The Comforts of Mindless Consistency

Recounted by psychologist Robert Cialdini:

One night at an introductory lecture given by the Transcendental Meditation (TM) program, I witnessed a nice illustration of how people will hide inside the walls of consistency to protect themselves from the troublesome consequences of thought.

The Science of Meditation

The lecture itself was presided over by two earnest young men and was designed to recruit new members into the program. The program claimed it could teach a unique brand of meditation that would allow us to achieve all manner of desirable things, ranging from simple inner peace to the more spectacular abilities—to fly and pass through walls—at the program’s advanced (and more expensive) stages.

I had decided to attend the meeting to observe the kind of compliance tactics used in recruitment lectures of this sort, and had brought along an interested friend, a university professor whose areas of specialization were statistics and symbolic logic. As the meeting progressed and the lecturers explained the theory behind TM, I noticed my logician friend become increasingly restless.

Looking more and more pained and shifting about constantly in his seat, he was finally unable to resist. When the leaders called for questions at the completion of the lecture, he raised his hand and gently but surely demolished the presentation we had just heard. In less than two minutes, he pointed out precisely where and why the lecturers’ complex argument was contradictory, illogical, and unsupportable.

The effect on the discussion leaders was devastating. After a confused silence, each attempted a weak reply only to halt midway to confer with his partner, and finally to admit that my colleague’s points were good ones “requiring further study.”

A Foolish Fortress

More interesting to me, though, was the effect upon the rest of the audience. At the end of the question period, the two recruiters were faced with a crush of audience members submitting their seventy-five-dollar down payments for admission to the TM program. Nudging, shrugging, and chuckling to one another as they took in the payments, the recruiters betrayed signs of giddy bewilderment.

Outside the lecture room after the meeting, we were approached by three members of the audience, each of whom had given a down payment immediately after the lecture. They wanted to know why we had come to the session. We explained, and we asked the same question of them.

[The group spokesman] put it best: “Well, I wasn’t going to put down any money tonight because I’m really quite broke right now; I was going to wait until the next meeting. But when your buddy started talking, I knew I’d better give them my money now, or I’d go home and start thinking about what he said and NEVER sign up.”

All at once, things began to make sense. These were people with real problems; and they were somewhat desperately searching for a way to solve those problems. They were seekers who, if our discussion leaders were to be believed, had found a potential solution in Transcendental Meditation. Driven by their needs, they very much wanted to believe that TM was the answer.

Now, in the form of my colleague, intrudes the voice of reason, showing the theory underlying their newfound solution to be unsound. Panic! Something must be done at once before logic takes its toll, and leaves them without hope again. Quickly, quickly, walls against reason are needed; and it doesn’t matter that the fortress to be erected is a foolish one.

Continued in the book Influence: Science and Practice.


  1. Sure, but it wont help you fly and walk through walls. Telling people that it will and then taking their money is the opposite of helping them.

  2. What a bunch of mindless sheep. I have no sympathy for people who willingly bow down to charlatans, and nothing but disgust for those who exploit those people for money.

  3. This article doesn’t give ANY important information on TM. It only shows how trapped and lost in his logic is the author’s mind…

  4. This post is not about TM or any kind of meditation. In fact it’s copied from Robert Cialdini’s book titled “Influence – The psychology of persuasion” (which is linked at the end of the post).

    This story is simply about a compliance technique, showing how irrationally people can make their decisions and how an influencing gambit can work out oppositely as desired. (The professor mentioned in the story wanted, if anything, save people from paying and not encourage them.)

  5. I actually find charlatans interesting. They cater to a need, like everyone else in business. Sure, they don’t actually fill it, or else they would not be charlatans but charlatans have been a major factor in the development and growth of every society in the world, bar none.

    Sure, they actively make the world a worse place and destroy everything they touch but if people weren’t there to pay their mortgages they would have to slink off and find honest work. I suppose my point is that charlatans are more a bizarre symptom of a much greater issue. The spiritual bankruptcy and general insecurity that many of us have and seem to think can be solved by throwing paper at is the real crisis of the day, in my pompous opinion.


  6. Robert Cialdini’s book “Influence: The Psychology Of Persuasion” from which this is taken is a great book. Easily read it is VERY informative regarding his 6 principles of influence. People who wish to influence others will gain but more importantly, those of us wishing to know when we are ourselves being influenced can learn even more. He even goes into strategies for avoiding and dealing with the different influence techniques.

    The article is not directly about meditation but it does point to the benefits of being mindful and therefore less prone to the negative side of the rule of consistency. Therefore it is in essence about why we should meditate and work on other present moment practices such as martial arts.

  7. this sounds like a desire for something to satisfy their spiritual needs, people have a need to knwo who they are why are we here, is there a god why is their wickedness how can i solve the problems I am facing etc. what can I do to achive a lasting peace in the chaos of life?

    shame on people for playing on this to make money. shame on them for their dishonesty, and shame on people for looking to humans for the solutions. the bible has all the answers you need don’t let news media and preachers discredit the bible without sound evidence.

    do your own research into it.


  8. Interesting case-study. Some things in this world exist only to fullfil people’s needs, even if they are not true. Personally I believe psychics are just cold reading – it’s easy to tell a lot about someone by the way they talk, dress, their physiology, etc – but they do serve their purpose. And that is of giving people that hope they’re searching for or confirm something that they already know. I think it’s much better to take responsibility for your own life than rely on external influences – but the point is that they still serve their purpose.

    And I guess this LM did just that for these people. Just like the article said “Something must be done at once before logic takes its toll, and leaves them without hope again.”

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