Improve Decision Making with a Brief Mindfulness Training

Improve Decision Making with a Brief Mindfulness Training


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“With mindfulness, the decision-making process becomes a thoughtful, cognitive exercise, rather than an impulsive reaction to immediate needs.” – Insead


We are confronted daily with a myriad of decisions, many small of little importance; chocolate or strawberry, pass or follow, do the dishes or empty the trash, watch a movie or sports, etc. But some have a major impact on ourselves and others; take a new job, get married, buy a home, retire or stay working, exercise or not, etc. The problem is that humans are not always good decision makers.


We often make decisions for emotional reasons; buying a new car, not because we need one but because it makes us feel like a race car driver, selling a stock out of fear of losses, marrying someone out of fear of being alone, etc. We also have a tendency to make decisions based upon how we’ve made them in the past regardless of whether that strategy is still appropriate. Having decided to finish high school, get a college degree, and going back to school to get an MBA may have helped our careers, but then going back to school again may not.


So, decisions are not always logical or optimal. Mindfulness has been shown to help with decision making. One problem, though, with mindfulness training is that it can take a great deal of time. This is not always possible when decisions must be made quickly. It is unclear if a very brief instruction in mindfulness may help individuals in making better decisions.


In today’s Research News article “The Effect of a 3-Minute Mindfulness Intervention, and the Mediating Role of Maximization, on Critical Incident Decision-Making.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: )  Shortland and colleagues recruited adult participants online and randomly assigned them to a 3 minute meditation or story listening. The participants completed a measure of maximization of decision making. They them completed their 3-minute meditation or listening followed by a decision-making task with presented audio scenarios that had approach or avoidance solutions. They then measured situational awareness time, choice time, decision time, commitment time, decision difficulty, and approach/avoidance decision.


They found that the meditation group had significantly faster reaction times on all measures and higher decision difficulty. In addition, the mindfulness group were significantly more approach oriented rather than avoidance oriented in their decisions. But decisions became more avoidant after mindfulness training in participants who scored high in maximization of decision making. So, mindfulness training improved decision making by individuals who tend to find optimal solutions rather than acceptable solutions and find decisions less difficult to make.


The results are interesting and demonstrate that even a very brief exposure to mindfulness has positive effects on decision making. This suggests that prior to making complex difficult decision a brief period of meditation might be helpful, but particularly in individuals who look for optimal solutions.


So, improve decision making with a brief mindfulness training.


If we are mindful of how we feel, we can more consciously include this in the decision-making process.” – Applied Attention


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ and on Twitter @MindfulResearch


Study Summary


Shortland ND, McGarry P, Thompson L, Stevens C and Alison LJ (2021) The Effect of a 3-Minute Mindfulness Intervention, and the Mediating Role of Maximization, on Critical Incident Decision-Making. Front. Psychol. 12:674694. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2021.674694


Objective: In this study, we extend the impact of mindfulness to the concept of least-worst decision-making. Least-worst decisions involve high-uncertainty and require the individual to choose between a number of potentially negative courses of action. Research is increasingly exploring least-worst decisions, and real-world events (such as the COVID-19 pandemic) show the need for individuals to overcome uncertainty and commit to a least-worst course of action. From sports to business, researchers are increasingly showing that “being mindful” has a range of positive performance-related benefits. We hypothesized that mindfulness would improve least-worst decision-making because it would increase self-reflection and value identification. However, we also hypothesized that trait maximization (the tendency to attempt to choose the “best” course of action) would negatively interact with mindfulness.

Methods: Three hundred and ninety-eight participants were recruited using Amazon MTurk and exposed to a brief mindfulness intervention or a control intervention (listening to an audiobook). After this intervention, participants completed the Least-Worst Uncertain Choice Inventory for Emergency Responders (LUCIFER).

Results: As hypothesized, mindfulness increased decision-making speed and approach-tendencies. Conversely, for high-maximizers, increased mindfulness caused a slowing of the decision-making process and led to more avoidant choices.

Conclusions: This study shows the potential positive and negative consequences of mindfulness for least-worst decision-making, emphasizing the critical importance of individual differences when considering both the effect of mindfulness and interventions aimed at improving decision-making.

“In the NBA, mindfulness is important because the game is chaotically fast and the pressures on players are extreme. In real life, it’s important because the practice can help us get a handle on ourselves and stop going into a tailspin or endless series of tangents.”

Sirk (Zen and the Art of Winning: Phil Jackson’s Team Leadership, 2020).