And even if the initial data is relevant, we often pay too much attention to that data, and thereby fail to make sufficient adjustments when new information becomes available. Anchoring can affect judgments in many aspects of our personal and professional lives. The prices that we negotiate in our financial decisions are extremely susceptible to anchoring effects. For example, one study found that when retailers and manufacturers negotiated the price of auto parts, an irrelevant initial anchor of $12 resulted in a price of $20.60, while an irrelevant anchor of $32 yielded a price of $33.60.39 How much are you going to pay for your new house? One study investigated the appraisal values that real estate agents attach to houses on the market.40 The agents were given tours of a house and a ten-page packet of information that included all the information normally used to value a house. They were also given different initial listing prices (which should be irrelevant), and were asked to judge what they thought the house was worth. The initial listing prices ranged from $119,900 to $149,900, which caused the agents' appraisal values to increase from $114,204 to $128,754. In effect, you could pay $14,550 more for a house just because of an irrelevant initial anchor used by a real estate agent. Anchoring can also affect your stock decisions. Remember my colleague who thought he could use fundamental analysis to beat the market? He once told me that if a company was selling at $25, and then drops to $3 a share, it's a good investment. This is an anchoring problem. The price we pay for a stock often becomes our anchor when evaluating that stock in the future. In fact, we don't even have to buy the stock, we just have to know what it was selling for at a certain point in time. Just consider how people reacted to the stock price changes of Enron or WorldCom. Enron's stock was selling at close to $90 a share in the year 2000. The price dropped to around $55 early in 2001, and when compared to its high, the stock looked cheap. Many people rushed in to buy at that price, and they looked pretty smart when the price rebounded to over $60. But we all know what happened. By 2002, Enron's stock was selling for twelve cents a share!41 Using anchoring in our decision processes can be quite costly.

Advanced meditators are generally found to be pretty jovial people. They possess one of the most valuable of all human treasures, a sense of humor. It is not the superficial witty repartee of the talk show host. It is a real sense of humor. They can laugh at their own human failures. They can chuckle at personal disasters. Beginners in meditation are often much too serious for their own good. It is important to learn to loosen up in your session, to relax in your meditation. You need to learn to watch objectively whatever happens. You can't do that if you are tensed and striving, taking it all so very, very seriously. New meditators are often overly eager for results. They are full of enormous and inflated expectations. They jump right in and expect incredible results in no time flat. They push. They tense. They sweat and strain, and it is all so terribly, terribly grim and solemn. This state of tension is the antithesis of mindfulness. Naturally, they achieve little. Then they decide that this meditation is not so exciting after all. It did not give them what they wanted.

They chuck it aside. It should be pointed out that you learn about meditation only by meditating. You learn what meditation is all about and where it leads only through direct experience of the thing itself. Therefore the beginner does not know where he is headed because he has developed little sense of where his practice is leading. The novice's expectation is naturally unrealistic and uninformed. Newcomers to meditation expect all the wrong things, and those expectations do no good at all. They get in the way. Trying too hard leads to rigidity and unhappiness, to guilt and self-condemnation. When you are trying too hard, your effort becomes mechanical, and that defeats mindfulness before it even gets started. You are well advised to drop all that. Drop your expectations and straining. Simply meditate with a steady and balanced effort. Enjoy your meditation and don't load yourself down with sweat and struggles. Just be mindful. The meditation itself will take care of the future. The upshot of pushing too hard is frustration. You are in a state of tension. You get nowhere. You realize that you are not making the progress you expected, so you get discouraged. You feel like a failure.

It is all a very natural cycle, but a totally avoidable one. Striving after unrealistic expectations is the source. Nevertheless, it is a common enough syndrome and, in spite of all the best advice, you may find it happening to you. There is a solution. If you find yourself discouraged, just observe your state of mind clearly. Don't add anything to it. Just watch it. A sense of failure is only another ephemeral emotional reaction. If you get involved, it feeds on your energy and it grows. If you simply stand aside and watch it, it passes away. If you are discouraged over your perceived failure in meditation, that is especially easy to deal with. You feel you have failed in your practice. You have failed to be mindful. Simply become mindful of that sense of failure. You have just reestablished your mindfulness with that single step. The reason for your sense of failure is nothing but a memory. There is no such thing as failure in meditation. There are setbacks and difficulties. But there is no failure unless you give up entirely. Even if you have spent twenty solid years getting nowhere, you can be mindful at any second you choose.

It is your decision. Regretting is only one more way of being unmindful. The instant that you realize that you have been unmindful, that realization itself is an act of mindfulness. So continue the process. Don't get sidetracked by an emotional reaction. Here's the bad news: if you choose not to forgive, you poison yourself, add more toxic shame to your life, and increase the desire to escape into unhealthy behaviors. And here's the good news: forgiveness is like a snowball rolling downhill. Once you get it moving, it keeps growing and picking up speed and growing some more. With the struggling clients I work with, I've seen time and time again that learning to forgive helps lighten their emotional load, brighten their outlook on life, shorten their recovery time, and restore their natural resilience against the recurrence of depression in the future. While receiving assistance from professionals is usually helpful, the real key to your recovery is you. You are your own greatest ally and asset in your quest to heal your depression for life. That's because forgiveness will enable you to take a giant step toward wholeness, and forgiveness is something that can happen only within yourself. Far from being an abstract religious concept, deciding to follow God's urging to practice forgiveness is powerful progress in your journey back to wellness. Why not believe it? Why not try? As I've pointed out, numerous studies have identified a strong link between forgiveness and depression recovery. That finding is intuitive once you consider the well-documented negative effects of clinging to resentment and anger. Even so, you might still be tempted to say, "That's all well and good for others, but I'm just not a very forgiving person." There's good news for you, too. Those same studies have revealed that the ability to forgive can be learned. The power is yours, and you exercise it when you choose to try.