Ellen LangerOn January 27, 2017, we had a question-and-answer call with renowned Harvard psychologist, Dr. Ellen J. Langer, author of Mindfulness, The Art of Noticing and The Power of Mindful Learning.

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Take a brilliant, creative social scientist, without any respect for conventional wisdom and you get Ellen Langer. She is a fantastic storyteller, and Counterclockwise is a fascinating story about the unexpected ways in which our minds and bodies are connected. – Dan Ariely, Ph.D., author of Predictably Irrational

Ben had delightful interview with Dr. Ellen Langer in October, 2010, covering her research over the last 40 years and her most recent book at the time, Counterclockwise: Mindful Health and the Power of Possibility. The book turned out to be a best seller. Ellen’s warmth, spontaneity, authenticity, and sparking intellect made for an engaging and popular interview—a great resource in MentorCoach’s Thought Leader library.

Now, Ellen joins Ben and the MentorCoach community again to discuss her newest two books, The Power of Mindful Learning and The Art of Noticing. She is a social psychologist who defines mindfulness with counterintuitive simplicity: the simple act of actively noticing things — with a result of increased health, competence, and happiness. Her take on mindfulness has never involved contemplation or meditation or yoga. Instead, it comes straight out of her provocative, unconventional and unique research studies, which have been suggesting for four decades what neuroscience is pointing at now: our experience of everything is formed by the words and beliefs and interpretations we attach to them.

The Power of Mindful Learning

The Power of Mindful LearningRadical in its implications, this original and important work may change forever the views we hold about the nature of learning. It is a follow-up to the Ellen Langer’s classic work detailed in Mindfulness. In The Power of Mindful Learning, Ellen uses her innovative theory of mindfulness to explore negative effects of mindlessness in education and to offer solutions for how we can dramatically enhance the way we learn.

In business, sports, laboratories, or at home, Ellen argues our learning is hobbled by certain antiquated and pervasive misconceptions. Ellen lists, explores and then one-by-one debunks the 7 pervasive myths or mindsets that undermine learning. Such familiar notions as delayed gratification, “the basics”, or even the “right answers”, are among the incapacitating myths which she explodes one by one.

In this pithy, liberating, and delightful book she gives us a fresh, new view of learning in the broadest sense. The myths are replaced with her concept of mindful or conditional learning which she demonstrates, with fascinating examples from her research, to be extraordinarily effective.

She presents the basis of what she terms “sideways learning”: openness to novelty; alertness to distinction; sensitivity to different context; implicit, if not explicit awareness of multiple perspectives; and orientation in the present.

Her research studies on the application of these principles have startling results. Mindful learning takes place with an awareness of context and of the ever-changing nature of information. Learning without this awareness, as she shows convincingly, has severely limited us and often sets us up for failure.

With stunning applications to skills as diverse as paying attention, CPR, investment analysis, psychotherapy, and playing a musical instrument, The Power of Mindful Learning is for all who are curious and intellectually adventurous.

And it is a critical, research-based contribution to the field of education—for teachers and trainers of any subject, and for coaches dedicated to asking powerful questions.

Praise for The Power of Mindful Learning

All of us who write books about psychology for a popular audience are aware that we stand on the shoulders of giants, and Ellen Langer is one of those giants.” —Malcolm Gladwell, author of Blink

No one in the history of psychology has done more than Ellen Langer in showing the power mindfulness can give us over our health and happiness.” —Philip Zimbardo, Stanford University, author of Shyness

Ellen J Langer offers a path to relief: a fresh, thoughtful plea—and one that is notably free of ‘edubable’—for exploring strategies of teaching and learning that are more engaging to students.New York Times Book Review

The Art of Noticing

Published in 2014, this book is an experiential, visual culmination of research on mindlessness and mindfulness Ellen has conducted over the past 35 years. A basic message of her research is the discovery that when we become more mindful, it positively contributes to our happiness, health and effectiveness. Each of the one-liners in this book has been derived from Ellen’s findings.

Ellen has also created the art accompanying the one-liners over more than 17 years. Pairing the art and one-liners enables the “reader” to think about life in the moment—as a sort of prompt to fully live out each moment in a truly mindful life. The book has been described as an “artful summary” of her mindfulness theory, and is literally and figuratively enlivening. Thinking about the meaning of each pairing of art and mindfulness discovery itself promotes mindfulness and encourages us to live a more artful, creative life.


Ellen Langer, PhD is a Social Psychologist who was born in the Bronx and grew up in New York City. She received her B.A. from New York University and her Ph.D. from Yale. She has been a Professor of Psychology at Harvard University since 1977 and in 1981 was the first female professor ever to gain tenure in the Psychology Department there.

Ellen is the author of eleven books and more than 200 research articles on mindfulness written over 35 years for general and academic readers on such topics as the illusion of control, perceived control, stress, successful and mindful aging, and decision-making. Each of these topics is examined through the lens of her theory of mindfulness. Her research has demonstrated that when we actively notice new things—the essence of mindfulness—then health, well-being and competence follow. Her books are required reading in many introductory psychology classes across the United States.

Ellen’s quartet of Mindfulness books (Mindfulness, The Power of Mindful Learning, On Becoming an Artist: Reinventing Yourself Through Mindful Creativity, and Counterclockwise: Mindful Health and the Power of Possibility) is internationally known, having been translated into 18 languages. The Wiley Mindfulness Handbook, published in 2014, is an anthology on mindfulness in which leading researchers integrate work derived from her western scientific theoretical base of mindfulness with research on eastern derived forms of meditation.

Dr. Langer has been described as the “mother of mindfulness” and has had a significant effect on the field of positive psychology. Among other honors, she is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and three Distinguished Scientist Awards, the World Congress Award, the NYU Alumni Achievement Award, and the Staats award for Unifying Psychology, the Distinguished Contributions of Basic Science to Applied Psychology award from the American Association of Applied & Preventive Psychology, the Adult Development and Aging Distinguished Research Achievement Award from the American Psychological Association, the James McKeen Cattel Award, and the Gordon Allport Intergroup Relations Prize.

The citation for the APA distinguished contributions award reads, in part, “…her pioneering work revealed the profound effects of increasing mindful behavior…and offers new hope to millions whose problems were previously seen as unalterable and inevitable. Ellen Langer has demonstrated repeatedly how our limits are of our own making.”

Ellen has been an international guest speaker in countries including Japan, Malaysia, Germany, Australia, Mexico, Switzerland, Argentina and China. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts and in her second home in Puerto Vallarta.

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