“In my training as a family therapist years ago, I began to see clearly that the ways in which we view ourselves and the world around us, in fact, alters our lives and our experiences dramatically. As science has proved, “The observer affects the observed,” or put another way, what you believe, you will live.
I was intrigued, then, when I recently learned of the mindfulness research conducted by Dr. Ellen Langer, a renowned mindfulness expert, experimental social psychologist and Psychology Professor at Harvard University, and the author of the groundbreaking book Mindfulness. Dr. Langer is considered the “mother of mindfulness” and has been researching mindfulness for more than 35 years, producing an important body of work on the impact of mindfulness on expanding success, health and vitality.”
Read the rest of the interview in Forbes
“For nearly four decades, Langer’s research on mindfulness has influenced thinking across a range of fields, from behavioral economics to positive psychology. It demonstrates that by paying attention to what’s going on around us, instead of operating on autopilot, we can reduce stress, unlock creativity, and boost performance. “Mindfulness is the essence of engagement,” Langer says. “And it’s energy-begetting, not energy-consuming.” It enables people to recognize and take advantage of opportunities when they arise and to avert risk. Furthermore, Langer says, “You like people better, and people like you better, because you’re less evaluative. You’re more charismatic.”
In this interview she discusses the link between mindfulness and innovation, what managers can do to become more mindful, why mindfulness makes one less judgmental about others, and more.”
Read the Interview in The Harvard Business Review
In the mid-nineteen-seventies, the cognitive psychologist Ellen Langer noticed that elderly people who envisioned themselves as younger versions of themselves often began to feel, and even think, like they had actually become younger. Men with trouble walking quickly were playing touch football. Memories were improving and blood pressure was dropping. The mind, Langer realized, could have a strong effect on the body.
Although we come at the problem differently, leading mindfulness-based, stress reduction researchers like Jon Kabat-Zinn and Herb Benson and I share mutual respect. For reasons I don’t understand, it seems that, for some others in the meditation camp, there is discordance between those of us who study mindfulness without meditation and those who study the more eastern versions of mindfulness that result from mediation. Both approaches lead to health, stress reduction, and well being. Many use a mindfulness practice to create inner peace. Our work has shown, in addition to quieting the inner chatter, that the world around us—eg. textbooks, GPS systems, persuasive communications—can be designed to foster mindfulness.
To bring all of this research together, Amanda Ie, Christelle Ngnoumen and I just finished editing the Wiley Mindfulness Handbook. Leaders in the field were asked to find the similarities between west and east and suggest ways of going beyond and integrating current work. By joining forces, an evolution in consciousness is that much closer.
I just returned from NYC from an invitation only conference on the third metric for success: beyond money and power, hosted by Arianna Huffington. I’m not one for mindless flattery, so it is with great sincerity that I say that Arianna is a force to be reckoned with. She’s extremely bright and incredibly effective so perhaps it’s no surprise that the event was so successful. For me, however, the event cut both ways. It’s been forever since I attended a conference without being a speaker. This was even more unusual since the event was really a conference on the importance of being mindful. Not being acknowledged by speaker after speaker was a blow to my ego. At times I felt like saying, maybe shouting, “yes, yes, I couldn’t agree more since I’ve been studying this since the 1970’s and making all the recommendations that were being presented as new.”
Let me respond now to a few of the questions asked but not really answered.
Katie Couric said she had trouble with the idea of meditating and asked for an alternative but none was given. We’ve been researching mindfulness without meditation for over thirty five years. Actively drawing novel distinctions is the essence of mindfulness. One can simply ask themselves how the person they live with, the job they are doing, or/and the environment they are in is different is several ways from the day before and make a practice of looking for novelty. When we travel we expect everything to be new and so we notice, become engaged, and enjoy ourselves. The problem is that when we’re not on vacation we suffer from an illusion of stability and think everything we once experienced is the still the same. Everything is always changing and looks different from different perspectives. Bringing that expectation of not knowing to our daily lives will encourage us to actually notice and be in the present.
Dr. Mark Hyman, who I like and respect, responded to Katie by saying essentially “no pain , no gain,” a statement with which I strongly disagree. If there is pain, probably best to find some way of gaining. But one can gain painlessly. Mindfulness is effortless not painful. In fact, humor relies on mindfulness. A joke is funny when you understand something in one context and realize you didn’t at first see that it could be understood very differently. There may be some effort in one trying to be mindful through the practice of meditation, but , again, there is a path to mindfulness without meditation.
Someone else briefly mentioned that schools should teach mindfulness. In my 1997 book, the Power of Mindful Learning, I discuss how our schools actually promote mindlessness and how easy mindful teaching/mindful learning actually is.
Several people spoke about the importance of taking moments out of the day to renew ourselves. This would certainly be an improvement over a 40 hour mindless work week. The problem I have with this is that it implicitly suggests that work has to be tedious or stressful. I’m sure among this very successful audience I wasn’t the only one who loves the work we do. If we are working mindfully, the work is rewarding and energizing without the need for renewal. Many years ago we did research where we had people performing the exact same task but for half it was defined as work and for half as play. The former group had trouble paying attention to the task while for the latter it was enjoyable. If you feel you NEED a vacation, chances are you’re doing your work mindlessly, in which case, renewal breaks are important.
Several spoke about the money that corporations would save in health care costs by teaching their employees to be mindful. Many companies are reluctant to break up the work day for time for meditation. For those companies mindfulness without meditation is a lively alternative. Moreover, we have data providing evidence that mindfulness without meditation results in greater creativity and innovation.
Once I thought about how nice it would be to live in a world where our healthcare, corporations, schools and the general culture were more mindful, it ceased to matter to me whether this came about with or without meditation or some combination of the two. I settled into my chair and completely enjoyed the rest of the event.
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