The accuracy of groups depends on many factors, such as task difficulty, competence of group members, and group member interaction. Given all the variables that can affect a group's judgment, it's difficult to make sweeping conclusions about the benefits of group decision making. In general, it's often good to pool the resources of different individuals--but that doesn't guarantee success. And, of course, we have to be aware, and try to prevent, the particular problems that arise through group dynamics, such as groupthink and group polarization. You should try to maintain mindfulness of every activity and perception through the day, starting with the first perception when you awake and ending with the last thought before you fall asleep. This is an incredibly tall goal to shoot for. Don't expect to be able to achieve this work soon. Just take it slowly and let your abilities grow over time. The most feasible way to go about the task is to divide your day up into chunks. Dedicate a certain interval to mindfulness of posture, then extend this mindfulness to other simple activities: eating, washing, dressing, and so forth. Some time during the day, you can set aside fifteen minutes or so to practice the observation of specific types of mental states: pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral feelings, for instance; or the hindrances, or thoughts. The specific routine is up to you. The idea is to get practice at spotting the various items, and to preserve your state of mindfulness as fully as you can throughout the day. Try to achieve a daily routine in which there is as little difference as possible between seated meditation and the rest of your experience. Let the one slide naturally into the other. Your body is almost never still. There is always motion to observe. At the very least, there is breathing. Your mind never stops chattering, except in the very deepest states of concentration. There is always something coming up to observe.

If you seriously apply your meditation, you will never be at a loss for something worthy of your attention. Your practice must be made to apply to your everyday living situation. That is your laboratory. It provides the trials and challenges you need to make your practice deep and genuine. It's the fire that purifies your practice of deception and error, the acid test that shows you when you are getting somewhere and when you are fooling yourself. If your meditation isn't helping you to cope with everyday conflicts and struggles, then it is shallow. If your day-to-day emotional reactions are not becoming clearer and easier to manage, then you are wasting your time. And you never know how you are doing until you actually make that test. The practice of mindfulness is supposed to be a universal practice. You don't do it sometimes and drop it the rest of the time. You do it all the time. Meditation that is successful only when you are withdrawn in some soundproof ivory tower is still undeveloped. Insight meditation is the practice of moment-to-moment mindfulness. The meditator learns to pay bare attention to birth, growth, and decay of all the phenomena of the mind. She turns from none of it and lets none of it escape. This includes thoughts and emotions, activities and desires, the whole show. She watches it all and watches it continuously. It matters not whether it is lovely or horrid, beautiful or shameful. She sees the way it is and the way it changes. No aspect of experience is excluded or avoided.

It is a very thoroughgoing procedure. If you are moving through your daily activities and you find yourself in a state of boredom, then meditate on your boredom. Find out how it feels, how it works, and what it is composed of. If you are angry, meditate on the anger. Explore the mechanics of anger. Don't run from it. If you find yourself sitting in the grip of a dark depression, meditate on that depression. Investigate depression in a detached and inquiring way. Don't flee from it blindly. Explore the maze and chart its pathways. That way you will be better able to cope with the next depression that comes along. Both Hitler and Bonaparte learned this fact quite bitterly, standing by helplessly as their armies languished, strung out along weak supply lines deep in the heart of Russia. Not dissimilarly, the mental and physical health of a person marches on the health of their gut. There are billions of tiny "soldiers" in your stomach. Thriving, healthy bacteria lead to healthy living, while starved or decimated bacteria can lead to unhealthy living, malaise, and disease. Even more intriguing, however, are new discoveries linking the health of your gut with the treatment of depression. An emerging body of research has linked mental health with the gut microbiome--the technical term for the one hundred trillion or so "good" bacteria that live inside your digestive system. These good bacteria have been shown to affect everything from your digestive health to your heart functions to your immune system. This area of study has proven so significant to our understanding of human health that in 2007 the National Institutes of Health launched the Human Microbiome Project. This ambitious study is one of several international efforts designed to collect and make available staggering amounts of data regarding the microbiota and their relationship to various diseases.

And, most exciting for our purposes, the activity of these bacteria has been shown to have a significant influence on the activity of the brain itself, including the function and dysfunction of neurotransmitters that affect our moods. This area of research--which has led some to call the gut the second or "little" brain--isn't entirely new. It started with a more complete picture of the neuron network in the lower regions of the body, which emerged in the late 1990s, when studies began to reveal that the enteric nervous system (ENS)--about one hundred million neurons embedded in the walls of our gut--had more power than its already-impressive handle on daily digestion and excretion. To make it really simple: the vagus nerve is our body's biggest nerve, running from the brain down to the gut, where it branches into a vast information network of neurons. This two-lane highway, along with our immune system and hormones, is known as the gut-brain axis. Before, it was thought that this was for the brain to more closely monitor and control digestive functions, which is one of the most complex operations in the body. But some studies have revealed that 90 percent of the fibers in the vagus nerve are actually sending messages from this intricate system of neurons to the brain, and not the other way around. Even more interesting is that the ENS uses more than thirty neurotransmitters, as many as the "big" brain uses, to send these signals, underscoring the relationship between the gut and mood disorders, which are typically related to the body's ability to produce, absorb, and use certain neurotransmitters such as serotonin. What, then, is the origin of these messages sent through the vagus nerve? What is producing these neurotransmitters and communicating with our "big brains" along this two-lane highway? Humour is based almost entirely on how you say something. Again, if two guys told a cheap knock-knock joke, the guy with the effective delivery would pull it off and the guy with that tight tie and new briefcase would get some polite chuckles. Sitting in front of a mirror and telling jokes is probably not the best way to go about practicing your funny bone, but it definitely doesn't hurt. I recommend you get out there and spend some time with people who will find you funny. Friends, family, loved ones - they will boost your ego with easy laughs and let you relax a bit. The more relaxed you are, the more naturally these funny jokes come to mind and the easier it is to be funny. In the end, humour comes from practice. It's like a contact sport, but with laughter and frowns instead of broken ribs and touchdowns. Practice enough and you'll get more of one than the other. Remember your public voice.

Tell things clearly, be careful in how you setup, describe and deliver your jokes and maintain a steady voice as you tell them. People are much more likely to not only listen to you but find your thoughts and observations funny if you say them with conviction and confidence than if you stumble over your delivery in a quiet, easily misunderstood murmur. Oh, and if you have to repeat anything, it's not funny. Communication is the core of all relationships. If you can't talk to someone, you won't be getting anywhere as their friend or girlfriend. We've already touched on this one a little bit - other people don't actually spend a whole lot of time thinking about you. Most of them are equally as worried about your impression of them. So when you meet someone for the first time, the last thing on your mind should be "what do they think" or "what will they say". The truth is, they're just as concerned about what you think of them as you are. So there you have it. Our journey through the minefields of thinking and deciding is just about over. As we've seen, we have a number of cognitive tendencies that lead us to form incorrect beliefs and make erroneous decisions. Of course, it's not all bad. We've done pretty well at surviving on this rotating ball we call home--but we could do much better. Let's take a few minutes to revisit the six major mistakes that often get us into trouble. We prefer stories to statistics. Since we have evolved as storytelling creatures, our mind naturally gravitates toward stories and away from statistics. As a result, we overemphasize anecdotal information when forming beliefs and making decisions. Our preference for anecdotal data cannot be overestimated. In fact, you may have noticed that I've discussed a number of personal stories in this book.