Let's Talk about Mindfulness: An Interview with Ellen Langer

Ellen Langer smiling in front of a bookshelf

Ellen Langer has been called the “mother of mindfulness” for her work highlighting the profound effects of paying attention. Her research shows a new way to practice mindfulness–not through meditation, but by simply noticing new things. According to Langer’s website: “Our research, conducted in the lab and in the field, shows that a focus on novelty and engagement are the simplest ways to produce mindfulness in all aspects of life, every day.” What’s more, this mindfulness is a key contributor to your overall wellbeing.

Ellen Langer is a social psychologist and the first female professor to gain tenure in the Psychology Department at Harvard University. She has written extensively on the illusion of control, mindful aging, stress, decision-making, and health.

Her work challenges our assumptions about our capabilities and limitations. In one now-famous study, Langer placed 80-year old men in an environment that evoked their life 20 years earlier and found that they emerged physically and mentally “younger,” with enhanced flexibility, dexterity, and even eyesight. Several participants left without the canes they had leaned on as they entered!  Her message with this study and others is that our beliefs and perceptions can influence our physical and mental health much more than we would ever think. She calls this the psychology of possibility.