Mindfulness - Ellen Langer

Mindfulness - Ellen Langer

Video Book Summary

Download all of the Mind Maps here.

Book Summary Notes


“One day, at a nursing home in Connecticut, elderly residents were each given a choice of houseplants to care for and were asked to make a number of small decisions about their daily routines."

"A year and a half later, not only were these people more cheerful, active, and alert than a similar group in the same institution who were not given these choices and responsibilities, but many more of them were still alive. In fact, less than half as many of the decision-making, plant- minding residents had died as had those in the other group. This experiment, with its startling results, began over ten years of research into the powerful effects of what my colleagues and I came to call mindfulness, and of its counterpart, the equally powerful but destructive state of mindlessness."

"Unlike the exotic ‘altered states of consciousness’ that we read so much about, mindfulness and mindlessness are so common that few of us appreciate their importance or make use of their power to change our lives. This book is about the psychological and physical costs we pay because of pervasive mindlessness and, more important, about the benefits of greater control, richer options, and transcended limits that mindfulness can make possible.”

Mindfulness and Mindlessness are extremely common..

Every find yourself day dreaming about some thing in the future?  

What about replaying something that happened in the past?

Or my personal favorite worrying about something that may or may not happen!

That is Mindlessness and most often (if we don't practice Mindfulness) it's our minds default state..

What about feeling fully engaged in a conversation?

Perhaps a specific task stops your mind from wondering like playing a sport or reading a good book?

Maybe when you go for a hike you can find peace and focus on the beauty around you?

That is Mindfulness and as Ellen demonstrated in the excerpt above it's pretty important..

This Mind Map is all about everyday Mindfulness!

The book was actually written before the concept of Mindfulness went mainstream.. 

The focus is more on an Eastern tradition of Mindfulness than the traditional Western more meditative traditions.

How Far Can We Run?

“When we think of resources being limited, we often think of our own abilities. Here, too, our notion of limits may inhibit us. We may push ourselves to what we believe are our limits, in swimming, public speaking, or mathematics. However, whether they are true limits is not determinable."

"It may be in our best interest to proceed as though these and other abilities might be improved upon, so that at least we will not be deterred by false limits. It was once assumed that humans could not run the mile in fewer than five minutes. In 1922 it was said to be ‘humanly impossible’ to run the mile in less than four minutes. In 1952 that limit was broken by Roger Bannister. Each time a record is broken, the supposed limit is extended. Yet the notion of limits persists.”

“Research like these vision studies highlights the dangers of setting limits for ourselves. For instance, I’ve asked my students: What is the greatest distance it is humanly possible to run in one spurt? Because they know the marathon is twenty-six miles, they use that number to start and then guess that we probably haven’t reached the limit, so they answer around thirty-two miles. The Tarahumura, of Copper Canyon in Mexico, can run up to two hundred miles. If we are mindful, we don’t assume limits from past experience have to determine present experience.”

What would you be capable of if you didn't put limits on yourself?

This isn't about the normal 'self help' dribble of 'if you can dream it you can do it'

  • Phrases like that are little more than platitudes..  Even if they may be true!
  • Instead what Ellen is saying here is..  Let's be Mindful of our limits!

Where can you see limits in your own life?

  • What have you not done because you thought you couldn't?
  • What have you stopped early because you thought you had done all you could?

If you're anything like me..  Or my coaching clients you will have an entire list!

So what do we do with the limits?

  • First it's helpful to accept them for what they are..  Beliefs you picked up about your ability or what is possible!
  • Second it's helpful to challenge them..  Are those beliefs true?
  • Third it's helpful to note that when you challenge them they quickly go away..  
  • Fourth it's good to bring this to your everyday life..  As limiting beliefs often pop up out of what seems like nowhere!  (That is where Mindfulness comes in). 

Are you struggling with limiting beliefs?

Coaching is one of the best ways to not only find them but overcome them..  

I'll buy you your first coaching session ($100 Value) because I know it will help you as much as it has helped me!

How vs Can

“In contrast, a process orientation . . . asks ‘How do I do it?’ instead of ‘Can I do it?’ and this directs attention toward defining the steps that are necessary on the way."

"This orientation can be characterized in terms of the guiding principle that there are no failures, only ineffective solutions.”

Sometimes the path between our Point A and our desired Point B can seem impossible to pass!

This can cause us to quit before we've even started the journey..  

  • Makes sense right?
  • The human mind is a master at saving calories..  And if something seems impossible we might spend a lot of energy on it for no reward!

However..  As we all know!  In today's day and age (especially as entrepreneurs) we have to start things before we're sure we can accomplish it!

