to settle.

Let go of the counting and allow the breath to return to its usual rhythm and attend to what it feels like to be sitting where you are in the present moment and to any physical sensations within the body, noticing contact with the surfaces supporting you.

“Allow a sense of being held and supported, unconditionally by the chair and the ground beneath you,’’ said Mark. “Nothing to do, nowhere to go, no problems to solve, no issues to fix, right now, just giving yourself absolute permission to just be, mind resting in the body, body resting on the ground, not doing anything.’’

As you rest, bring to mind your intention and motivation, maybe reflecting on your intention for retirement and how you want to be in the world when you retire and how you want to be in the world right now and what values and qualities you want to express to the world.

Then open your awareness to the space around you and to the sounds inside and outside the room and the temperature, before opening your eyes to end the introduction to the meditation process.

“It’s being able to stop and pause and create a space between whatever stimuli there may be and our reaction, to choose our response, rather then just acting on auto-pilot,’’ said Mark.

He explained that operating on auto-pilot is something we do a lot of the time, when we don’t pay attention to what we are doing. It can be useful, allowing us to perform relatively complex activities economically. However, it can mean we miss out on many things and react to things by habit.

Reacting to habit can be due to our negativity bias or our natural tendency to focus on the negative and give it prominence. It developed in humans as a survival mechanism against threat. This instinct doesn’t distinguish between a physical and non-physical threat, it still produces adrenaline, provoking us to run, hide or fight. But, none of those things help when, for example, the stock market crashes. We still, however, make a lot of decisions based on that threat system.

The human brain also has a reward system, when we react to positive things, and a soothe system, which is our rest, repair and digest system. This automatically deals with the huge amount of data we are receiving all the time and processes it. It produces the healing hormones of oxyticin and serotonin, both of which are also produced by mindfulness.

We like to think we make decisions as the result of a logical and rational process but, in fact many of them are a result of subconscious and unconscious biases. Mindfulness enhances our ability to observe our thoughts and emotions and recognise and understand how we feel about our thoughts so we can make better decisions.

Thoughts aren’t facts and, on average, we each have about 20,000 thoughts a day and most are based on things that have already happened that we can do nothing about. We tend to think we are expert in certain things and that can lead to overconfidence, but mindfulness helps us to be aware of that and approach things with a beginner’s mind and be alive to other possibilities. We also become more emotionally intelligent by becoming aware of and recognising our emotions. We can question where a belief or thought comes from and on what facts it is based. For example, when we recognise when we are in the threat mode we can avoid fear based decisions and develop mechanisms for coming out of it.

Another mindful way to make better decisions is to avoid sunk-cost bias, that tendency in people and organisations to persist in a course of action because they have already invested so much time, effort or money in it, even though it may no longer be beneficial.

Our minds and our bodies are intimately connected and we have to listen to our bodies and pay attention to what our heart or our gut has to tell us.

“Listening to your body and noticing your emotional state, as well as your thoughts can help you to make better and wiser decisions,’’ said Mark.

A key element to bring to mindfulness is kindly acceptance of what we are experiencing in the moment, of the reality of the situation, so we can see the bigger picture and make wiser decisions.

Mark also led the webinar through a second mindfulness exercise to help choose between two options. It began with entering the mindfulness state of meditation and bringing to mind the options and then exploring, in turn, your physical and emotional response to choosing each option.

“When I do this exercise, it can often help me make a better decision, one that’s more in tune with my body and more in tune with my core values and beliefs,’’ said Mark.

He added that the more people practice mindfulness techniques the more powerful a tool it would become for them.

Mark concluded: “Mindfulness is about creating that space to just pause, listen to our bodies, notice our thoughts, to be aware of our emotions, so that we can align what we do with our inner core beliefs and values and our authentic selves. Mindfulness isn’t about clearing the mind, it’s about getting clarity in the mind.’’

This article is for information only and should not be construed as advice or a recommendation. The investment strategies mentioned are examples only and may not be suitable for your particular: circumstances, tax position or objectives. Please seek independent financial advice before taking any action.

Investments carry risk, capital invested may go down as well as up and you may not get back the original capital invested.

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