Motivation is central to meditation success
As we approach the end of the year, the nights start to draw out in the Northern hemisphere, and we begin to look forward to the springtime. This is the time of year when thoughts turn to new starts and resolutions. The concept of making commitments for renewal and development at the turn of the year comes down to us through Babylonia via Rome. The Babylonians made solemn promises to make good debts; a practice echoed later by Romans who pledged to the god Janus (January) to make positive changes in the New Year.
From a psychological perspective, the idea of changing established patterns of behaviour on a particular date is challenging. If we seek to stop or alter activities that have become routine for us, a long-term approach is likely to be more effective than an ‘all or nothing’ New Year’s resolution. Behavioural patterns are based on structure and functions in brains; merely saying ‘I’m going to change’ doesn’t alter the long-term cognitive conditioning we are all subject to. This fact of neuroscience is the main reason why around 80% of all New Year’s resolutions fail within six weeks.
Meditators following traditional methods are continually working to change behaviours. Rarely does the practice of starting to meditate bring instant results. It is a continual and evolving process where progress occurs over time. It is these principles of motivation and perseverance that characterise the journey of a meditator. If we applied the idea of progressive change rather than a ‘win or lose’ mentality to our resolutions, we would see a greater probability of success (science and Buddhist knowledge concur on this point). Although researchers of meditation and mindfulness rarely consider motivation and perseverance, they are essential characteristics in the success of traditional meditation training.
The New Year is a great time to take stock and make plans for the future; however, it is long term strategies that most likely to lead to lasting change. It’s unnecessary to start meditating if you just want to lose weight or give up smoking, but the knowledge accumulated in thousands of years of human engagement with meditation can provide useful help.