September 10, 2015
Ellen Langer —
Science of Mindlessness and Mindfulness

Ellen Langer is a social psychologist who some have dubbed “the mother of mindfulness.” But she defines mindfulness with counterintuitive simplicity: the simple act of actively noticing things — with a result of increased health, competence, and happiness. Her take on mindfulness has never involved contemplation or meditation or yoga. It comes straight out of her provocative, unconventional studies, which have been suggesting for decades what neuroscience is pointing at now: our experience of everything is formed by the words and ideas we attach to them. What makes a vacation a vacation is not only a change of scenery — but the fact that we let go of the mindless everyday illusion that we are in control. Ellen Langer has shown it’s possible to become physiologically younger through a changed frame of mind; to find joy in what was experienced as drudgery by renaming it as play; and to induce weight loss by substituting the label “exercise” for labor.

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is a social psychologist and a professor in the Psychology Department at Harvard University. Her books include Mindfulness and Counterclockwise: Mindful Health and the Power of Possibility.

Pertinent Posts

The frenetic pace of life can be overwhelming, making ritual even more necessary. But it doesn't have to be religious, or even spiritual in nature. Daily tasks can ground and center us, clearing our minds and helping us focus on the profundity in the seemingly mundane of this world.

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Ellen Langer presents at PopTech's annual conference at Camden, Maine, where she discussed the illusion of control, perceived control, successful aging, and decision-making.

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This merits listening to again and again. The concepts are at once simple and obvious yet complex and profound...like life. I have sent links to many of my clients (I am a therapist), my children, and I put the link to this podcast on my iPad homescreen. Thank you for such a thougtful and thought-provoking interview.

Thanks, Nancy. You said it for me.

I second Nancy's comments - worth listening to time and again. Thank you!

I agree!

I agree completely. I found myself jotting down things in a little notebook as I listened to this conversation. I'm sure I'll listen again and again.

Learning English as SL with this so so delightful and interesting conversation is a true pleasure.
Thank you very much for the transcription, and kind regards from Spain

Learning English from studying the transcript of this podcast is such a wonderful idea! Do you listen to any Spanish podcasts that you could recommend for an English speaker learning Spanish?

I think she interpreted your first question from her psychological perspective, but she did not understand it...

If that's the one about 'having a religious experience,' she answered it directly and simply and completely. --If psychology isn't about being 'human' what is, what is more important for you to understand? (But: "Psychology is today where chemistry was when it was alchemy--it's not a basic understanding yet, relative to it's subject.")

Meditation is not just the preparatory work to mindfulness, it is the most mindful state when mantras and objects fade away. Enlightenment, in part, is the state of constant mindfulness/awareness. After years of meditation, mindfulness becomes more and more the natural state of being, similar to compassion( empathy, cognition, action) vs empathy.(see Richie Davidson's work)

One thing meditation does develope, at least in myself and most others I have observed, is a more ethical way of functioning. But, I do agree with most of what Langer has to offer. She is a very REFRESHING voice, not prone to only her point of view and this is how it is etc. Thanks for a great interview!!has

This is an enlightening subject and certainly a way of life for those of us who wish to broaden our perspectives and nullify the negative thoughts that hinder our growth. Please keep writing and enlightening me and I will pass your wisdom onto my students in class. many thanks

joanne summerfield

Another note is that mindfulness without ethics, could also be used in many nefarious ways.

Very good point...

Great show. Langer's work is very very important and deserves to be much more widely known.

Very interesting interview with Ellen Langer. I have not come across her work before but I will be looking out for her work in future. I completely agree regarding the mind / body split. After reading Patrick Wall's book on the science of suffering I began to think in terms of the thinking or conscious body. We talk about the mind in a very ambiguous way, sometimes in the sense of the mind being the brain, other times as that which gives rise to consciousness experience. I now conceptualise the mind as a phenomena that arises from the thinking or conscious body and it's environment (both internal and external), rather than it being an entity in itself. Our whole body thinks, it's not a function confined to (that admittedly amazing organ) the brain; and the body, with it's internal and external senses, is dependant on it's environment as part of that thinking process. Sensory deprivation soon leads to pathology in the thinking body. Could the mind then be the (conscious) experience of that process, not an entity which functions in its self?

I also completely agree with Ellen regarding placebo. This powerful phenomena has been long overlooked. As has it’s darker counterpart, nocebo. I dislike the term placebo because of its negative connotations. I have been playing around with different names. Symbolic healing? Symbiotic healing even!

One of the threads I have come across time and time again in healthcare it that people need their suffering acknowledged and validated. I think that is why diagnosis are frequently sort and so important, especially in our Western culture which has many systems in place which fail to acknowledge your suffering unless you have a diagnosis - preferably with lots of tests to back it up!

I think part of placebo is about acknowledging suffering, validating the individuals experience and giving them ‘permission’ to heal. Louis Gifford frames placebo as primarily a social phenomena – as social creatures we respond biologically the people around us. The thinking body!

I believe 'placebo' carries too much baggage to be useful. I vote the word be stripped of it's rank and sent into deep space until it has learned better manners. As discussed in the interview, vocabulary matters.

