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170 of 175 people found the following review helpful
on September 14, 1999
Format: Paperback
I purchased this wonderful book back in the 80's! I had quite a few bad habits, and really wanted to change not only my life but my attitude.Mindfulness not only enabled me to quit smoking without suffering any withdrawals, but woke me up from the sleep ofcomplacency. I began to look at the world differently. I learned to let go of destructive ideas.I learned how to slow down, and to be grateful for the moment.Over the years I have given this book to anyone seeking advice. Miss Langer writes in an easy to understand style as if she is your best friend who has just discovered some amazing insights that she is going to share with just you.I have not re-read this little gem in years, but can still remember certain paragraphs and sentences that were so true then as they are now. I recommend this book to anyone who is looking to put the zest & joy of living back in their life.Even those that are truly happy will find this book riveting & a fun read.
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53 of 55 people found the following review helpful
on August 6, 2009
Format: Paperback
I've been listening to this book on my MP3 while I walk in the mornings and one realization so surprised me I had to run and tell my husband. Ms. Langer talks about the premature cognitive commitments we make. Which means we often make a decision about how life is and become trapped by it.

I'm 63 and, and, after listening to one particular passage in her book, I realized that I had made a decision very young that life is a burden to bear. It wasn't a complaint I had, it's just the way life was. I had no idea I even felt that way. What's odd is that most people think I'm an unbridled optimist. They see me as full of energy. One person even said to me one, "My gosh, you bring such cheer into a room with you." And it's true, I do have a lot of energy, but there has always been an undercurrent of depression. In fact, when I take those depression tests they always tell me to get help immediately because I come out so high on the depression scale. I never knew why and nothing I ever did changed it (and I've done lots of things, including writing a book on happiness.) Now I have an understanding of why that despair was always there and why nothing I did could change it.

I'm not even sure which passage woke me up to this. However, my life has changed, dramatically since that moment. I no longer look at the future as something bleak I have to put up with. I've started practicing the piano again and stopped watching television incessantly. I am in strong positive action on my projects. That pebble of despair is out of my shoe.

A quote in the book by Florida Scott-Maxwell has also given me the possibility of a passionate future -- "Age puzzles me. I thought it was a quiet time. My seventies were interesting and fairly serene, but my eighties are passionate... To my own surprise I burst out with hot conviction." Who ever thinks of old age as "bursting out with hot conviction." Thanks so much Ms. Langer. I owe you a huge debt of gratitude.
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141 of 159 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon January 10, 2000
Format: Paperback
This book is still selling well after ten years because Langer is a first-rate researcher who can write. And not only that, the subject she chose to study is extremely valuable and important.
The book is basically about mindLESSness: What causes it, what we can do about it, and what difference it makes. If you would like to be more creative in your work, if you would like to be more alive and awake, if you would like to stay mentally young for your entire life, read this book. I'm the author of the book, Self-Help Stuff That Works, and I'm an expert on what is effective and what is not. Ellen Langer's work is effective and extremely important, both for you personally and for society at large. I highly recommend this book.
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44 of 49 people found the following review helpful
on November 9, 2005
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
You don't have to sit in meditation or try various techniques of

mindfulness to acheive mindfulness....mindfulness is always there, if you see it...her book is an amazing book that needs to be reread and is truly a psychological study whose premise needs to be advertised to those who are afraid of adopting mind sets which can make them happier human beings.

The implications can have far reaching benefits in all spheres of life..awareness of the obvious is the key to mental health.

The clarity of perception is always present if we eliminate the conditioned hindering filters that hamper one's creative energy.
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44 of 50 people found the following review helpful
on June 27, 2009
Format: Paperback
Michael Hogan, National University of Ireland, Galway: michael.hogan@nuigalway.ie

This review is based on my reading of all 4 of Ellen's books, which I was inspired to read after meeting Ellen in Harvard recently.

--
Ellen Langer is one of the most vivacious women I have ever met. Upon arriving to meet her in Harvard's William James Hall, I was actually extremely ill, but mindlessly ignoring the symptoms. The painful and yet irrelevant swelling in my right leg and the weak and feverish state that led me to sleep through a very stimulating lecture by Daniel Dennett, was in fact a serious blood infection that would later result in my hospitalization. Little did I know that my conversation with Ellen Langer would be the thing that completely transformed my hospital experience from a potentially stressful, painful nuisance into a very interesting and rewarding experience. And notwithstanding the fact that I could hardly talk, in our short walk from Ellen's office to the Harvard clinic (where Ellen was going to get a cut in her hand seen to, the cause of which she transformed into a very interesting story) we designed three experiments and I experienced firsthand, in vivo, decades of research on social and developmental psychology, and on mindfulness, creativity and decision-making.

