Mindfulness Skeptics: Dealing with Nay-Sayers, Negative Nancys, and Poo-Poo'ers

Skeptical ManYou know the type—you bring up meditation and they roll their eyes. They wouldn’t dare give it a try. They may even call meditation an activity for lazy people (I’ve heard that one before) or they think it’s all hocus pocus.

I wonder how people can still be skeptical of a practice that is now backed by so much qualitative and quantitative research. Maybe they’ve been living in a box and haven’t heard of all the research touting the benefits of meditation. Maybe they’re afraid of what they would find if they were to be alone and silent with their thoughts. Or maybe they’re just close-minded.

The question is though: how do you respond?

Do you try to convert them? Educate them? Pity them? There’s really no right response. But here are three ways to handle these meditation poo-poo’ers. They’re very different approaches; try one or try them all … good luck!

Give Them the Research

It’s hard to argue with data. Possible yes, but giving your negative Nancy statistics from credible sources provides a stronger case.

  • Tell them that Harvard neuroscientists found that meditation actually grows the areas of your brain in charge of self-awareness, compassion, learning, memory, and emotion regulation, and shrinks the areas of the brain associated with stress.
  • Share with them that meditators have stronger immune systems, miss fewer days of work because of illness, and are able to produce significantly far more antibodies to the flu vaccine than non-meditators, according to a study done at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.
  • Mention that many studies have shown that meditation has the ability to lower cortisol levels (the stress hormone) and 163 different studies have suggested that mindfulness helps alleviate stress and anxiety.
  • Speaking of anxiety, you could bring up that research has found that meditation significantly reduced anxiety in 90% of subjects with clinical levels of anxiety. 90%!
  • Mention the study at Emory University that highlighted that participants who meditate can more easily focus and control their attention, even when distraction was present.

Or you can just share this infographic on the health benefits of meditation with them, which highlights a lot of the science behind meditation. It point out the positive impact on the brain, heart, skin, stomach, and other benefits of a meditation practice.

Share Your Experience

It’s true that meditation isn’t for everyone. But you can share with them the way meditation has positively impacted you in your life. Describe your experience, how you started out, and maybe even the fact that you were also skeptical at first (if that’s true—it was for me).

No one can really argue with the way you feel, right?

Do Nothing

Or … you can choose to keep quiet. The thing is, who really cares what they think? Everyone has their own path to walk and their own perspective to own. If they don’t want to reap the benefits of mindfulness, why should it bother you?

From my viewpoint, I always want people to enjoy and benefit from the practice that has helped me so much in my life. But I also don’t want to come off as a pushy meditator; that won’t help to get a point across. If anything, it may close them off even more.

I also recognize that meditation is not for everyone, but I do hold the belief that there is a form of mindfulness practice that is right for everyone if they take the time to explore and figure it out for themselves. For some people, that may be seated meditation, for others it may be yoga, walking, surfing, or painting. There are many ways to practice mindfulness that don’t involve sitting still. But the skeptics will have to test the waters in order to find out what’s right for them.

Nay-sayers can sneer at the practice all they want and claim that it won’t do anything for them. But it isn’t necessarily true until they actually try it for themselves. I give them permission to bash and belittle meditation once they’ve given it a fair chance—even just five minutes a day for a couple of weeks. But most of those folks rolling their eyes at meditation have not experienced it for themselves.

The thing is: maybe they’ll find it won’t help them and they, indeed, hate the practice after all. But the jury’s out until they try it for themselves. Perhaps they’ll come around if you educate them about it … and maybe they won’t. Either way, it’s not necessarily your job to convince them.

Read more about how to explain the truth behind meditation myths and misunderstandings.

Melissa Eisler

Melissa Eisler is an ICF Certified Leadership and Executive Coach, certified meditation and yoga instructor, and author. She created Mindful Minutes to offer practical, relatable anecdotes and tips on how to bring mindfulness into the busyness of the digital age. Her intention is to share what she learns about overcoming her own challenges with meditation, mindfulness, and life balance while maintaining a challenging schedule and career. Learn more about Melissa here.

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