New information that's consistent with our existing beliefs is quickly accepted at face value. On the other hand, information that contradicts our beliefs is often ignored or critically scrutinized and discounted.4 For example, a team of psychologists had people read summaries of two studies relating to the effectiveness of capital punishment in preventing crime. The results of one study supported capital punishment while the other did not. It turned out that if the study's results were consistent with a person's beliefs, he thought that the study was well conducted. On the other hand, if the results were not consistent, he found numerous flaws in the study to discount its relevance. If we don't ignore contradictory evidence, we often find reasons why we shouldn't consider it. A similar rule applies here: sit as long as you can, but don't overdo it. Most beginners start with twenty or thirty minutes. Initially, it's difficult to sit longer than that with profit. The posture is unfamiliar to Westerners, and it takes a bit of time for the body to adjust. The mental skills are equally unfamiliar, and that adjustment takes time, too. As you grow accustomed to the procedure, you can extend your meditation little by little. We recommend that after a year or so of steady practice you should be sitting comfortably for an hour at a time. Here is an important point, though: vipassana meditation is not a form of asceticism. Self-mortification is not the goal. We are trying to cultivate mindfulness, not pain. Some pain is inevitable, especially in the legs. We will thoroughly cover pain, and how to handle it, in chapter 10. There are special techniques and attitudes that you will learn for dealing with discomfort. The point to be made here is this: This is not a grim endurance contest.

You don't need to prove anything to anybody. So don't force yourself to sit with excruciating pain just to be able to say that you sat for an hour. That is a useless exercise in ego. And don't overdo it in the beginning. Know your limitations, and don't condemn yourself for not being able to sit forever, like a rock. As meditation becomes more and more a part of your life, you can extend your sessions beyond an hour. As a general rule, just determine what is a comfortable length of time for you at this point in your life. Then sit five minutes longer than that. There is no hard and fast rule about length of time for sitting. Even if you have established a firm minimum, there may be days when it is physically impossible for you to sit that long. That doesn't mean that you should just cancel the whole idea for that day. It's crucial to sit regularly. Even ten minutes of meditation can be very beneficial. Incidentally, you decide on the length of your session before you meditate. Don't do it while you are meditating. It's too easy to give in to restlessness that way, and restlessness is one of the main items that we want to learn to mindfully observe. So choose a realistic length of time, and then stick to it. One side effect of the prescription opioid epidemic is to drive people to use heroin once they can no longer obtain legal substances like oxycodone. To make matters worse--and exponentially more lethal--chemists have synthesized a new opioid painkiller called fentanyl. It is up to a hundred times more potent than morphine and thirty to fifty times more potent than heroin, according to the US Drug Enforcement Administration.

The list of other illicit drugs that are addictive is long and growing, including cocaine, methamphetamines, hallucinogens, tranquilizers, stimulants, and marijuana. Often overlooked in the discussion of addictive and potentially harmful substances are those found in our food. As we've already seen, addiction to caffeine can cause serious physical harm and contribute directly to depression. The same can be said of sugar and fat, common ingredients in a wide range of processed foods, not just the obvious ones. Studies have shown a direct link between sugar intake and disruption to mood regulation. Because the mental health research community has only just begun the systematic study of process addictions, comprehensive statistics are difficult to come by. However, plenty of evidence exists that Americans are increasingly trapped in a wide range of compulsive behaviors with significant adverse impacts on their lives.As we've seen, foods that are high in sugar and fat (as nearly all fast food is) act on the brain's pleasure and reward centers, triggering the release of dopamine. Binge eating can develop when we use food as a source of comfort and reward. In addition to negative health effects, food addiction leaves a person feeling powerless and guilty, emotions that are directly related to depression. The compulsive need to engage with social media platforms is a growing problem worldwide. The fear of missing out and being left behind drives people to prioritize staying connected over other obligations and relationships--and even their day-to-day well-being. There is disagreement among researchers whether compulsive gaming rises to the clinical definition of an addiction. But in my experience, that's an argument over academic details when the real-world truth is obvious: chronic and compulsive video game playing heightens social isolation and mood swings while inhibiting full engagement in other life relationships and responsibilities. Compulsive sexual behavior has many manifestations, but perhaps the most addictive of them is the excessive use of pornography. It affects the same neurological pleasure and reward mechanisms we've already discussed and can negatively influence a person's social relationships and self-esteem. Stonewalling is when one person is upset, communicating or trying to explain their viewpoint on something, and you dismiss them by ignoring them, or `shut them out.' If you're doing the stonewalling, it could because you're so frustrated, that the only behaviour you think might get the attention you want is by ignoring that they are even in the room. But, for the person being stonewalled, it feels like they are being ignored, and that their position in the relationship is being invalidated. Have you ever given someone the silent treatment before? Yep--we are all guilty of it a time or two. Unfortunately, stonewalling someone doesn't solve a thing, and it can cause the other person to become more defensive.

