Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Plus Side of Problems-Mindfulness

Starting in my 20’s, my mother would at various times (like my birthday) pass on the advise of her mother and her very elderly aunts, of which two lived into their 100s and another well into their 90s. “Have a little something wrong with you.  Not enough to kill you, but enough to make you think about what your doing.”

The older I become, the better I understand this advise. Due to various aches and ills, I’m a lot more mindful of what I eat, how I exercise etc. etc. I’ve noticed that when I’m fully present, not only do I remember things better, but I figure out solutions to problems, am more sensitive to the people I’m interacting with and ultimately my sense of well-being and contentment, is significantly increased.

While aging has certainly made me more mindful, the real key to learning how to do it came about as I was trying to solve a costume problem.

Our town was celebrating its 250th anniversary and I needed to make a number of Revolutionary period men’s outfits. I was stumped about how to make a “shirt waist.” I decided to take a close look at how men’s shirts were made, and stared at every male that walked into the gym where I was working out. After observing the first two men, I had it figured out.

In the course of any given day, I saw lots of men in shirts, but I wasn’t paying attention. By focusing and being mindful, I was able to solve my problem in less than 10 minutes. Finding that solution, gave me a burst of energy and enthusiasm the rest of the day.

Problems, mistakes and negative experiences have a purpose, whether they are apparent at the time or not. It’s how you approach them that makes the difference. According to Dr. Ellen Langer, the Harvard researcher, specializing in mindfulness, “We suffer from an illusion of certainty and would prosper from realizing that since everything is always changing and everything looks different from different perspectives, this ‘certainty’ is mindless and robs us of control.”

Langer specializes in non-meditative mindfulness, which she defines as the continuous creation of new categories; openness to new information; and an implicit awareness of more than one perspective. (Langer, 1997, The Power of Mindful Learning p. 4).

From her research on mindfulness in people living with chronic conditions, Langer concluded three things: "The first is you see you don't have it all the time, so it's not quite as bad as you thought. You know, people are depressed, they think they're depressed all the time. No one is anything all the time. People who are dyslexic, it turns out that most words, over 90 percent of the words, they're reading they tend to read correctly, yet they define themselves by their illness.

"So what happens is first you see you're not as bad as you thought you were. Second, by seeing that sometimes it's better, sometimes it's worse leads you to ask the question — well, why? And you may well come up with a solution. And the third, even if you don't, that whole process is mindful, and the 35-or-so years of research we've done shows that that kind of noticing new things leads to health and longevity." Thinking Counter Clockwise to BeatStress.” 

To develop mindfulness, Langer recommends five steps:
 • Seek out, create and notice new things
• Realize how behavior can be understood differently in different contexts:  All statements can be true based on the context in which they are delivered.
• Reframe mistakes into successes. How can a failure  be helpful to you in another way.
• Be aware that stress-indeed all emotion-is a result of our views about events.
• Be authentic. Be true to yourself.

Learn more about mindfulness, as described by Langer:

Mindfulness in theAge of Complexity: Harvard Business Review The Magazine March 2014 Interview with Ellen Langer 

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