As I apply Ellen Langer's work:

Once there is no division - mind / body / space / time / whatever, the word placebo no longer has any meaning. We receive, interpret and react to causes and effects. All the definitions of the word 'placebo' use terms such as "ineffectual" and "no intrinsic remedial value" and "inactive". Narrowly valid but generally ridiculous. At very worst, the word to be used, temporarily, is 'idiopathic' which means we don't understand the cause/effect that we are observing. Then we discover the math/science/art that explains the observation. It might take a long time, require advances in knowledge or new leaps of faith(e.g. the very work we are discussing). But the links are there. The world is a connected place. Often knowledge needs to catch up with truth :)

Of course this truth of a unified system does not make it simpler. We have(are?) a unified network that is complex and difficult to understand. We have phenomena that are idiopathic, even if the effects are knowable. And to compound the complexity, or at least, our awareness of it, once we are thinking this way we discover new phenomena. I expect that there are explanations of this that share concepts with fractal and other chaotic behaviors.

The concepts, math, science art art of formal Complexity Theory and related (Chaos, Systems, Networks) offers a great deal of illuminating explanation.

All the shows are wonderful and this one was especially amazing. It is surprising how many of the guests are people I've never heard of.

The only aspect I have a very different sense of is that there is an explosion or even growth in consciousness awareness and that everyone knows about mindfulness and meditation. Sometimes I think people who are in this world for a "living" think everyone else is too. I hear very very very few people reference these subjects in everyday life - really, it's hard to find anyone who even cares enough to wonder about it. Look at the number of comments on this page relative to say any article on Huffington Post or some celebrity or sports page.

As i was listening to this lovely program on Mindfulness, and Ellen was talking about ‘pretending”it occurred to me that the process of pretending, as an actress, has often had a profound effect on my state of being. And the next thing she said was that it would be interesting to study actors!! I had an amazing experience last year playing the part of Violet in August Osage County here in Michigan. I think actors are trained to pay attention. We need to be mindful in order to recreate the experience of being someone else, and then to turn it off. I would love to take a course with Ellen.

I was distracted enough during the Langer interview by her repeated interruptions of Krista to recommend viewing a transcript instead. At one point, she even asked Krista, "Do you have a question?" -- this after Krista apparently sighed. Did the guest have a lapse in mindfulness as to decorum during an interview?

While listening this morning I had an opposing feeling. ..that Krista was doing the interrupting. I believed she was not following the flow of the thoughts being presented. I did find the hour to be one of the most enlightening I've heard in a long time. Thanks.
db

This woman (Langer) was full of herself. I was waiting for Krista to stop the interview.

I had the same take.  The exchange where Krista was taken to task for not marveling at the good Dr. Langer's originality was awkward.  A bit oversensitive for a tenured Harvard prof are we?   Kind of curious now about what was removed from the unedited interview.   Any hints guys? :)

Although the Tolle association was right on target, and with a great deal of institutional supporting research I'll assume.  As such I do plan to read one or more of Dr. Langer's books so mission accomplished.  A few red flags however.. 

I agree. I thought her description of her great composure at having her house burn down and the gifts she received from the man who parked her car, her chambermaid, et al., was very odd. I understand she was making a point, but that was clearly not a tragedy, it was an inconvenience that some might consider a tragedy, but it was not a tragedy on the scale many of us face, and whose stories are partly told everyday in local newspapers and international news shows.

Andy, this last part of the show unsettled me as well. I felt uncomfortable with Ellen's example of "tragedy" since it does not come close to what most of us would consider true tragedy - genocide, for example. I plan to listen to the interview again and then ask myself, would Ellen's work of mindfulness fit within the experience of the Holocaust? To adopt a new idea, it needs to work in the present good times as well as the very, very dark times. I look forward to listening again.

Fire can be a terrifying event, whether experienced in a single event or by an entire community. It can be life changing.

Please try to not judge one person's experience with that kind of loss and compare it to the monumental extreme tragedy of the Holocaust, which was no accident. At that time there were disbelievers, but the truth is that most of the world's peoples and governments were deniers until they too were threatened. That was a kind of "world fire" that consumed most "modern" societies, which precipitated the tragedy of the creation of the Atomic Bomb and its destruction which forever changed our lives. The consuming "fire" of War may be humankinds greatest failure.

I hope you never experience any kind of " fire" during your lifetime.

Empathetic Compassion may ease your pain.

"Remember to be kind....and help to make gentle the life of the world."

Fantastic show... fantastic show today with Dr. Langer. Thank you so much.

Ms Tippett,

Well, Sundays with On Being reminds me of growing up watching the morning news show with my parents and the discussion around events and what make us part of this wonderful, wacky and worldly experience...called life. Dr. Langers' research appears so important that I will share with colleagues and friends. Have you thought of interviewing Drs. Steven Hayes or Kevin Polk [ ACBS] as to the impact of verbal behavior run amok that disposes us humans [verbal] beings to greater qualitative grief and even what we call as...dysfunction.