A better solution is to practice active listening, which is listening without emotionally reacting. Allow the other person to say whatever it is they need to say (showing that you're listening by nodding or saying, "I understand" is a good idea) and then responding by repeating back what you think they just said. You can also practice breaking the stonewalling pattern altogether by helping the person who is doing the stonewalling to come to a less emotional state. Ask them questions, using positive statements to calm down by saying things like, "I know you're upset and I want to help us come to a solution as quickly as I can, so that we are both happy again. Can you tell me what's bothering you? I'd really like to know." Nagging. Nagging is one of the most unproductive relationship behaviors you can fall into. I don't believe it's something that anyone wants to do. At times, the reasons we give to rationalize conflicting evidence can be quite laughable. Do you remember the psychic mentioned earlier who thought he could remotely view distant objects without his eyes? To provide support for his ability, he said that the CIA spent millions on remote viewing, proving that there must be something to it. However, when asked why the CIA would shut down a successful program, he said that the cold war is over, and so it's not needed. This, of course, makes no sense because it implies that we have no need for intelligence gathering around the world. If that's the case, why is the CIA still in operation? When the psychic was asked why he wasn't rich if he had the ability to predict the stock market, he said that once a person knows he can do it, he is at such peace with his life that he doesn't feel the need for money. Again, one wonders why he wouldn't use his powers to generate considerable wealth for charity. Wouldn't that be a wonderful use of his gift? When I hear such comments I'm reminded of the quote at the start of this chapter. While said as a joke, it's indicative of the amazing lengths that people will go to rationalize what they want to believe. As Michael Shermer has indicated, most of the time we form our beliefs not because of empirical evidence or logical reasoning.

Rather, we have belief preferences for a host of psychological and emotional reasons, including parental or sibling influences, peer pressure, education, and life experience. We then search for evidence to support those predilections. In fact, this process is a main reason why smart people believe weird things. As Shermer notes, "Smart people believe weird things because they are skilled at defending beliefs they arrived at for non-smart reasons."6 Gamblers are notorious for rationalizing away their losses so as to maintain a belief in their gambling strategy. If you listen closely, they actually rewrite their history of successes and failures, accepting their successes at face value, and fabricating reasons for their losses. My friend uses a basic strategy in blackjack to determine when he should take a card. Like many gamblers, he usually attributes the outcome of the game to his strategy when he wins. However, when he walks away a loser, he finds a number of reasons for the loss, none of which has to do with his play. The dealer may have changed, someone new sat at the table and ruined the flow of cards, there were too many players, or a person at the table's end took a bad hit. It's extremely common for gamblers to evaluate their outcomes in such a biased manner. Winning is interpreted as a reflection of one's gambling skill, while losing is explained away, and thereby discounted, by some outside forces beyond the player's control. Sometimes gamblers even evaluate their losses as "near wins." If a gambler bets on a winning football team, she is likely to believe the win is due to her superior insight and skill, even though it may have been caused by a fourth-quarter fumble by the opposing team, which allowed her team to score. If she bet on the losing team, however, she probably wouldn't question her skill or insight. Rather, she would think the loss was caused by a fluke fumble, and that if it didn't happen, she would have won. In effect, she interprets the outcome not as a loss, but as a near win. Don't think that gamblers are the only ones fooling themselves. Many of us believe that our successes are due to what we did, and our failures are due to external events. Athletes attribute their wins to themselves and their losses to bad officiating. Students who perform well think a test is a valid assessment of their ability, while those who perform poorly think the test is unfair. Teachers believe that their students' successes are due to their teaching skills, while their students' failures are due to the students' lack of ability or motivation.