How to Not Stress over Not Meditating (by Phil Galfond, sort of)

Dear reader,

I coached Phil Galfond in 2005 and 2006. Back then, we had this email exchange, about meditation:

Phil wrote:

I started meditating, and I did it for 10 minutes every morning for 2 weeks. Then I stopped. I could tell the difference. I know I was better off doing even that little bit everyday. For the last month, I’ve been beating myself up for not getting started again. The way I see it, there are two ways to get rid of this stress. One would be to start meditating again. The other would be to give up on even thinking I’m going to start again, which would relieve my suffering in that I wouldn’t be stressing everyday over not getting started again. Both paths reduce my suffering, so is the second path really that crazy? I mean, if I really don’t think I have what it takes to start again, shouldn’t I just forget the whole thing instead of stressing about it?

And I replied:

Since you weren’t doing that much meditation each day, and since you aren’t that experienced at it yet, it could be that the stress you would experience from beating yourself up over not meditating could be more than the stress-reduction you get from 10 minutes of meditating. So the correct EV play could very well be to plan to not meditate.

I saved that exchange in my notes (yes, I save an incredible amount of stuff. But I know where it all is!), and ten years later, Phil’s idea showed up in my book Painless Poker. Here is that excerpt. The scene is me and seven others sitting around a poker table, talking. Earlier in the story, Charlie implied that he has never meditated.

Charlie tapped his chip on the rail. “I have a confession to make.”

“Let’s hear it,” I said.

“I have meditated. It was only for two weeks. Five years ago. And I was only 18. I did a full ten minutes, every day for two weeks, first thing out of bed. Then I stopped. I don’t remember why. I do know I could tell the difference. Even doing that little bit, I knew I was better off.”

“Why bring this up now?”

“Because I don’t want to have to act any dumber than I actually am.”

“Good reason!” I said.

“And I didn’t want you to give me heck for stopping. But I can see that’s not going to happen.”

“Did you give yourself heck for stopping?”

“I did. Until I realized I was stressing about the very thing that was supposed to un-stress me. So I tried to analyze it like you would, and I concluded that I could eliminate my stress over not meditating in one of two ways. I could start meditating again. Or I could give up on it altogether.”

“Faultless logic,” Alfonzo said.

“I doubt if Tommy thinks so,” Charlie said. “But is it really so crazy? If I don’t think I have what it takes, shouldn’t I just forget the whole thing instead of stressing about it?”


“You let him off the hook that easy?” Victor said. “I’d have assumed you’d think everyone should be meditating, especially anyone who already has.”

“Here’s what I assume,” I said. “I assume that millions will meditate today, and that billions won’t. Today, Charlie is one of the billions, and today he was made happier by consciously removing meditation from his to-do list. Seems like a solid play to me. Unless he has decided to never meditate again.” I looked at Charlie. “Have you?”

“Oh no, not at all. I’m fairly certain I’ll do it for real some day. How old were you when you started?”


Charlie ducked his head shyly. “In that case, my goal is to have a solid practice going by age 44. Then I can say I beat you at something.”

“I hope you crush me,” I said.

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