To understand the transformative power of Ellen Langer's perspective, and to better understand her creative action, I believe it is useful to experience firsthand her version of mindfulness -- the act of noticing new things -- which is actually very easy to practice, if for no other reason than it energizes and engages us and opens us to new possibilities. Further, it is useful to consider the way Langer applies her version of mindfulness to understanding of social psychology and developmental psychology phenomena, and science generally. Her thought, as laid out in her four books on mindfulness and in her many empirical papers, represents a veritable stream of understanding that liberates one from a constrained, passive, rigid view of reality, possibility, and human potential.

Noticing new things

Ellen and I both teach social psychology. A critical reading of social psychology reveals much to us about the conditions under which people impose rigid, stereotyped views upon themselves and other people, and the conditions under which behavior is a rigid function of contextual control [1]. What is often so startling to students who first discover social psychology research is just how rigid, stereotypical, and limited our worldviews and our behaviors often are. Nevertheless, every year, one or two students in my first year social psychology class approach with great excitement and tell me how inspired they are to discover all these human limitations so carefully catalogued by social psychologists. Awareness of the conditions shaping rigid, stereotyped thinking and action, they tell me, has actually liberated them. Some report feeling more open to experience, less rigid in their evaluation of self, other, and world. They report clearer perception, greater awareness of the subtle nuances of experience. They are noticing new things. They are energized and inspired. Some go a step further, extrapolating and anticipating the open field of possibilities: they report a transition from mindless acceptance of all that they know and feel and do, to mindful awareness of all that they can know and all that they can feel and can do. Their prior learning no longer dominates the way they interpret the present moment. The fullness of the present moment itself and the possibility space that opens by virtue of the fusion of present moment with the ineffable future moment infuse their field of action with a new radiance. All is new. The well-springs of creativity are open. Reality and potentiality comes flooding in.

Mindless reading of health-related information

Some students, I believe, remember the raw significance of their inspired insight as they progress to higher levels of ability and skill -- they remember to notice new things -- they remember mindfulness. It's a subtle change in thinking, says Langer, although not difficult to make once we realize how stuck we are in culture, language, and modes of thought that limit our potential. Social psychology education provides a wonderful opportunity to shed light upon mindfulness and mindlessness. Experimental social psychology is full of examples of the price people can pay for mindless learning, or mindless assimilation of their `culture'. Research by Chanowitz and Langer (1981), for example, demonstrates the negative consequences of mindless reading of medical information. They provided students with information booklets about a disorder called "chromosythosis", a condition that could lead to diminished hearing. Some of the students were told that 80% of the population had the disorder and they were asked to imagine how they might help themselves if they were diagnosed as having "chromosythosis". Another group was told that only 10% of the population had it, making the disease seem less relevant to them, and they were simply asked to read through the information booklets. All students were then tested to see if they had the disorder and all were told that, yes, they did indeed have it.

In the next phase of the experiment, participants were tested using a series of objective hearing tests. Those participants who were led to believe that the disorder was less relevant to them and who simply read through the information booklets, performed significantly worse on the hearing tests than the group who were led to believe that the disorder was potentially relevant to them and who also thought through the consequences of having the disorder. Langer describes this as one example of the negative effects of premature cognitive commitments. Specifically, when information is mindlessly received and accepted without critical question or creative `what if' deliberation, we run the risk of implicitly committing to a singular, rigid understanding of the information. When later we are faced with a situation where this `prior learning' is brought to bear on our action in context, we may find ourselves functionally constrained by the rigid understanding we have implicitly established. Mindless reading and mindless learning result in mindless reactivity.

Mindful Health and the power of possibility

Langer considers how mindfulness operates when people learn that they have cancer. Although science is learning that cancer can be a chronic condition or even fully treatable, most of us, says Langer, mindlessly assume that cancer is a "killer". Rather than being mindfully aware of our symptoms and the conditions associated with the presence and absence of symptoms at any given moment in time, rather than being mindfully aware of the variable nature of our interactions with medical professionals, friends, and family, or changes in the way we work and play, and so on, one possible outcome is that the trauma associated with the diagnosis of cancer leads us to identify fully with the label "cancer patient". As soon as we identify with the label, all the preconceived ideas we ascribe to the label come to control our behavior.

But this is only one possibility and not everyone responds in the same way when diagnosed with cancer. Langer refers to research by Sarit Golub (2004) conducted in Harvard. Golub found that while some people diagnosed with cancer add cancer to their identity, others let the diagnosis take over their identity, with the latter group faring less well on measures of recovery and psychological well-being.

Langer suggests that mindfulness makes us more optimistic because we are open and attentive to possibilities, and that this in turn facilitates recovery. Research does suggest a relationship between mindfulness and optimism [2], and between optimism and recovery from coronary artery bypass surgery [3]. Converse to the view that optimists have a rosy view of their future that invariably leads them to ignore their present circumstances, Langer believes that mindful optimists are likely to pay greater attention to their recovery than do pessimists, and in so doing they aid the recovery process and help anticipate complications.

