Dr. Ellen Langer
Mindfulness. The act of being full with mind. How does one behave in such a way? According to Dr. Ellen Langer, a Harvard psychology professor, mindfulness is "active noticing". Essentially, active noticing is perceiving novel elements in things you thought you already knew. This process makes you realize that what you think you know fully and well might not actually be the case. When you know you don't know, you naturally tune in, Langer adds. We attempt to reconcile our cognitive discrepancies by focusing in on whatever it is that we need to quickly update in our minds as knowledge. However, how often does this happen? One major belief she discusses with us is the notion that everything is always changing and that these things, aspects, and occurrences look different from different perspectives. With clear emphasis, she explains that "uncertainty should be the rule, not the exception." Thus, if knowing that change is inevitable, then consistent mindfulness is highly advantageous.
"All that we know as absolute is an illusion."
Her 40-year tenure within psychological research has supported why being mindful has extraordinary effects. She describes a study she conducted some years ago, called the Counterclockwise Study, where she had 80-year old men live in a retreat retrofitted to 20 years earlier and had them live as if the past were the present. What resulted was their strength, vision, hearing, and memory improved when measured at the end of the experiment. Expanding upon this, she has tried to incorporate these same positive health-inducing tools for people to try themselves. Being mindful by actively paying attention to your symptoms and checking in with yourself regularly is vital. Not only actively looking within but inquiring too.
Besides our personal experiences of mindfulness, Dr. Langer discusses the effects when other people are mindful (MF) or mindless (ML) around us. She describes a few studies that show how autistic children and alcoholic individuals respond to MF/ML-ness , both groups of people who tend to be sensitive to MF/ML cues. The results are fascinating. She goes on to state, "I believe that all of our problems [...] are the direct consequences of our mindlessness. And, thankfully, there are mindful solutions to all of them."
Hear more from my conversation with Dr. Ellen Langer.
(Recorded June 2021.)
Books by Dr. Langer