The Mindful Body, Ellen Langer


September 2023

I wrote about this book for a piece on decision making in The i Paper. Ellen Langer is a Harvard professor of many years standing, and her take on making decisions, big or small, is strikingly simple. You can’t future-proof every decision, she argues, so the best way forward is to make a decision, stick with it, and play it as a positive however things pan out.

An example from my life I mention is leaving London to live in a small town in Kent. Even if, say, it’s not quite as I expected, I don’t know what staying in London would have been like. Except I do, at least I know some things. I know that all my friends have left, that I hate being stuck on the tube, and that the pollution was getting to me, for starters. There are very often as many pros and cons in each tricky decision as the next, so there’s no point either wasting time weighing up a decision, or mourning it afterwards.

I definitely rate this approach, and am trying, trying, trying. Not always easy.

I find the subtitle of the book, Thinking Our Way to Lasting Health, trickier. Langer isn’t just saying, ‘Be positive!’ But she also sort of is. The reasoning, I think, is that as we can’t control our health in many ways, what we can control is our reaction to it. I.e: how we think about our own health, and how well we are. Somewhat unsurprisingly, a positive attitude begets a better body. We want to feed the positivity, rather than dwell in illness. But I’m guessing that plenty of cheery folk misreport their illness. And the big red flag for me is that this approach suggests we can really control our health, which we cannot, and which is so insulting to those with chronic illness.

It is complex, for sure. I know if I am feeling down and then get ill, I am less likely to do any of the sensible things to get better. I also know if I am feeling down and don’t get ill, I am less likely to do any of the things that will keep my body in better shape for longer. But it’s not my fault that I’m feeling down, is it? If only I could counteract the blues with, say, some mindfulness!

Get your copy of The Mindful Body for 99p on Kindle!