The Brain

Are You Living Mindfully or Mindlessly?

July 30, 2014  • Keosha Varela

Watch the full video of 'Mindfulness and the Psychology of Possibility' with Ellen Langer.

Mindlessness is a pervasive issue we all experience, according to social psychologist and Harvard University professor Ellen Langer. “Virtually all of us, almost all of the time, are not there,” she said at the Aspen Institute in Aspen, CO. And, she said, this matters because “all of our suffering — personal, interpersonal, societal — is a function, directly or indirectly, of this mindlessness.”

The Guggenheim Fellow spoke about this topic as part of the Institute’s Murdock Mind, Body, Spirit Series, which brings a wide range of experts, innovators, and leaders to Aspen to discuss their research and share the latest revelations about the link between mindfulness, physical activity, and emotional well-being.

Below are a few of Langer’s most thought-provoking quotes about the psychology behind being mindful.

On mindlessness:

“Mindlessness is not the same thing as stupidity… You’re on automatic pilot… relying on the distinctions and categories that you drew in the past, so the past is overdetermining the present. You’re trapped in a single perspective… All the while you’re oblivious to this, you’re insensitive to context and perspective. You have rules and routine that are guiding you — governing what you’re doing — that may not make any sense any longer.

On having goals:

“You shouldn’t have goals determine all that you’re doing… Many years later, it might not be so smart to continue on the path that you started on, and it doesn’t occur to people to question that.

How to be mindful and live in the moment:

“The simplest thing is to adopt an understanding of the inherent uncertainty in everything… When we travel we expect to see new things, but there are new things happening all around us.”

On happiness and respecting one another:

“We have been so indoctrinated into a world of better and worse, where everybody wants to always see who’s on top, that we misjudge each other all the time, and cause a tremendous amount of unhappiness. […] How do you respect each other? What you do is you realize the thing you’re calling by some name looks different when called by another name. You may not like me because I’m impulsive; from my perspective I’m being spontaneous.”

The Murdock series is generously underwritten by Gina and Jerry Murdock.