Exploring the Link between Mindfulness and Decision-Making.
When facilitating mindfulness groups, I always encourage and invite participants to experiment with their postures and make adjustments as needed. I have observed that many individuals make skillful use of this opportunity. However, some individuals struggle with feeling trapped and unable to move their bodies during the practice, which limits their ability to fully engage in meditation. Despite their difficulties, they persist with the practice and work hard to contain their suffering internally.
I wanted to delve deeper into the reasons why individuals experience difficulty when faced with making choices.
Choice is a fundamental aspect of human experience.
From the moment we wake up in the morning, we are faced with a multitude of choices, both big and small. Yet, when it comes to our thoughts, emotions, and behaviours, we often feel like we have no control over what happens to us. However, research has shown that we always have a choice, even in the most difficult and challenging situations. In this article, we will explore the concept of choice and how it relates to mindfulness and personal growth.
What is research saying?
One of the most ground-breaking studies on the power of choice was conducted by psychologist Martin Seligman. In the 1960s, Seligman conducted a series of experiments with dogs, where he exposed them to electric shocks that they couldn’t avoid. As a result, the dogs learned to become passive and helpless, even when presented with opportunities to escape the shocks. Seligman called this phenomenon “learned helplessness,” and it has been extensively studied in humans as well.
Seligman also discovered that the dogs could be taught to become active and resilient if they were given an opportunity to control their environment. This led him to develop the concept of “learned optimism,” where individuals can learn to reframe their experiences in a more positive light by focusing on the choices available to them.
In essence, this research demonstrates that even in situations where we feel helpless and trapped, we always have a choice.
We may not be able to control what happens to us, but we can control how we respond to those experiences.
Too much choice can be overwhelming.
A study conducted by psychologists Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lepper found that too much choice can be overwhelming and lead to decreased satisfaction. In the study, they set up a tasting booth with either 6 or 24 varieties of jam. While more people were drawn to the booth with 24 jams, only 3% of those who stopped made a purchase. In contrast, 30% of those who stopped at the booth with 6 jams made a purchase.
Another study found that the perception of choice can influence our physiological responses. Participants were asked to complete a task and were given either a choice or no choice in how to complete it. The group that was given a choice showed decreased levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, while the group that was not given a choice showed increased levels.
Furthermore, researchers have found that the way in which we frame our choices can impact our decision-making. For example, framing a decision as a loss can make us more risk-averse, while framing it as a gain can make us more likely to take risks.
Overall, the research suggests that choice is a complex and multifaceted concept, and that our perception and experience of choice can impact our behaviour and well-being in a variety of ways.
How can mindfulness help? Exploring the Link between Mindfulness and Decision-Making.
So, how does this concept of choice relate to mindfulness? Mindfulness is all about becoming aware of our thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations in the present moment, without judgment or reaction. By cultivating a mindfulness practice, we can learn to recognize the choices available to us in each moment. This can help us to break free from habitual patterns of thinking and reacting and to respond in more intentional and skillful ways.
For example, let’s say you’re in a stressful situation at work and you notice yourself starting to feel overwhelmed and anxious. In that moment, you have a choice. You could choose to react by getting defensive, shutting down, or lashing out at others. Alternatively, you could choose to respond by taking a deep breath, recognizing your emotions, and practicing self-compassion. This second option may be more challenging, but ultimately it can lead to greater personal growth and resilience.
Of course, recognising our choices is often easier said than done. It’s important to acknowledge that we may have internal barriers that make it difficult to see our choices clearly. These barriers can include past trauma, negative self-talk, and limiting beliefs. By working with a therapist or mindfulness teacher, we can learn to identify these barriers and develop strategies for overcoming them.
In conclusion, the concept of choice is a powerful tool for personal growth and transformation. Through mindfulness and other contemplative practices, we can learn to recognise our choices in each moment and to respond with greater intention and skill. As Seligman’s research demonstrates, we may not always be able to control what happens to us, but we can always control how we respond. By embracing our choices and cultivating a mindset of learned optimism, we can develop greater resilience and well-being in our lives.