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You’ve been Langerified—make abundance and attention your default mindset.

5 principles learned from a 77-year-old Harvard psychologist.

Welcome to Stretch, your guide to experimenting with your mental, emotional, and physical performance. 3 editions per month + guaranteed to teach you something new about your mind and body.

⏪ Last edition, we spoke about Interoception and the skill of sensing your own heartbeat. Literally listen to your heart to make better decisions. Catch up on that here.

⏩ Today, we’re talking about what we can learn from Dr. Ellen Langer, a badass 77-year-old who urges us to pay more attention and look at the world through a lens of abundance.

You’ve been Langerified—make abundance and attention your default mindset.

Have you ever caught yourself scrolling through LinkedIn or Instagram and suddenly feeling bad about yourself?

I experienced this the other day after reading another writer's flashy update about their newsletter growth. I could feel envy creep in as my stomach dropped. “It’s unfair that they’re growing so fast and I’m not.”

I spotted this (very self-pitying and unhelpful) thought and asked myself:

“What would Dr. Langer say to me right now?”

Ellen Langer is a psychology professor at Harvard University, where she’s been conducting research on mindfulness for over 40 years. I don’t know her personally, but I’ve been binging all her recent podcast interviews and reading her books, and here’s what I imagine she’d tell me:

Comparison is mindless. You don’t know anything about this writer’s background. You’re only seeing a tiny fraction of his story and you’re looking through the lens of a single perspective: yours!

She's absolutely right.

When we don’t pay attention, negative thoughts can color our mood without us fully realizing why or how. According to Dr. Langer, this happens all the time because most of us operate in a state of mindlessness, reacting automatically based on a single rigid perspective.

Her definition of mindfulness is incredibly simple (and has nothing to do with traditional meditation or Buddhism): pay attention. She says the world is infinitely abundant, but we miss most of it, because our minds frequently wander; we react automatically and habitually; and we overlook the richness of our surroundings.

I’ve distilled what I’ve learned from her into five principles to help me pay attention and look at the world through a lens of abundance.

5 principles I’ve learned from Dr. Ellen Langer

1. Rigidly following a set of rules and being mindful are, by definition, incompatible.

For any creative project, the general unspoken rule is “Growth = good. No growth = bad.”

If I mindlessly follow that thinking for my newsletter, I feel bad about myself. I question what the point is. But if I’m mindful and I pay attention to what matters to me, I give myself the option to think about this very differently.

Why do I write this newsletter? Because it’s an incredible way to learn through writing, share ideas and connect with people I would otherwise never meet. How fast it’s growing is irrelevant for those goals.

In every area of life, it’s important to pay attention to which rules we’re following and whether they make sense for what we’re trying to do. Blindly following rules and expectations limits our experiences and growth. The key is noticing when we're acting on autopilot and having the courage to consciously choose a different way.

2. Don’t limit your potential by sticking to existing categories. Create a new category.

We experience the world by creating categories and making distinctions among them. “This is right, that is wrong.” “I’m too old for that, you’re too young for this.” “This is trendy, that’s passé.” In this way, we make a picture of the world, and of ourselves. Without categories, the world might seem to escape us.

The problem is: categories also trap us.

Mindlessness sets in when we rely too rigidly on categories and distinctions created in the past. We become blind to the fact that these are constructs; ideas created by other people.

By sticking to existing categories, we’re holding ourselves back.

I can sometimes feel a bit silly about my writing. “Creating educational content around breathwork and body-based productivity.” I don’t have a medical or science degree. Who am I to be writing about this? I’m also not the classic creator/influencer trying to build a large online audience. So what am I trying to do? What’s my category? Who’s footsteps can I follow?

The lack of clear answers to these questions could make me feel like I’m doing it wrong. But then I imagine what Ellen’s response would be: You don’t need anyone’s footsteps. Forget about categories. Create your own category.

3. Always be process-oriented, never outcome-oriented.

“Trying is the whole ballgame. I don't know how this came about, but there’s this massive misunderstanding where people think they want complete success, not knowing that if they had complete success, life would be empty.”—Dr. Langer on the Rich Roll podcast

It’s so easy (mindless) to look at “successful” people and wish that you could just be in their spot.

To Ellen’s point: that would be so boring.

We understand this when it comes to sports. Imagine playing golf and getting a hole-in-one on every single hole. There would be zero challenge in that.

Why would it be any different with work? Having every single project be an immediate and huge success would make things meaningless. The fun comes from the learning, the trying, the failing.

I can find myself looking at other writers or breathwork coaches who are so knowledgeable and eloquent, and wanting to be where they are. But when I pay attention to these thoughts, I realize that the process of studying and writing is the most fun for me. Why would I want to skip this phase?

4. Nobody knows anything.

I recently saw a post from a big-time creator talking about how newsletters are dead. It’s all about video now. This scared me for a minute. All these hours I’m spending on this newsletter. All wasted?

Ellen talks about this radical idea at length in every podcast:

Don’t put people on a pedestal. Don’t be paralyzed by other people’s opinions or predictions. Everything you’re being told, even by “experts”, is an assumption or a probability. It’s being phrased as a certainty because that gets more clicks and views, but nobody knows anything for sure.

So by all means, listen and learn from other people, but don’t mindlessly follow what they’re saying.

5. Regret / stress / comparison is mindless.

Pay close attention to strong and uncomfortable emotions. Don’t just wallow in the feeling or get swept away by it.

Be mindful. What triggered the feeling? Why do you think you’re feeling this way? Are the thoughts true? Are they helpful?

The thoughts and emotions are trying to tell you something, so pay attention.

I’m curious to hear which principle resonated most with you. Is there a situation or question in your life where these principles can help?

If you’re ready to dive deeper into Dr. Langer’s world, I recommend:

What else I’m up to…

  • Kicking off training for my first marathon in November! Super excited. I’m not aiming for a particular time or pace. My only goal is to do the run breathing only through my nose, as much as possible. That’s the main thing I’ll be training for. (Writing more about nasal breathing for runners in a couple of weeks.)

  • Starting a new video experiment. I did something similar last summer (a video per day) and I want to get back into it. Video content will be about body-based productivity, breathwork, and running/marathon training.

Thanks for being here! Any questions, comments, thoughts… just reply to this email. ☀️


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