  • That's why focusing on the process or the step by step of what we might need to do to achieve our Point B is much more helpful..  
  • This however takes quite a lot of Mindfulness..  You will have to catch you mind in it's normal state of Mindlessly focusing on the outcome vs the next step!

There may be failure along the way..  And if you're Mindless you will let it turn you away!

  • But if you focus on staying Mindful and looking for the next step you might just be able to keep going!
  • Failures are not failures they are our best learning opportunity..  But it takes Mindfulness to make that true!

Step One

“A true process orientation also means being aware that every outcome is preceded by a process. Graduate students forget this all the time." 

"They begin their dissertations with inordinate anxiety because they have seen other people’s completed and polished work and mistakenly compare it to their own first tentative steps."

"With their noses deep in file cards and half-baked hypotheses, they look in awe at Dr. So-and-so’s published book as if it had been born without effort or false starts, directly from brain to printed page. By investigating how someone got somewhere, we are more likely to see the achievement as hard-won and our own chances as more plausible.”

Don't compare your step one to someone else's step two hundred..  

Even the people you look up to the most started somewhere..  

  • Sometimes they stated somewhere even worse than you are!
  • But instead of spending time worrying about what other people were doing..  They got to work and got better!  
  • They became the person who people look up too..  

So how is this Mindfulness?

  • Well..  The normal Mindless mind spends it's time worrying about how it looks!
  • Looking at other people and 'how they are better' is one of our Mindless Minds favorite passtimes.. 
  • Being Mindful allows us to separate from that..  Focus on the task at hand!

Check out my book summary of Mindset by Carol Dweck she goes over this phenomenon in great detail..  Maybe one of the most underrated books on this channel!


“Trying to remain mindful in all that we do may seem exhausting. In many talks I’ve given over the years, people shudder when I say we should be mindful virtually all the time. They think it’s hard work." 

"I believe that being mindful is not hard, but rather it may seem hard because of the anxious self-evaluation we add. ‘What if I can’t figure it out?’ Anxiety causes stress, and stress is exhausting. Mindfulness is not."

"Being mindful allows us to be joyfully engaged in what we are doing. Time races by, and we feel fully alive. It can be physically strenuous, but also great fun. We did a study in which we had two groups of people do the same task: rate cartoons. One group was introduced to the task as work and another as play. The first group found that their minds wandered, and they clearly were not having fun. The group who approached the very same task as if it were a game enjoyed the entire experience.”

One thing I hate about personal development..  Most people think it has to all be pressure and work!

This had me stuck for YEARS!

  • I thought every productivity hack I tried or personal development trick I found had to be hard..
  • This made them hard!  I would choose to do things that were difficult for me..  Then when I failed immediately I would beat myself up!  
  • I know many of you can relate..  Every single coaching client I have ever had can!  Quite often I play a song for them at the end of our coaching session and it moves us both to tears..  (Ask me to play it for you in our session). 

What if we treated personal development as play instead?  What would that look like!

  • Well for one we wouldn't have the zero sum game that we quite often get..  'Either I'm on the plan or I'm off it' 
  • Two we wouldn't have the pressure we put on ourself..  Play happens for play's sake and the outcome doesn't effect whether the play was worth it or not!
  • Play leads to Flow which can make us 5x more productive..  But if we are rigid with ourselves and Mindless about our actions we'll never reach Flow!

Doesn't seem worth it does it!  

Check out the book summary I did on Flow.

My coach is probably the best person I have ever seen at treating everything like play..

  • He has this way of getting amazing results..  But not being attached to the outcome!
  • Over the year or so I have worked with him we've worked deeply on this and I am slowly becoming better and better!
  • Coaching works..  Much faster, more efficient and reliably than reading more books!


“The more we realize that most of our views of ourselves, of others, and of presumed limits regarding our talents, our health, and our happiness were mindlessly accepted by us at an earlier time in our lives, the more we open up to the realization that these too can change. And all we need do to begin the process is to be mindful.”

Where all personal development SHOULD start..

The Dali Llama once said: “One begins identifying those factors which lead to happiness and those factors which lead to suffering. Having done this, one then sets about gradually eliminating those factors which lead to suffering and cultivating those which lead to happiness. That is the way.”

I believe that when we start our personal development journey we're often listening to our Mindless Mind..

  • It's pointing out things that are limiting us, making us less than others or that we're really far away from our goal!
  • This often causes us to setup a perverse incentive..  Where even if we do get better we're going to beat ourselves up more!  (So often we just quit immediately)

Does that sound like you?  If so I recommend you start with Mindfulness..  

  • Not only should you listen to your thoughts..  But be free to question them!  Learn from them..  
  • And once you've identified the things that make you happy or the things that cause suffering..  Eliminating them will be much easier!
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