Ellen Langer had a message for the world's elite in Davos: get 'mindful', and you will be more successful in your job, live longer, be more attractive and even get on better with your dog.
'Almost all of us is mindless, and oblivious to it,' Langer, a Harvard social psychology professor, told AFP at the World Economic Forum, an annual gathering of the world's political and business big-hitters high in the Swiss Alps.
AdvertisementMuch of what we think we believe, we learned as a child, and to lead a fuller life you should never stop questioning what you do and looking at things in a new light, she says.
'I don't know about you but if you think you've all grown into such magnificent people, it may be a little scary to learn that much of what you are doing, seeing and believing is a function of your very young self,' Langer said in a talk to a small and varied Davos audience.
Your mind plays tricks on you as a result, often to your detriment, as Langer's many examples from three decades of research show.
In her most recent study, she divided in two a group of 50 chambermaids -- workers with a strenuous job -- all of whom she says were under the misconception that they were doing no exercise. She then explained to half of them how much they were in fact doing. The other half she left alone.
A month later Langer came back and found that the health of the first half had improved -- and with no discernable change in lifestyle and diet -- while the second group had stayed the same.
'We find a loss of weight, loss of waist-to-hip ratio, loss of Body Mass Index -- in significant numbers even though they're not enormous -- and a drop in blood pressure,' she says.
'That was the result in a change in mindset.'
Eyecharts at the doctors are usually arranged with large letters progressively getting smaller as you read, creating the expectation in the mind that soon you're not going to be able to make out any more letters.
Langer redesigned the eyechart, with small letters going to larger letters, creating the expectation that soon you will be able to make out the letters.
'What do we find? People can see what they couldn't see before,' Langer says.
Being 'mindful' can increase health and wellbeing on a host of measures, her three decades of research have shown, from confidence, creativity, and charisma to attention spans, leadership and productivity.
And everything from arthritis, stress and alcoholism to burnout, symptoms of disease to accidents fall, she says.
And it can also improve the reaction of others to you, whether they be customers, colleagues, potential partners, children or even animals, she told her audience.
So how do you become mindful?
'The concept itself is very simple, it is the act of noticing new things. That's all,' Langer says.
'What you have to do is throw yourself into some new activity. In my case it was painting. If you throw yourself into it you will feel that feeling of full engagement. That's the way you should feel all the time. Everybody gets that feeling but they think that that is unusual.
But it's not what you do but how you do it, she warns: 'You can watch TV mindfully but you can read Dostoyevsky mindlessly.'
Sessions in Davos are mostly more mundane in nature -- sovereign wealth funds, future trends in mobile technology, ethanol biofuels and the like -- and Langer's talk drew a crowd wanting some light relief.
'I have been in lots of heavy duty sessions this Davos. This is my fun one,' said Mark, a Texan software marketing executive sporting a bow tie.