Sincerely,

john

Krista, please, there's a show/theme here begging to be. The word "mindfulness" has become a plastic word. To some it means being more aware of yourself, to others more aware of other things. O.K. But spiritual development used to be about waking up. Waking up can't just be a nicer, longer list of things to be "aware" of. Like, now I've got all this other stuff to think about.
Waking up is about finding the original balance between our two brains. (Jill Taylor)
Waking up is about learning to be instead of always being a doer.
Waking up is about coming into the full consciousness of your own presence and realizing
that whereas your thinking mind is quiet, the rest of your mind is very bright and brilliant. (see Tara Brach Wed. nite talks) I'm reacting, Krista, because the term "mindfulness" needs to be rescued from the narciscisstic idea that we can just get more comfortable. The left brain ego mind always wants to get more comfortable. And our ego mind doesn't want to believe that it's only a tool. But truely being here now involves opening the heart and seeing/understanding our connections to all of the web of nature, especially since we're the dominant species. We need to know where we are and what we're doing. The right brain has been performing those functions for 600K yr. Opening up and coming into your total presence and full consciousness means allowing your energy to go into the consciousness of right brain, body and heart, and because there's no need for "thinking" to go on, no need for analyses, the thinking (chattering) brain is quiet. called meditation.
True mindfulness, said Stephen Levine, doesn't seek to change anything, just be aware.
So I would submit, Krista, I would offer this theory, that hard working folks who are doing difficult challenges in their lives, many of whom wake up in the morning with to-do lists, and many of whom have become addicted to left brain dominance, would have a different kind of meaning for the term "mindfulness" than someone who was not locked into the necessity of left brain dominance, which, I believe, is necessary in order to get complicated stuff done. The problem is the ego brain wants to think that it's doing everything. It thinks it sees. Wrong. (that's just thinking) It thinks it holds the energy of life that is present. Wrong. The "life that is here" in any presence might include the ego mind, but the magic of aliveness, the humming in the cells, is a phenomenon that exists and is perceived quite outside the thinking mind. Meditators learn this.
namaste

Fantastic--I've believed many of these ideas for years--how wonderful to have someone speak about this with such clarity. Can't wait to get some of her books!

Thank you Ellen and On Bieng Team. So well done.

When I awoke this Sunday morning, much earlier than I intended to, and felt refreshed and awake, strangely, I decided to turn on the radio (more to hear how the Red Sox had done the night before, than anything else, but anyway . . . ) and just in time to hear the beginning of this show, which I do not regularly listen to. I was so interested in what Dr. Langer had to say, I just lay there for an hour listening. I found myself agreeing with so many points, and thinking how astute many of her quotes were, and hoping I could remember some of them. Then during the day, kept thinking about that hour, as my recollection of her name, the show's title, and many of the specifics faded from my memory. So decided to find this and so glad I did. I look forward to listening again, perhaps buying her books, and bringing her ideas to the attention of family and friends. Thank you, NPR. (and AFN for broadcasting overseas)

I have labeled my work as "play" ever since I started with SWBT 40+ years ago. I transitioned to SBC and now AT&T. It's easy to embrace change in telecommunications - I started there when I was young and was taught that change is the 'norm'. I loved it and loved learning anything new. Still do. I read Quantum Physics books at lunch because I like reading over my head. I have two offices: my work office and my play office. The kids in the family have to ask which is which. i think my mindset was the key just as Langer suggests.

As a fan of Roman Stoic philosophy, a lot of this interview rang true for me. Ellen then confirmed I was on the right page by quoting Epictetus.

There's a large and often unexplored overlap between Stoicism and Buddhism, particularly around mindfulness and attachment to the transient. Perhaps because of its, and my, western heritage, I found Stoicism much easier to connect with than Buddhism. And like Ellen, Stoicism is unerringly practical in the advice it provides.

One of the things I enjoy most about On Being is being exposed to different views on similar concepts. It was a nice change to have something more directly in my wheelhouse, so to speak.

I was thrilled with this program! i've listened three times now, and have it queued up again for later today. more here than meets the ear.

Listening to the interview with Dr. Langer was shocking to me. All she was discussing, in fact, was simply the concepts of mental discipline and maturity. Her condescending, sanctimonious, and insulting perspective about individuals who feel stress is so ridiculous that I felt embarrassed that Ms. Tippett would conduct such an interview. Certainly, I was considered there were no real challenging questions regarding the simpleton nature of Dr. Langer's theories.

I felt like I was listening to a snake oil salesperson trying to claim that their approach was the solution for all problems.

If I heard correctly that the APA views Langer's approach as significant, then it sets back the reputation of psychological studies.

While I enjoyed hearing Ms. Langer and appreciate much of what she said, I was flabbergasted and insulted by her example of chambermaids "getting exercise" instead of her recognition of how blue collar workers earn their living. Labor, toil and sometimes excruciating pain in legs, feet and back from so much exercise! Not to speak of insensitive bosses breathing down their necks to do more, go faster, work harder. Maybe she needs to get out in the real world, away from Haaavad Yaaaad, and spend a few hours working out with chambermaids. She can start with an upscale hotel, but then she needs to shadow these fit and fabulous women at a Red Roof Inn. What a spoiled, self-absorbed woman. If she has a spiritual or compassionate component, she covers it well.

