Mindfulness Chronicles: The Psychology of Possibility
"Mindfulness, she tells the medical school audience, is the process of actively noticing new things, relinquishing preconceived mindsets, and then acting on the new observations. Much of the time, she says, our behavior is mindless. She recounts one of her favorite anecdotes: “I once went to make a purchase and I gave [the cashier] my credit card and she saw it wasn’t signed.” The cashier asked Langer to sign it, which she did, and the cashier then ran it through the machine. When the receipt was generated, she asked Langer to sign that as well. With the newly signed card in one hand, and the receipt in the other, “[the cashier] then compared the two signatures,” Langer says, with deadpan delivery. She nods, as if counting beats, waiting for the audience to catch up. A moment later, the room rumbles with laughter. Mindlessness blinds us to new possibilities, says Langer, and that is what drove her to study its flip side. Often, researchers in psychology describe what is, she explains. “But knowing what is and what can be are not the same things.”
This is what she calls “the psychology of possibility,” and Langer practiced it long before the positive psychology movement—the study of happiness and the best of human nature—came into vogue in the late 1990s (see “The Science of Happiness,” January-February 2007, page 26). Her research, she explains, is designed to break down the well-worn ruts of our thinking."