For Writer’s Quote Wednesday, on a Thursday – Exploring the possibilities.
I have just discovered Ellen Langer, a social psychologist at Harvard University who has been conducting mindfulness research for the past 35 years. I was impressed with her approach, which is slightly different from what I’d been familiar with. I had associated mindfulness with two things that are difficult for me to do; one is sitting still and being in a sort of meditative state, and the second is paying attention to what I am doing in the present moment. I’ve always been rather fidgety and easily distracted, so neither of these options came very easily for me.
I listened to Dr. Langer’s On Being interview with Krista Tippet about a month ago and since then I have been able to put into practice a simple approach she described, which involves noticing little things as I go about my day — not only noticing, but considering the multitude of possibilities that exist beyond what I assume to be true based on past experiences and education.
This excerpt from Dr. Langer’s website, ellenlanger.com, describes her teachings well:
The citation for the APA distinguished contributions award reads, in part, “…her pioneering work revealed the profound effects of increasing mindful behavior…and offers new hope to millions whose problems were previously seen as unalterable and inevitable. Ellen Langer has demonstrated repeatedly how our limits are of our own making.”
For some reason, hearing mindfulness described that way made it feel more tangible to me. By asking myself questions about the things I encounter during my day, and actively seeking the answers that lie beneath the surface, I have been able to notice what I had previously tuned out. This inquisitive approach goes beyond trying to pay attention; it is an active way to engage my mind and challenge my perceptions.
What we think we see and know isn’t always the whole story, yet we often look only for the things that support our beliefs rather than seeking the whole picture.
An example of how easy it is to tune out parts of our surroundings is illustrated in the photo I posted today. At first glance, it just looks like a picture of some clouds in a blue sky with a quote at the bottom. When you look more closely, you will see a small crescent moon in the center of the picture.
It is so easy to get into a pattern of mindlessly going through our longstanding routines. I’ve had the same job for 18 years, and often find myself going about my day on auto-pilot, driving the same route, parking in the same area, walking across the same street, and performing many of the same duties each day, only half aware of what I was doing. I needed to figure out a way to add some dimension to my daily routine.
The biggest impact I’ve noticed since practicing this approach is that I am much more open-minded about the possibilities in life. Even though I am a researcher who places great value on data that tells us the most likely outcomes to expect, I have learned that it is also important to study and pursue the positive outcomes that are less likely to occur but also attainable. We often become so fixed on our own beliefs based on what we have learned, that we stop short of exploring other possibilities that are yet to be discovered.