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Mindfulness, 25th anniversary edition (A Merloyd Lawrence Book) Paperback – October 14, 2014
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"A landmark work of social psychology."
"[Langer] has shown us the power of mindfulness."
"Mindfulness is the book which changed it all."
"More relevant now than ever before."
―Blogging on Business
About the Author
Ellen Langer, PhD, Professor of Psychology at Harvard University, is the author The Psychology of Control, Mindfulness, The Power of Mindful Learning, On Becoming an Artist, and Counterclockwise. Her work has been translated into a dozen languages. She is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and numerous awards, including the Award for Distinguished Contributions to Psychology in the Public Interest from the American Psychological Association.
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She also has allot of useless observations about how things like clocks, rulers, and borderlines are just man-made things. Yes they are, but you know what? I still have to be at work at 6 in the morning tomorrow.
“Mindlessness is the application of yesterday’s business solutions to today’s problems”
“Mindfulness is attunement to today’s demands to avoid tomorrow’s difficulties”
In the book “Mindfulness”, the author Ellen Langer (a Professor of Psychology at Harvard University and also the author of “The Power of Mindful Learning”) brilliantly highlights the notion of mindfulness as a day-to-day life practice in a very compelling manner. The book recently celebrated the 25th year anniversary, and it is interesting to see the author’s initial wisdom and research outcomes are being reaffirmed by many similar works in more recent times. She starts the book by giving examples of how widespread mindless behaviours and operations present in our societies bring about distorted/narrow self-images, unintended cruelty, stunted potential, loss of control and negative health and wellbeing issues to name a few of the negativities. With mindlessness, stereotyping or sticking to rigid/inflexible/unconditional categorisation/generalisation is clearly visible. Even in many learning environments, knowledge is presented as unconditional hard facts, and all that is expected from learners is to memorise them and use them identically in any future situations. Such learning environments inadvertently produce or promote producing mindless experts or persons with single dimension/perspective views.
It is indeed enlightening to come to know what decades of Professor Langer’s research has revealed in an evidence-based manner (though unsurprising in a way):
“Mindlessness is pervasive. In fact I believe virtually all of our problems – personal, interpersonal, professional, and societal – either directly or indirectly stem from mindlessness.”
In contrast, when mindfulness is used and practiced, individuals develop the abilities to see many perspectives of the same problem/matter, receive and approach knowledge in a conditional and/or contextual manner that is subject to change over time or seen from a different context as opposed to receiving them as hard facts irrespective of the underlying contexts. In a learning environment, learners will be benefited in their human development process to be more creative, productive and resilient beings when additional time is used to introduce learners to many contexts and perspectives of a single concept or piece of knowledge (possibly without restricting to a single domain/disciplinary area) in a conditional manner. In other words, learners are presented with high-level/generalised concepts/knowledge (contextually and conditionally) that can be readily re-categorised and re-contextualised in future situations/problem-solving efforts. Further, in learning and development, what matters is the mindful process that the learner undergoes rather than any outcome, a notion that is at odds with many contemporary educational systems that purely focus on the outcomes (in many instances outcomes do not necessarily reflect the process undertaken) irrespective of how (positive or negative ways) they are achieved.
In mindless learning, individuals attempt to use past learning done in a rigid/hard-facts/unconditional manner inappropriately to current situations/problem-solving exercises while in mindful learning, they become open, alert in an ongoing manner and are flexible when receiving/grasping knowledge in a conditional/contextual manner as well as re-contextualise/modify them in a manner that is appropriate to current, future or new situations. Consequently, a mindful person becomes open to new information/knowledge and ideas and can see a problem/matter from multiple perspectives. This is essentially a creative approach to life and day-to-day matters. In other words, the abilities/skills in mindfulness lead to the development of better psychological health and resilience (as defined relation to the notion of emotional intelligence) in facing challenging situations in life. For instance, in the psychological/counselling practice of cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT), individual get exposed to multiple perspectives of depressing/negative life circumstances or presented with a reinterpretation of the same. Such notions are implicitly embedded as part of practices of mindfulness. In essence, mindfulness promotes the overall well-being of individuals especially in the areas of ageing where, in general, there is a negative perception of the notion. Many research assignments conducted by Professor Langer have produced positive results on healthy ageing and enhanced immunity systems enhancements for those who are engaging in activities mindfully. Further, as Professor Langer points out, due to the highly receptive to information/knowledge nature of mindful individuals, they tend to be highly intuitive (possessing gut feelings on mattes) as well (possibly as a result of implicit learning that takes place in an unconscious manner through openness/non-judgemental to information received).
As pinpointed by Professor Langer, many have questioned her about real practical possibilities/difficulties of becoming mindful in a constant/ongoing manner. They even raised the issue of developing a situation of indecision or tarnishing the skill/ability to make quick and firm decisions when one becomes highly mindful. In fact, the strength of mindfulness lies in the ability to make optimal decisions by considering as many perspectives/dimensions as possible. It contrasts with producing less optimal/substandard decisions/results rapidly by neglecting some important perspectives/contexts. Consequently, we see that if the leaders of our societies possess the skills/abilities of mindfulness, our world will thrive towards sustainability. Further, mindfulness is not a tool in possession by everyone all the time so that an individual can make use of it when he/she desires. Instead, it is skill/ability that needs to be learned and practised over time (possibly from very young age) to get to a level that makes it part of an individual’s everyday life.
Unlike the exotic `altered states of consciousness' that we read so much about, mindfulness and mindlessness are so common that few of us appreciate their importance or make use of their power to change our lives. This book is about the psychological and physical costs we pay because of pervasive mindlessness and, more important, about the benefits of greater control, richer options, and transcended limits that mindfulness can make possible." ~ Ellen Langer from Mindfulness
Ellen Langer is one of the world's leading research scientists, the first tenured female professor in Harvard's Psychology Department, and creator of what she calls the psychology of possibility--challenging the limits of what we perceive to be impossible.
This book was published over 25 years ago in 1989--before the concept of "mindfulness" went mainstream. Ellen focuses on a Western orientation to mindfulness rather than the popular Eastern. As she says, "Meditation is a tool to achieve post-meditative mindfulness. Regardless of how we get there, either through meditation or more directly by paying attention to novelty and questioning assumptions, to be mindful is to be in the present, noticing all the wonders that we didn't realize were right in front of us."
I'm excited to share a few of my favorite Big Ideas:
1. False Limits - Let's not be deterred.
2. "How do I do it?" - vs. "Can I do it?"
3. Outcome vs. Process - Where's your focus?
4. Mindful of Depression - Notice the variability!
5. Work vs. Play - Makes a huge difference
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