These 4 insights will make you much more mindful
Long before mindfulness became a pop culture phenomenon, there was a Harvard professor by the name of Dr. Ellen Langer who started researching the concept in the ‘80s and ultimately disrupted the field of positive psychology with her findings.
Mindlessness, if I interpret Langer correctly, is the extent to which we are not really thinking at all:
Mindfulness, then, is making a conscious effort to actually think and that can only be done when we are fully present and aware of the experience we are currently partaking in.
Though not without controversy, I nevertheless decided to read Langer’s book Mindfulness and extracted a set of insights I believe are worth incorporating into everyday life.
If you want a more thorough immersion in the principles of mindfulness and how to apply them to your life enroll in Effortless Health, where I dedicate an entire module to this topic.
1. Don’t make decisions (or judgments) without context
Keeping in line with my thoughts in How to Elevate Your Mindset, when we take context into greater consideration we recognize that a blanket statement or plain vanilla generalization may not be appropriate for a particular situation.
As a creative professional this is of particular importance. I have to constantly balance my reliance on the routines, systems, and tools that help me get work done with a willingness to just go with the flow in the spirit of inspiration.
As it pertains to creativity and innovation, Langer suggests reframing the problem. This is also an approach I picked up while studying Design Thinking at Stanford.
Fast Company summarizes three ways to reframe a problem to find an innovative solution, drawing from the work of a Stanford engineering professor:
- Rethink the question
- Brainstorm bad ideas
- Unpack your assumptions
The framework above is simply a way of evaluating context by considering a variety of different circumstances under which a problem can be interpreted.
This approach helps us get out of a fixed mindset and explore a wider range of possibilities. It expands our perspective.
2. Overcome self-imposed psychological limitations
The world is complex and, as I discuss in Ethical Dilemmas: Why It’s Hard to Be Good, humans are prone to creating categories in order to make sense of all the things we don’t understand.
Unfortunately, though categorization helps simplify the world, it also makes us short-sighted and encourages automatic (mindless) behavior.
An example of this is the belief in limited resources as I discuss in Overcoming Scarcity Thinking. We tend to operate under the belief that everything in life is limited or never enough (be it money, time, or relationships). As a result our thoughts, decisions, and actions are often driven by a fear of lack.
Langer proposes that we allow ourselves to take in enough information to see a richer picture. This will give us more datapoints, inspire us to question the status quo, and eventually expand our perception.
3. Be process-oriented instead of outcome-oriented
As I mention in The Best Way to Make Resolutions You’ll Actually Achieve, being fixated on outcomes leads to unrealistic exceptions and limited thinking.
It’s not just about where we’re trying to go but how we’ll get there that matters most.
I found Langer’s example on the concept of second wind to be particularly fascinating, especially since it supports some of the recommendations I outline in How to Overcome Procrastination by Embracing It.
By changing up the environment, taking a break, or trying out new tactics, we can shake mental or physical exhaustion and get a burst of energy that enables us to continue working exuberantly on projects and tasks.
All of the above are process adjustments. Focusing on the journey instead of the destination increases our mental and physical reserves.
4. Be discerning when it comes to mindfulness
A common mistake when it comes to mindfulness seems to be that we need to be 100% “on” at all times. There are so many misguided recommendations telling us we need to be mindful when we eat, when we sleep, and even when we go to the restroom!
A refreshing point that Langer makes towards the end of her book is that we should be selective when it comes to mindfulness. It’s ok to choose what we are mindful about — as it can't be everything.
Mindfulness is awareness, presence, open-mindedness, and moderation. I think that is a perfect summary to close on.