I think you missed her point. The work is the same, the feeling about it is different when we give it a different label. How you see your relationship to your "work" does make a difference even though the work may not change. Ms. Langer did not even address the difficulty of the work, because it was not the point she was making.

Well, it should be the point of what any thinker on mindfulness should be. The idea of asking low paid exploited workers to just change their attitude to their activity is actually appalling. it is not neutral, but a legitimization of appalling conditions. Why don't you become a chamber maid and think of it as exercise--and do it for decades--If you can't put yourself in that place, I would suggest re-thinking. same advice I'd give to Dr. Langer.

Mary Baker Eddy discovered this in 1866 and spent the rest of her life increasing in understanding of it.

I agree with DAVID....

During a group reflection and dialog on the importance of relationships in healing, I had a moment of clarity which resulted in this poem which I offer to anyone who finds it useful. I use it when teaching coaching skills as a way to capture what we mean by presence. The group was sponsored at that time by the John E. Fetzer Institute as part of its exploration of Relationship Centered (health) Care.
The sound of my own silence

I listen for the sound of my own silence
and cannot find it.
Clanging thoughts and images shroud
every crevice of my heart.
My mind is full of distractions:
the voices in the hall,
the pretty feet of the woman next to me,
a distant bird, a plane, the tea kettle,
the sound of pens and paper stirring,
a bell some where else
calling someone else
to their work.

I listen to the sound of others’ breathing.
(Near me there is a doctor
who knows the sound of her patients’
more than the sound of her own heart.)
but here is also my own silence.

Just now there was a moment
of peace between two thoughts,
a second or two when
I connected without thought -
with the food
left on the table
the fragrance of a flower
and scent of some soft perfume.
My own silence
From which my senses
Touch the world.

Copyright 2006 Samuel P. Magill

I have been listening to this show for years. It is the FIRST time that I stopped listening after about 10 minutes. I found Ellen Langer so arrogant... It could just be an impression. She mentioned that she studied transcendental meditation, I wonder what other modalities she studied. Her tone turned me off completely.

I agree. Although I never felt like turning the show off, her arrogance and narcissistic nature pervaded throughout the interview, and had I been Krista, I would have had a hard time being polite with her, since she was so blatantly egotistical and yes, even rude. [As someone mentioned earlier, the chiding of Krista for her "slightly original" remark was totally annoying, not to mention inappropriate]. However, the woman did have a lot to say of merit. I guess sometimes we don't have to like the messenger, we just have to hear the message.

thank you for sharing this topic and speaker with us!

Hello,
I was at first intrigued by the interview with Dr. Langer and slowly became horrified-- I am listening to her ideas about making work "playful." The level of insensitivity to the actual conditions in which the vast majority of people in this culture, let alone the world labor dreary hours. Factory work, sweat shop, service sector jobs, cleaning jobs. People in this economy working double jobs. conditions that mostly affect women and racial minorities. I am aghast that the show would uncritically present a view of mindfulness which puts the problem or solution on the individual's attitude. This exemplifes what David Loy calls McMindfulness.
sincerely
Kathy Miriam

Nice interview and good summary of Ellen Langer work!
Thanks,
Bassam

In my work as a coach and well beyond (motherhood, being a wife, daughter, manager, business owner, committee chair, board member, etc.) ~ my experience (and therefor what the people around me experience) always seems to come back to perception. This piece offers such a beautiful and powerful affirmation as well as expanding the ideas I already practice and have learned to incorporate into daily living. Absolutely sharing with my "sphere of influence". Thank you for making this available and for the commitment to supporting her (and the likes of her) work.

new to your show addicted and loving until I met up with this woman she struck me as so arrogant and so narrow in that her explorations were of folks that were for those that had the luxury of being in situations that were relatively benign meaning that they had a roof over there heads or enough to eat that day or were not getting the shit beat out of them by someone and had no means of escape privilege$$$$$educationand the list goes on so while I have been moved by so many of your shows I really wanted to give this woman a good tongue lashing or perhaps even though not very evolved notion a good slap That being said I have no idea what the body of her work has entailed only know I had to say something because I found her distasteful I do not have that experience of you and will continue my new addiction but you know sometimes we have to speak up when so moved thank you for your show and all it has opened up for me just get rid of this chick Thank you
and no means

This is wonderfully pertinent stuff. Listening to the interview is enlightening and healing and simple common sense.

Interesting

On Being Ellen Langer - Science of Mindlessness and Mindfulness

I do agree that most people in this world would say that they are “less than happy” (Langer). I think that many people waste far too much of their lives worrying. Ellen says, “never take life too seriously.” This statement presents one of my life’s greatest lessons. I was a very serious child, who saw everything as black or white. I wish that I had heard Ellen’s advice back when I was a child. It would have saved me a lifetime of struggle. Although, being a headstrong child, I do not know if I would have listened. Ellen spoke of many concepts that I have learned through trial and error. Another idea she mentioned was one of “treating yourself, whether at work or play, the same.” What a brilliant idea! One of my favorite sayings is from a plaque my mother had in our workshop. It said, “Don’t forget to stop and smell the roses.” I have always carried this statement in my mind, and it has helped me to slow down during stressful times and enjoy life a little more. In addition, this makes me think of the seven dwarves in Snow White, singing, “whistle while you work.”

I loved Ellen’s idea of thinking of a placebo as “powerful medication” (Langer). The mind is very powerful, and if you think something is true, more than likely, you will perceive it this way. I used to give my kids special little pills, just a mineral supplement, and when they had some complaint of a mild ailment, I would tell them that the pill would make them all better. Most of the time, they would take the pill and twenty minutes later have forgotten all about their problem. The simple power of suggestion is a valuable tool. My mother used to tell me that I was very intelligent, and I believed her and always held my head high in life, knowing that I was smart and could figure out anything. On the other hand, if you tell children they are stupid, it is likely they will feel and act in a similar manner.

Ellen also talks about “no worry before its time.” How many times have we spent countless hours worrying about something we cannot change? My daughter worries about everything. I always tell her to take the situation at hand and do what you can at that time. I tell her to put her energy into doing something positive and not let the negativity of worry bring her down. Ellen also says that she’s “not going to give up today by worrying about tomorrow.” Specifically, these words express what I always remind myself of, which is to remember that this moment in time will never happen again, so use it wisely and make the best of it. Ellen’s words are an inspiration because they magnify the truth of the things that I have experienced.

Another idea that Ellen suggested was to “treat the mind and body as one.” I have spent my entire adult life experiencing chronic pain, which progressed in severity until I came to this very idea. My husband can always predict when my pain levels are going to get high again. It is always when there is an event in life that stimulates my nervous system through mental stimulation, whether it is an exciting, stressful, happy or sad experience. My mind and body are one. Once I learned to calm my thoughts during any type of stimulation, my body followed in suit and heightened pain levels did not ensue.

I have tried meditation and yoga to help connect my mind and body. Karen had a very useful suggestion of “actively noticing new things” to help the mind and body to work together. I had not thought of this approach. I took this to mean that your mind and body blend when sensing and observing new things. She also mentioned the idea of looking at everything you do in life as positive. I considered this as I proceeded to clean the house. I did not look at the cleaning as a chore, but as exercising to make my body healthy and strong, which is an idea she mentioned. I felt good and positive about being able to incorporate improving my mind, body and household in one action.

I do agree that most people in this world would say that they are “less than happy” (Langer). I think that many people waste far too much of their lives worrying. Ellen says, “never take life too seriously.” This statement presents one of my life’s greatest lessons. I was a very serious child, who saw everything as black or white. I wish that I had heard Ellen’s advice back when I was a child. It would have saved me a lifetime of struggle. Although, being a headstrong child, I do not know if I would have listened. Ellen spoke of many concepts that I have learned through trial and error. Another idea she mentioned was one of “treating yourself, whether at work or play, the same.” What a brilliant idea! One of my favorite sayings is from a plaque my mother had in our workshop. It said, “Don’t forget to stop and smell the roses.” I have always carried this statement in my mind, and it has helped me to slow down during stressful times and enjoy life a little more. In addition, this makes me think of the seven dwarves in Snow White, singing, “whistle while you work.”

I loved Ellen’s idea of thinking of a placebo as “powerful medication” (Langer). The mind is very powerful, and if you think something is true, more than likely, you will perceive it this way. I used to give my kids special little pills, just a mineral supplement, and when they had some complaint of a mild ailment, I would tell them that the pill would make them all better. Most of the time, they would take the pill and twenty minutes later have forgotten all about their problem. The simple power of suggestion is a valuable tool. My mother used to tell me that I was very intelligent, and I believed her and always held my head high in life, knowing that I was smart and could figure out anything. On the other hand, if you tell children they are stupid, it is likely they will feel and act in a similar manner.

Ellen also talks about “no worry before its time.” How many times have we spent countless hours worrying about something we cannot change? My daughter worries about everything. I always tell her to take the situation at hand and do what you can at that time. I tell her to put her energy into doing something positive and not let the negativity of worry bring her down. Ellen also says that she’s “not going to give up today by worrying about tomorrow.” Specifically, these words express what I always remind myself of, which is to remember that this moment in time will never happen again, so use it wisely and make the best of it. Ellen’s words are an inspiration because they magnify the truth of the things that I have experienced.

Another idea that Ellen suggested was to “treat the mind and body as one.” I have spent my entire adult life experiencing chronic pain, which progressed in severity until I came to this very idea. My husband can always predict when my pain levels are going to get high again. It is always when there is an event in life that stimulates my nervous system through mental stimulation, whether it is an exciting, stressful, happy or sad experience. My mind and body are one. Once I learned to calm my thoughts during any type of stimulation, my body followed in suit and heightened pain levels did not ensue.

I have tried meditation and yoga to help connect my mind and body. Karen had a very useful suggestion of “actively noticing new things” to help the mind and body to work together. I had not thought of this approach. I took this to mean that your mind and body blend when sensing and observing new things. She also mentioned the idea of looking at everything you do in life as positive. I considered this as I proceeded to clean the house. I did not look at the cleaning as a chore, but as exercising to make my body healthy and strong, which is an idea she mentioned. I felt good and positive about being able to incorporate improving my mind, body and household in one action.Overall,Ellen offered some wonderful insights and advice that I will use to improve my life.

I am as young as I feel and I believe that I am young at heart and mind and body.

It's all about attitude. One's attitude can determine one's altitude. Normally when the word ''work'' is brought up the first thoughts/images/impressions are boring, dreadful, money, cruddy boss, a place to gain weight, arise. I unconsciously created an environment for myself that allows me to slip into unhappiness. However, I can do something about it. I deserve the best for myself, who wouldn't want the best for themselves and instead settle for less? Not me. When instead I can do something about it to turn it into something more pleasing.

Wonderful podcast. Thanks for reminding me as I have read Ellen's work decades ago. You know what made me laugh is how I walked around the rest of my day without these big scary problems in my head anymore. Just loved how Langer helps healthy mental practices and interrupts unhealthy ones with simple questions.

Her quick tip for being present now with noticing 5 things changed my thinking forever for the better. Great to find a practice outside of meditation and yoga that helps me attend now.

PS: Love that you keep the John O'Donohue podcasts up He is wonderful to hear talk. And Krista-- come to Seattle. Love to meet.

Thank you.

(Note: I listened to the unedited version.)

This episode of OnBeing provided a nice introduction into Ellen's research. Like many others, I think this interview wasn't much of a discussion, but an acting out of a well rehearsed schtick. It seemed to me that Krista could hardly get a word in to do what she does so well - drawing out nuance by getting the guest to elaborate on the statements they make (ref. her interview with Mike Rose--wonderfully done!). Given the rapid pace of Ellen's speech and the almost complete absence of silence in the discussion, left me with the impression that Ellen had a script and she stuck to it.

Some moments that stand out to me:

(1) Ellen's surprise at Krista calling her take on mindfulness as "slightly original."

(2) Ellen's hand-waving regarding meditation. If TM is the only meditative practice she evaluated, then she really doesn't know much about meditation. Within Buddhism, mindfulness is just one of many goals of meditation.

(3) This ties into #1 above: Her insight into how language affects our perceptions and feelings is great, but she's not the first person to realize this. Has she read any good philosophy from both the Western and Eastern traditions??? Anything from cognitive scientist/psycho-linguist George Lakoff?

Overall I found what she said interesting despite the lopsidedness of the "discussion".

I have been a cook for the past ten years at a small winery. Very recently I have started to feel restless and bored w my job. I reminded myself just a few days ago that when I was a child I used to play " restaurant " and now I am doing exactly what I had pretended w such joy and enthusiasm . Reliving those emotions helped me to renew my enthusiasm for my " real" job.

I truly enjoyed listening to your discussion on Mind Body studies and I reflect on my father who has the aspects of Rigid Parkinson's and I wonder if taking him back to a time 10 or 20 years earlier would that help him deal with his issues more effectively.

A fascinating discussion although a bit of a difficult interview to listen to at times, as others have alluded to. These are timeless ideas which have sprung up from Eastern religious concepts and expanded upon by New Thought religion in this country (Mary Baker Eddy, Unity) but reworked to become obtainable to all who wish to improve their lives. The most important idea, in my view, is the statement that what we experience is largely shaped by words and attitudes. We have choices.

I loved listening to this conversation!!! Perception is our reality. There are no realities, there are perceptions. We live our lives through our minds. Attitude is everything. I think she is talking about the attitude we have throughout our life. In my point of view, happiness is the most valuable thing there is in life. The power of the mind is marvelous and extremely exciting to discover (and use). Thank you for such beautiful programs On Being !!!

So glad I was able to hear this interview repeated. I was walking on a beautiful morning today, noticing the day, while I listened to Nancy talking to Krista Tippet. The Epictetus quote she mentioned is one I have enjoyed the provocative nature of for many years--I also believe it. Thanks to Nancy for talking about well-being and for suggesting that we look at situations that have happened in different ways rather than locking ourselves into catastrophic thinking or worrying about future events that most likely will never happen.

This is an amazing talk, she is so easy to listen to and think about her concepts for a better life!

At age 84, I spend 6 months escaping the winter of NH for the warmth of FL. I noticed some psychological and physiological changes occurring with people from all over the US that reside full and part time in my active seniors community They engage in all kinds of play including bridge , bowling, bocci, tennis, horseshoes, swimming exercises chorus, art , golf, etc. Some start tennis at 60. Age does not stop them from participating in any activity. The change over is truly amazing from what you would expect from the general senior population at large. It is true that these seniors bring with them an absoluteness in the political, religious, and regional beliefs but the activities certainly add to their health and happiness.

Our brain is the placebo. It's remarkable and enlightening to hear this; and really sink into it and allow ourselves to engage in our world and in our problems differently.
I will be trying to engage in play and stop calling it work!

I wonder how well this works in a sweatshop, a rape camp, a war torn nation... There is much to be said for the way we name and respond to our environment. Yet, this doesn't speak to the reality of most situations around the world, this only helps to deny the ones we don't have direct contact with. Which is why the people of the Western world see people seeking asylum from war and the horrors of war - as a threat and just can't seem to empathize with them. It may make it easier to diet and stay at your meaningless job or marriage but it can help to create delusions that just don't make sense when held next to someone who is being tortured for their beliefs.

That's interesting. I recently had major surgery and was told I'd need to have someone stay with me or go to someone else's home for 2 weeks after, because my activity was severely curtailed. A dear friend offered to keep me and although I was often in pain and had difficulty moving about, she took such good care of me that I felt I was on a vacation instead of enforced convalescence. I read books, caught up with Facebook friends, played Words with Friends, watched videos, ate amazing meals. Also several other friends visited me while I was there. These are just the things I would be doing on a vacation. It's now 8 weeks post surgery and I feel great. I credit my rapid healing in part to that vacation mentality. It really does make a difference!

On Being is my special treat, my Sunday morning meditation, something I look forward to. Always before, no matter what the topic, who the guest, I learn something of value. This is the first time I came away disappointed. More than disappointed. Baffled by what I heard. by what was missing in the responses by Ellen Langer. Somewhere along the line, she misses an important point. Yes, awareness is part of it, the first step on the way to intention, to mindful living and mindful action. The question is how do we get there, in as society that ignores suffering, does not know how to deal with pain? It is not something that happens automatically. Ms Langer seems to me not very aware at all.

I guess in Catholicism one would call mindfulness 'Recollection', and is a good thing, one among several. One might read the dialogue of Thomas Merton with Buddhist monks. Mindfulness is great as a path to prayer.

Very helpful, of course: if you can't change the situation, change your attitude toward it (Recovery, Inc.). But it seems to me, aware of God or not, one can't reach awareness without God.

In Catholicism it would be called 'being prepared', or 'praying always'. Mindfulness at all times is good, but imagine if one adds intimate communion with God at each moment. What a goal! But it is only possible as a gift of God and of grace. I'm not too interested in mindfulness as an end in itself, but as a road to prayer it is very good.

Right on!

One thing is that even if a person is not mindful, they are still persons, deserving of respect, etc.
Yes, 'Attitudes are more important than facts' (Recovery, Inc.).

And we have a lot to worry about in the future. As a priest said, refering to the end of time, 'It won't be as bad as we might think', or John Paul II 'Don't be afraid!'.
Jesus: 'The evil of the day is sufficient thereof'.

I love how you take the moment to heart and help us see this moment ... mindfulness is a work in progress.

The Tarahumara do not run 200 miles a day as was suggested by your guest. Only one record exists for running 200 miles and it was over 29 hours. That's a world record and not your average Tarahumara.
Any Ultra-runner knows that it takes the very fastest runners about 11 hours to complete 100 miles. These individuals very rarely run in excess of 100 miles. Even the run across Death Valley is only 152 miles. The very few who continue to the top of Whitney, unsanctioned, don't even run 200 miles. It's ridiculously absurd to throw numbers about without regard for the current limits of human potential. I hope no one is repeating what she said about that. It's far too incredible.

Two reflections:
1.) I feel there is a difference between the words stress and anxiety. Stress is something I feel in the moment of reaction, and Anxiety is the stressful worry that happens prior to an actual event.
2.) I really appreciated the ah-ha moment of "How Can?" I was reminded to think of the ancient writings of the "Vigyan Bhairan Tantra" and how I have read an interpretation of tantra as "technique". Technique is scientific. It is method. Therefore, the How Can is so interchangeable with techniques and noticing to be present as this text has mentioned as well as what I heard tonight on this program. I love how wisdom and truth continue to recycle themselves with new words, new digestions, and new ways of interpreting mindfulness in the time in the now, of all times, of all nows. What one noticed then, and what one notices now may be different, but the noticing is the same.

Thank you! I was listening to your conversation while driving to see two ill wisdom women in my life yesterday. I was able to put my trepidation about what might happen and what did happen and stay present to each, enjoying their humor, wisdom, and strength today. I'm sure my midnfulness was a help to me, possibly to them.

Anyon know the song that was played at the first "break"?

Annie Parsons's picture

Hi Andrew! I think that the place you're talking about features the song "Sunrise" by Hauschka. If you'd like to confirm the timing for yourself, all of our music selections are listed in the episode transcript, which you can find here: http://onbeing.org/program/ellen-langer-science-of-mindlessness-and-mind...

Hope this helps!

As a mediator, I found myself taking notes for approaches to use in sessions! I also loved the focus on a Win-Win! That is the basis of mediation!

The Langer episode was particularly fascinating to me, as my own work centers on the theme of "Noticing"--though in a much more whimsical way. Personal experience with extreme trauma has taught me that such mindful living, often moment to moment, savoring the smallest moments can provide a path towards healing and wholeness. I have been developing a website over the past year, sharing my "noticings", hoping they'll give someone else a bit of the cheering that they've given me. Feel free to visit veggiegiggles.com
Thanks for all the thought-provoking & inspirational broadcasts!

Ellen Langar was interesting. One small observation, she should not hold forth on what Buddhist meditation is or is not as she is woefully ignorant on the subject. She has arrived at the practice of mindfulness by other means it seems. But Insight meditation is awareness, not doing something that allows for it "later". Thanks for your wonderful show.

I'm a community college lecturer who has seen the benefits of a mindfulness practice in my own life, and am passionate about introducing it to others. I run mindfulness workshops at my college for faculty and staff, and am currently in the "Koru Mindfulness" teacher training program which trains participants to teach a structured four week introductory mindfulness class to students.

To be blunt: Prof Langer does not understand mindfulness, and her use of the term is incorrect and misleading. It is unfortunate that the interview did not adopt a more critical stance to her definition of mindfulness and (especially) her arrogant dismissal of meditation as simply another means to what she is doing already.

That is not to say her research lacks merit – I can’t speak to this, though her studies certainly sound interesting. But when she claims to be studying “mindfulness”, she is not. She is studying (among other things) the use of thought-framing to stimulate curiosity and fresh perspective. While these skills are useful, they lack a crucial component of mindfulness: awareness, WITH ACCEPTANCE, of the present moment.

However trying to capture mindfulness in a definition misses the point. The essence of a mindfulness practice is learning to understand deeply our own moment to moment experience, and see the illusions we often operate under (for example, identifying our thoughts with reality). Meditation is (for most) a crucial component of a mindfulness practice, since it is only by stopping and paying close attention do we really begin to understand our moment to moment experience.

Prof. Langer demonstrates profoundly her lack of understanding of mindfulness, and her lack of a mindfulness practice, throughout the entire interview, by being impatient, self-absorbed, and frequently rude.

I would urge anyone who is interested in mindfulness to go elsewhere for an introduction to the idea ("Mindfulness" by Williams/Penman and Sharon Salzberg's "Real Happiness" are good starting points for those looking for a home practice. For those looking for inspiration on mindfulness and living ethically, Thich Nhat Hanh and Pema Chodron are two of my favorites). Or find a meditation community in your area.

With best wishes,

John

I am certain of nothing but the holiness of my hearts affections and the truth of the imagination Keats

Ellen Langer's work is great, but represents the Western need to sterilize the practices used by people with mindful aspirations. I found it so dismissive of the endless extremely valuable ancient practices to improve mental potential that it inspired a blog entry:
(I am being cheeky with the title)

This was a gift, thank you Krista and Ms Langer!

Deeply profound and immediately practical advice. Noticing is everything!

An absolute gem of a show. Have listened to it at least 3 times by now. And more will follow. Haven't even started on the uncut version yet. Treat!
I blogged about it, hoping more people will take a listen:

I'm actually really hunting some great podcasts to listen to. What I like about On Being is the great, natural atmosphere and the high quality of the recordings. These things are great but the content tops it all. This episode will go straight into my repeat folder. I'm really scribbling everything down what Professor Langer says because these are such great insights. I'm really trying to improve my mindfulness at the moment and this provides a great addition and this is a great support.

I listened to the On Being podcast "Science of Mindlessness and Mindfulness" with Ellen Langer. I would recommend it to everyone. Ellen Langer is a social psychologist who has been doing studies on mindlessness and mindfulness since the 1970's. In the interview she talks about the power of paying attention basically and living in the moment. Those are not the words that she uses, but they in a sense is it what she is trying to say. She talks about studies that have proven you can increase your health and well being if you can convince yourself that it is truly the way you feel.

Langer looks at the things that stress people out and having you look at them differently. She says a lot of look at everything like as if it must happen now or I have to have that thing right away. But the reality is most things in life don't work like that. She has done studies where she has asked chamber maids to change the way they describe what they do for work form "labor" to "exercise" and shown that they became healthier and happier. Langer talks about looking at things and people from different a different point of view (especially the things/people that stress or upset you) to help you become happier. She said some that I really liked and I know that I have said a version of many times to my family and people at work-"peoples behavior makes sense to them or else they wouldn't have done it". I love that thought, it doesn't mean that they are right or wrong, but it my experience, most people don't do things wrong on purpose.

As far back as I can remember I have told every coach/teacher/boss/employee of mine that if I am doing some thing wrong, TELL ME. I am not doing it wrong because I think that is fun, it's probably because that I do not know that I am doing it wrong.

This interview tapped into the power of our minds which is something that I think we all under estimate. It also touches on how we treat people from one impression because we don't look at their actions from more than one point of view.

Truely...beautiful.

I find that mindfulness is hard concept to grasp, especially, when you get caught up in a busy everyday life. I started practicing mindfulness in my second year of my masters degree as an exercise given to us by professor. It deftly did not come easy but the more i practiced it, the easier it become to stay in the zone and notice things in life that would bring more pleasure and eliminate stress. I would definitely recommend to try for yourself.

I love On Being, and I generally treasure each episode's exploration. This episode, however, felt less like an exploration of mindfulness than an exploration of mindless privilege. I don't think that's Krista Tippett's fault. She gave Ellen Langer lots of opportunities to really delve deeply into the theories and everyday practices of "noticing." But the podcast ends with an anecdote that perfectly encapsulates how privilege constrains our ability to notice--or at least shapes what we tend to notice and how we tend to talk about it.

apples