July 2014 Spiritual circles are focused on mindfulness but before mindfulness comes mindlessness. Mindlessness is a basic human trait that surfaces in us all. Entering a room and forgetting what we came looking for, opening the fridge door only to realize we don’t remember what we wanted, dating our cheques with the previous year – we have all been there, done that. And oh, how we have writhed in embarrassment. Dr Ellen J Langer: Coaching mindfulness American social psychologist, Dr Ellen J Langer, has dedicated her life to studying the phenomenon of mindlessness and to prove that we really are a species controlled by mindless thoughts. Dr Langer’s studies have always centred on the degree to which humans are in control of their actions, or rather, the degree to which they maintain the illusion of control. Beginning in the late 1970s, her studies showed that mindless behaviour was far more widespread than people liked to believe. Psychologists have been aware for at least a century that some complicated behaviour is performed automatically, without conscious deliberation. According to Dr Langer, 50, ”When in this automated mode, we take in and use limited signals from the world around us without letting other signals penetrate as well.” To put it simply, we tend to be ignorant about any other factor when working on a routine job. In her recent work, she has followed up her studies of mindlessness by working on its antidote – mindful attitude and how to cultivate it. Hailed as ‘mother of mindfulness’ in the West, she has written a number of books on the subject, namely, Mindfulness – The Power of Mindful Learning, On Becoming an Artist – Reinventing Yourself Through Mindful Creativity, and Counterclockwise – Mindful Health and the Power of Possibility. Her latest book, Wiley Mindfulness Handbook, argues that traditional methods of learning can produce mindless behaviour because they tend to get people to overlearn a fact or a task and suggest that there is only one way to do it. She argues that it is important to teach skills and facts with the awareness that more than one approach exists. Based in Massachusetts, she has written extensively on mindful ageing, decision making, illusion of control, and health. Her work revolving around the significant effects of increasing mindful behaviour gives hope to millions across the world.
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