The Prescriptive Society

Editor-in-Chief Barry Boyce says when it comes to advice for working with your mind, one size does not fit all.

Dierk Schaefer/

In ancient Greece, or so the story goes, there was an innkeeper named Procrustes. His slogan: No person is too tall or too short for the beds at Procrustes’. He made good on his claim by cutting off the legs of the tall people and putting short people on the rack to stretch them out. Everyone “fit” but there was a lot of pain involved, and so was born the notion of a Procrustean Bed: a norm that we try to fit everyone into.

Every era has its brand of conformity. In the Information Age, where measurement is rampant and media are omnipresent, a prescriptive society has grown up that offers—through every conceivable channel, expert, pseudo-expert, and convert—a barrage of instructions for how to live each day like Steve Austin, the Bionic Man: “better, stronger, faster.” We’re told the number of steps to take each day, the number of glasses of water, vitamins, and supplements to take, glasses of wine and cups of coffee to drink or not drink, what exercises to do, what to eat and not eat for what results, the desired size and shape of feces, and yes, how often and how long to meditate.

The prescriptive…