Motivation and the Five Percent Who Stick With It

Motivation and the Five Percent

Dr. Charles T. Tart, Mindfulness, Institute of Transpersonal Psychology,

Lecture 4, Part 11 of 19 parts. To start class from beginning, click here.

Student: What comes to mind is motivation: what brings people to meditation, and the extent to which someone understands the suffering that they’re experiencing, whether it be psychological or physical. I think that plays a lot into how successful they are and how much they keep up with the practice.

One thing popped out to me when you said that 5% figure. Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction has really crazy high numbers of people who are still doing it a year and two years later, but they’re also motivated by being in excruciating pain or having their life falling around their feet if they don’t keep up the practice.

So that’s interesting because I think there’s a lot of people who, if they were to realize the impact of the psychological and spiritual suffering that’s going on in their lives, and how it’s rippling around them, would probably be just as motivated. Physical pain is empirically a greater motivator to stay focused.

CTT: They need to hire assistants who watch them and beat the shit out of them every darn day that they don’t sit for at least an hour. 😉


Student: That sounds like a great business plan.


CTT: Actually there are advanced forms of martial arts training, kind of like Peter Sellers in his Inspector Clouseau movies and in Aikido, where at some point you do hire somebody to try to ambush you. It’s very good training.


We were thinking of introducing that here at ITP.



  1. I kind of wonder if I would still be meditating if my life’s problems were sorted out. Probably not. I mentioned the 5% idea to my counselor, and he thinks 5% is way too high an estimate of how many people stick with meditation. He bases that on his experience with people taking up any kind of spiritual or religious practise. He says people typically look for such things when times are tough, and they are quick to abandon them as things improve.

    He thinks it is almost funny how I get pushed back into meditating every time I stop because I seem to need it. In my case the meditation helps me cope with anomalous experiences, but it also makes them more common. Because they are more common, I really need the meditation more as I go along. A weird sort of feedback loop.

    My experiences are common enough that I’ve even managed to get some evidence of them on video. I spent my last counseling session discussing a video of me making my pk pinwheel spin. What my counselor noticed was how relaxed I was when doing that sort of pk (as opposed to light bulbs popping when I’m upset). That’s what the mediation seems to be doing for me… making it possible for me to relax when unexplainable things are happening in my life. I think as long as those sorts of things keep on happening, I’m probably going to need to meditate. (I haven’t given up on a cure though. I may find one yet.)

  2. Like Werner Erhard used to say, “understanding is the booby prize”. What keeps people at it is success in acquiring freedom from the pain and lack of meaning in life. Its not about dragging your ass to the cushion, its about loving that cushion because of the enhancements it brings.

  3. The most well trained and experienced instructor I’ve met makes the point success and permanent change comes not from monumental effort but via sufficient relaxing into that deeply stabilized focus for sustained periods.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *