Mindfulness by Harvard’s Ellen J. Langer


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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