Thinking. Being mindful part II
Ellen Langer from Harvard University is the guru on mindfulness - and its counterpart of mindlessness -according to the seminars I've been listening to.
She has done numerous experiments in the area and written a good number of books detailing her work.
One experiment involved a person pretending to ask for help on a busy street. She told the people who stopped for her that she had sprained her ankle. Could they help her? Could they go to the pharmacy close by and get her an ACE bandage? That's what she needed for a sprain.
Langer, waiting inside reading to listen, had already instructed the pharmacist to tell the people who came in that he was all sold out of ACE bandages.
What would you do in that situation? Would you insist on an ACE bandage? Would you try to find something else that might work? Would you ask the pharmacist what he recommended?
25 subjects ended up taking part in this experiments. Not one of them asked the pharmacist for something else. Every single one left the pharmacy and went back to the 'sprain victim' empty handed.
There are four important dimensions of mindfulness, according to Langer.
Flexibility is where a person can see a situation from multiple perspectives.
Novelty-seeking and engagement are where a person seek learning opportunities by awareness.
Novelty-producing is where a person creates new information by making associations where none or few existed before.
So a mindful person in Langer's experiment would have been engaged with the problem and wanting to help solve it, would have been flexible to try different approaches with the pharmacist, or even the sprain victim, and would be able to join different pieces of information together to come up with an original solution.
"Oh, no ACE bandage? I wonder what else would be great for a sprain. What do you recommend? What's the equivalent of an ACE bandage? Where else could I go for help? etc etc"
How often do we give up when the easy answer to the problem does not immediately present itself, or when we run into a couple of obstacles?