Over nearly four decades, Ellen Langer’s research on mindfulness has greatly influenced thinking across a range of fields, from behavioral economics to positive psychology. It reveals that by paying attention to what’s going on around us, instead of operating on auto-pilot, we can reduce stress, unlock creativity, and boost performance. Her “counterclockwise” experiments, for example, demonstrated that elderly men could improve their health by simply acting as if it were 20 years earlier. In an interview with senior editor Alison Beard, Langer applies her thinking to leadership and management in an age of increasing chaos.
Further, as per Langer, mindfulness is the process of actively noticing new things. When you do that, it puts you in the present. It makes you more sensitive to context and perspective. It’s the essence of engagement. And it’s energy-begetting, not energy-consuming. The mistake most people make is to assume it’s stressful and exhausting—all this thinking. But what’s stressful is all the mindless negative evaluations we make and the worry that we’ll find problems and not be able to solve them.
The business environment has changed a lot since you began studying mindfulness. It’s more complex and uncertain. We have new data and analysis coming at us all the time. So mindfulness becomes more important for navigating the chaos—but the chaos makes it a lot harder to be mindful. Chaos in reality is a perception. People say that there’s too much information and there’s no more information now than there was before. The difference is that people believe they have to know it—that the more information they have, the better the product is going to be and the more money the company is going to make. I don’t think it depends as much on the amount of information someone has as on the way it’s taken in. And that needs to be mindfully.
Finally, A pioneer in mindfulness research says that companies can promote innovation and their own rejuvenation by setting the right context. Google offers an internal course called “search inside yourself” that has proved so popular that the company has created entry-level versions such as “neural self-hacking” and “managing your energy”. The search giant has also built a labyrinth for walking meditation. It centered around the expropriation of Eastern concepts of mindfulness and meditation for use in supporting Western notions of “success” — particularly in a business context.