Nevertheless, mindless optimism and mindless pessimism may lead people to invest more heavily in positive or negative systems of belief than in reality itself and the possibilities that reality presents [4]. Thus, mindful optimism is unique: optimal well-being, according to some, hinges on a capacity to open oneself to the subtleties and complexities of reality and thus inhibit cognitive commitments that pit belief against experience [5]. One belief that Langer asks us to be mindful of in this context is the belief that science trumps experience. If, for example, we blindly assume that medical science is simply better than our own experience in informing our judgment and action, we may be inclined to mindlessly hand over control of our health to the `experts' and thus ignore the subtle variation in our experience (e.g., our experience of symptoms) and contextual variables that impinge upon our experience. Again, by accepting some label attached to us in consultation with a doctor (e.g., "chronic pain patient") we may come to assume more stability in our condition than there is; we may hand over control of our condition to others, and thus negate the possibility space that opens to us when we are mindfully aware of our condition.

Mindful awareness of our state can enhance our ability to control our state. For example, Delizonna, Williams, and Langer (2009) demonstrated that, when compared with a group who were asked to measure their heart rate upon first waking in the morning and just before going to bed, people who are asked to measure their heart rate regularly throughout the day, thus attending to its "variability", later demonstrate greater capacity to speed or slow their heart rate without instruction. More generally, those who scored higher on the Langer Mindfulness Scale exercised greater control over heart rate regulation.

Langer accepts that if you are ill you should consult a medical professional, but she warns against mindless acceptance of medical advice. She argues that diagnoses, prognoses, research methods, and statistics are all necessary for efficient, ethical, and meaningful medical care, but in light of the inherent uncertainty due to variability, medicine, like all domains of study, should be regarded not as a collection of answers but rather as a way of asking questions. How much exercise is a healthy exercise level? Observe the science and you will see that there are no simple answers that apply across all individuals. In this context, we need to attend to both the medical facts and our own bodily states, and we need to be aware that much like our bodily states vary over time, so too do the facts of science. For example, exercise may well be good for us in many ways, but women who exercise too much may be more at risk of developing ovarian cancer [6].

The observation of science, much like the observation of our environment generally, exposes us to a great deal of variation. Variation in the set of facts and relations open to observation in the field of science may be enough to completely inhibit our adaptive movement, particularly if we are looking for hard and fast rules in relation to any aspect of our future adaptive action. On the other hand, if we embrace the fact that medical science, and science generally, deals largely in probabilities and not certainties, and that these probabilities allow us to anticipate to some extent the consequences of a unique path of action in a unique context, we open ourselves to the possibilities latent in the observed variation - and we do not fail to see the importance of our own action in this field of possibility.

Langer's definition of mindfulness is very interesting, because it aligns more with definitions of critical thinking than with definitions of mindfulness as a meditative acceptance of all that is. Langer's mindfulness is very pro-active, energized, engaged, optimistic, constructive, and uninhibited in the face of failure. Langer believes that the future is largely indeterminate, not uncontrollable. We don't know for sure whether or not we can control something unless we try, and if we fail this does not imply that we cannot control the thing we set of to control, only that we failed to control it at the time of trying - the situation remains indeterminate, but the possibility of control is still a possibility. Langer maintains a beautiful balance: she is skeptical and constructive at the same time, open to the possibility that she may be right or wrong, or right and wrong - only experience will tell and only mindful experience will transform.

