This column frequently offers instructions and tips to engage in a variety of basic mindfulness practices. Today we look at a method of cultivating greater mindful awareness—advanced by a world-famous psychologist—that does not involve mindfulness meditation. If you enjoy practicing mindfulness, the work of Ellen Langer will add to your appreciation of mindfulness. If it doesn’t come easy, you will find her approach refreshing and helpful.
While mindfulness practices can meaningfully contribute to relaxing tension and feeling calm, they are primarily a structured way of steadying attention and seeing things more clearly. If this sounds vague, concrete examples include: realizing that critical self-talk is a transient mental experience and not a fact, appreciating that the angry adversary may be frustrated or scared, and waking up out of mind wandering and seeing, literally, what is right in front of you. Through practice we come to know first-hand that greater focus, clarity and insight can be experienced more frequently and have a longer half-life.
One of the first popular books on mindfulness was written in 1989 by Ellen Langer, a leading social psychologist and researcher at Harvard, who has authored over 200 research articles, six books and has received a Guggenheim Fellowship, four Distinguished Scientist Awards and the Liberty Science Genius Award. One might be tempted to conclude that Langer’s extraordinary success is due to her practicing mindfulness. Afterall, her first book was the international best seller titled “Mindfulness.”