In this blog, let’s do a little bit of psychology hacking. There is an amazing Harvard psychology professor called Ellen Langer and, in the early eighties, she founded this whole new way of thinking about mindfulness. It’s very important that we consider how we label important parts of our life.
Langer started by focusing on the way that we label aging and performed a study. She took a group of 90-year-old-men and drove them two hours north of where they were living to a facility that contained everything that would be familiar twenty years ago –newspapers, appliances, etc.– and she told the subjects, “You need to act like it was twenty years ago. So, read the newspaper like it was today’s newspaper and discuss it in the same way that you would with the other people who are here with you.”
The amazing thing is, after these subjects left the facility, they were tested by doctors who had no idea what they had just done and it turns out that, on a variety of metrics, they tested like they were 20 years younger. Things like endurance, memory, strength. It turns out that the way that we label these things –in this case, aging– is incredibly powerful.
Let’s turn to how we can do this for the world of work. Many people associate work with some relatively negative emotions or just feel like work is a real slog; something that you really have to do. So, I’ve been experimenting with labeling my work as evolution. So, rather than going to work, I go to evolve. That takes energy, but it’s something that I associate more positive things with than working.
I challenge you to do the same thing. Take an area of your life that you currently label as something that’s really negative and then try to read label it with something that has more energy… more possibility for change and see what that does for you.
I’m going to go ahead and link to two articles that you can get on Ellen Langer. One of them is an article in Harvard Magazine and the other one is a podcast, where one of my favorite journalists interviews Dr. Langer at length about this study of mindfulness and labeling.