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How effective breathing techniques influence decision-making for executives and especially Interim Managers

Updated: Apr 23

Breath yoga, breathing exercises, and mindfulness training for a more relaxed workday

are now the talk of the town. But we can not only influence our well-being with certain breathing exercises, but also our decisions.

man sitting in nature breathing - a descriptive picture of the article " how effective breathing techniques influence decision making for interim managers

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But how this is possible and to what extent our hormones play a role here, we would like to explain in this article. For executives and especially interim managers, this knowledge can actively lead to better and more successful decisions. But also apart from the general

assessment, mindful breathing helps to reduce potential stress and to be calmer and at ease.

After all, it is already known in research today that employees who

who feel good at work and are not exposed to negative stress are likely to be more productive and work more efficiently.

Unconscious signals in the brain guide our decisions

Determinism, for example, states that every decision we make with supposed free will is predetermined and we have no direct influence. The basis for this assumption regarding our decision-making lies in the unconscious impulse in our brains that decisions have already been made unconsciously in advance. If we now feel a desire for chocolate, this theory states that before we consciously perceive our desire for chocolate, the decision has long since been made in the brain.

This signal is called readiness potential and ultimately leads us to reach for a piece of chocolate and decide to eat a piece. But where does this impulse originate from and what does our autonomic nervous system have to do with it? Is it true that feelings tend to interfere with rational decision-making, or are they much a necessity for us to be able to decide at all?

Readiness potential in the brain

From a purely neurobiological point of view, our emotional state affects our decisions. After all, the readiness potential and the decision we then consciously make have to do with the hormones dopamine, testosterone, and serotonin.

By the way, this is also the reason why we like to opt for things that are already known or familiar to us. The familiar effect triggers the reward feeling dopamine in our body, which is why we are more inclined to make our decisions based on our experiences.

In 1997, the Portuguese neurobiologist António Damásio was able to prove how important our emotions are for our decision-making through the case of a little boy named Elliot. This is because Elliot had a tumor just behind his forehead in the prefrontal cortex, which made all decisions impossible for him. His facial expressions were characterized by an emotionless indifference and he became almost incapable of action because he could not decide between even the smallest things.

The effects of stress on our decisions

It is also known from the emergency room that people have difficulty deciding on the right thing to do when they are exposed to unusual situations. This in turn leads to an increased release of norepinephrine, which tends to trigger the well-known "fight or flight" syndrome. The prefrontal cortex shuts down and the person reacts impulsively and makes poor decisions. In one study, participants were given the task of remembering a certain number of digits, ostensibly to explore memory performance. However, the researchers were interested in finding out how emotion and reason affect decision-making. When subjects had to remember more digits, they were more likely to reach for a chocolate cake rather than a fruit salad at a buffet provided than when they had to remember fewer digits.

Thus, when the mind, or even the brain, is more challenged, emotion apparently tends to influence decisions more. From this, we can theorize that when we humans are stressed, we are also more likely to make emotional decisions that are less well thought out. However, emotion and reason are mutually dependent in our ability to make decisions. To come back to the better decision-making ability for interim managers and executives in general after this excursion, it is important to be able to make decisions as stress-free as possible. Scientists have found out in studies that our breathing is involved in our decision-making ability. Study participants were asked to press a button at a time of their choosing. The researchers observed that the participants always pressed the button when exhaling, but never when inhaling.

More rest through proper breathing

Through breathing exercises, we can act in a targeted way to make better decisions. Because in everyday life, we usually only breathe shallowly into our chest and shoulders. This ensures that our oxygen content in the body is lower and our cells are consequently also more oxidative stress triggered. Accordingly, our body finds less peace within itself but remains in a rather tense state. Perhaps you have already noticed that your breathing becomes shallower and faster during stress, anxiety, and tension. You can also create this effect the other way around, namely by influencing your body with conscious breathing. The goal with proper breathing is to breathe not only through the chest but also throughout the abdomen and into the diaphragm. This is how the body gets the most oxygen, which we often do by ourselves after physical exertion.

How to breathe correctly?

Abdominal and diaphragmatic breathing ensures that the entire upper body is used for breathing and that the lung volume is fully utilized. The diaphragm pushes into the abdomen when you inhale, causing it to bulge. You can practice this without difficulty by palpating your breathing several times and observing the extent to which your chest, abdomen, and lower ribs lower and rise. In this way, you will feel exactly whether you are using the correct breathing technique.

It is helpful when using the exercise that you are in an upright posture because a curved back leaves no room for the diaphragm to expand. Too tight pants can also interfere with breathing. Ventilate regularly so that there is a constant balance of oxygen in the air. You should also get more and more into the habit of taking a short break after exhaling before breathing in again. This three-way rhythm helps with conscious breathing and can effectively reduce stress.

Breathing exercises and mindfulness in decision making – Conclusion

Through abdominal breathing, you manage to take deep breaths that lead your mind and body into a feeling of relaxation. And since our actions are controlled by our breathing, we can make clear and conscious decisions. Integrating mindful breathing exercises into everyday life also leads to a greater sense of well-being, less stress, and the associated better decision-making in professional life.

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