1. Myers, D.G., Social psychology. 6th ed. 1999, Boston: McGraw-Hill College. xiii, 737.
2. Weinstein, N.D., K.W. Brown, and M.R. Richard, A multi-method examination of the effects of mindfulness on stress attribution, coping, and emotional well-being Journal of Research in Personality, 2009. 43 (3): p. 374-385
3. Scheier, K.A. and C.S. Carver, Effects of optimism on psychological and physical well-being: theoretical overview and empirical update. Cognitive Therapy & Research, 1992. 16(2): p. 201 - 28.
4. Hogan, M.J., Enlightened happiness and pragmatic systems science - positive psychology meets Colin Feltham's anthropathology thesis. . The Irish Psychologist 2009. 35 p. 138-148.
5. Labouvie-Vief, G. and M. Márquez González, Dynamic Integration: Affect Optimization and Differentiation in Development, in Motivation, emotion, and cognition: Integrative perspectives on intellectual functioning and development., D.Y. Dai and R.J. Sternberg, Editors. 2004, Lawrence Erlbaum.: Mahwah, N.J. p. 1 - 36.
6. Gertig, D., J. Hooper, and G. Graham, A prospective cohort study of the relationship between physical activity, body size and composition, and the risk of ovarian cancer. . Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers and Prevention, 2004. 13: p. 2117 - 25.
7. Pinker, S., How the mind works. 1997, New York: Norton. xii, 660.
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34 of 39 people found the following review helpful
on November 17, 2003
Format: Paperback
This is a book rich in provoking thought. While I have read it more than once through cover to cover, I still keep it handy to read sections of again. It approaches mindfulness from a Western thought perspective and avoids the comparisons with Eastern thought. This is not a detriment. It helps to focus the material. It is also the source of much of the ongoing playing with ideas that I still find with this book. By now, you may have realized that Ellen has not presented us with a silver bullet. But she does provide much insight in the relationship between the physical and the mental. The third party view or that of an outsider coming into a group, are both inherently examples of mindfulness. Without pre-set notions, anything is possible. Read and enjoy!
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30 of 38 people found the following review helpful
on June 18, 1999
Format: Paperback
I bought this book because I needed to read it for a class. I didn't expect to like it as much as I did! The first couple of pages made you really think and wonder about how mindless one really is. The book did wonderfully in keeping the psychological jargon out, and the examples helped me understand the concepts. I would definately say that this book is a must-read for everyone.
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19 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on November 9, 1998
Format: Paperback
This book presents a new look into mindsets, routine and habits. It shows how many individuals can become completely mindless. The book shows creative ways to change attitudes and behavior.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
This is a superbly crafted work detailing the research conducted by Ellen Langer and her colleagues over the past fifteen years, at Yale, City University of New York, and, for the past twelve years, in the Department of Psychology at Harvard.

The nature of the studies, methodology and focus of the research endeavors are incredibly interesting. For those interested in epistemology, this book is essential reading. The following are some excerpts that I found particularly poignant:

"We experience the world by creating categories and making distinctions among them." p.11.

The creation of new categories, as we will see throughout this book, is a mindful activity. Mindlessness sets in when we rely too rigidly on categories and distinctions created in the past Once distinctions are created, they take on a life of their own." P. 11

"The rhythm of the familiar lulls us into mindlessness." P.21

"The way we first take in information ( that is, mindfully or mindlessly) determines how we will use it later." P.25

"The future may be as capable of "causing" the present as is the past." P. 32

"When children start a new activity with an outcome orientation, questions of "Can I?" or "What if I can't do it?" are likely to predominate, creating an anxious preoccupation with success or failure rather than drawing on the child's natural, exuberant desire to explore. Instead of enjoying the color of the crayon, the designs on the paper, and a variety of possible shapes along the way, the child sets about writing a "correct" letter A. Throughout our lives, an outcome orientation in social situations can cause mindlessness." P.34

"Those who can free themselves of old mindsets, who can open themselves to new information and surprise, play with perspective and context, and focus on process rather than outcome are likely to be creative, whether they are scientists, artists, or cooks." P. 115

"People create uses for objects. A use is not inherent in an object, independent of the people using it. The successful use of an object depends on the context of its use." P.122

"Will children taught "it depends" grow up to be insecure adults? Or will they be more confident in a world of change than those of us brought up with absolutes?" p.124.

"We pick up rules before we have a chance to question them." p.125

"The early signs of change are warnings and, to the mindful, opportunities."

Required reading for the mindful.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Format: Audio CD
"This I recall to my mind,
Therefore I have hope." -- Lamentations 3:21 (NKJV)

I recently had the pleasure of sitting in on a class led by Professor Langer. As she referred to so many ground-breaking studies that have become part of the foundation of how we consider improving thinking processes, I realized it was time to read more of her work. She recommended I start with this book.

Since I like to learn while driving, I opted for the unabridged audio CD set, which was perfect for my purposes. As someone who often conducts experiments to increase mindfulness, I was pleased that overviews of her methodologies were included along with descriptions of the results and their practical implications.

The book opens with compelling examples of how we categorize things in such ways that we cannot easily access helpful knowledge, even when the potential rewards are great. I see this problem all the time, and it made me smile to listen to this material. She then turns to other reasons we behave without considering our options, such as automatically deferring to "authority" even when such authority is based only in appearance. From there, Professor Langer makes a compelling case why we should seek to do better.

In Part Two, the book explains how to be more mindful. I thought that Chapter 5 was especially helpful in addressing the need to create new mental categories, welcome new information, seek more than one view, seek control over the context, emphasize method over result, and grasp other perspectives on what mindfulness is.

Anyone over the age of 45 will find Chapters 6 and 10 (Mindful Aging and Minding Matters: Mindfulness and Health) to be worth the price of the book.

Chapter 9 on prejudice will be an eye-opener for most people. It should be required reading for all.

If you haven't read any of her works, you've probably heard them described in other books. Why not learn from the source?

Read this book ... It's a mindful action!
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