Ellen Langer, PhD: Priestess of Possibility



Ellen Langer, PhD: Priestess of Possibility

Original Art by Ellen Langer.

Not only do we as individuals get locked into single-minded views, but we also reinforce these views for each other until the culture itself suffers the same mindlessness. ~ Ellen Langer, PhD


I am a big fan of Ellen Langer.  I call her the “Priestess of Possibility.”  Since I call myself an “Agent of Possibility” that is close to being God in my book.  I revere her because she lives by never accepting “No” for an answer.  When she hears, “No,” she asks, “Why not?”

Changing Mindsets Results in New Possibilities

I have bought multiple copies of her books and have given them to the people I care about.  I have been using her original research, which she wrote about in her book Mindlfulness, in training managers and in my classes with students who were in the organizational management program at Antioch University Santa Barbara.  Now my students who are studying for their Masters in Social Work at the USC School of Social Work Virtual Academic Center have found the research in Counterclockwise to be a mind-opener.  Hardly a coaching session goes by with an executive or someone looking to make changes in their life, that I don’t share something from Ellen Langer’s work that helps them to see new possibilities.

What is so compelling about Ellen Langer’s work?  By helping us understand how and why we need to challenge our mindsets, those taken-for-granted assumptions that color our experience of the world, she opens a world of new possibilities.


Her research is stunning.  For example, in Counterclockwise, she explains how, by creating an elaborate context for crotchety 80 year old men to feel 20 years younger, they actually become younger as a result.  One week after the men got off their Langer Retreat bus with canes and walkers they left not only feeling, looking, and acting younger—even playing touch football– but their eye sight improved!

Ellen Langer sends her own students off with a prescription for life that she calls GLADO.  It is simple and worth considering.  She has the research to back it up.  Reprinted from her blog with her permission is Ellen Langer’s GLADO.

GLADO by Ellen Langer, PhD

[Tweet “Learn the #EllenLanger recipe for a happy life #GLADO”]

For the past ten years I’ve ended my courses with one version or another of a powerpoint presentation of photos of my paintings with the most course appropriate one-liners as a way to help celebrate the end of the semester and to provide an easy way to remember some of the course highlights. The one-liners were culled from years of research. They include such sayings as “Predict Today and Lose Tomorrow” to remind them of the illusion of predictability and how our predictions lead to expectations that give us tunnel vision and may prevent noticing the unpredicted, for example.

There is also a message hidden in many of the sayings that I bring to light to underscore what I feel as a personal responsibility to convey to them and feel comfortable doing so since it is a send-off celebration. The message is my recipe for a happy successful life. It is not based directly on research nor theory. Still it feels right to me.

The recipe is the acronym, GLADO. The prescription is be Generous, Loving, Authentic, Direct, and Open and well being should result. It implicitly follows from years of research on Mindfulness. The mindful understanding that behavior makes sense from the actor’s perspective or else s/he wouldn’t have done it, leads us to be less evaluative of others and ourselves. As such, it removes the impediments to generosity, caring, authenticity, being direct and not fearing being open and true to ourselves.

If we practice this way of being, will all failure and rejection or open personal attack be a thing of the past? Probably not. It would be nice not to have to endure the trials and tribulations we suffer from time to time. But after all, many people out there are not embracing whatever wisdom this simple acronym holds. If we stay the course, we very well may avert some unpleasant episodes and certainly recover more quickly from others.

GLADO is easy to remember, and years later many students tell me that they call it to mind when they are feeling insecure or angry. To some this will seem like pabulum. I think they don’t realize that it’s hard to be soft. To them I say, “ try it and see.”

Ellen Langer

Ellen Langer, Yale PhD, Harvard Professor of Psychology, artist. Among other honors, she is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and three Distinguished Scientist Awards, the World Congress Award, the NYU Alumni Achievement Award, and the Staats award for Unifying Psychology, and has authored eleven books and over 200 research articles on the illusion of control, perceived control, successful aging, decision-making, to name a few of the topics. Each of these is examined through the lens of her theory of mindfulness. Her research has demonstrated that by actively noticing new things—the essence of mindfulness—health, well being, and competence follow. Her bestselling books include Mindfulness; The Power of Mindful Learning; On Becoming an Artist: Reinventing Yourself Through Mindful Creativity; and her most recent book, Counterclockwise: Mindful Health and the Power of Possibility.  Read more of Ellen Langer’s work and see her art at www.ellenlanger.com.

Want to learn more about Ellen Langer on the web?

Watch her explain mindfulness in this short Seeing the Roses video

Listen to the NPR Interview about how her research with Chamber Maids Challenges the Placebo Effect

Read the “Art of Living Mindfully” in the Chronicle of Higher Education

If you would like a complimentary session to discuss how coaching might help you to shift to possibility mode you can schedule a session at the website of Dr. Lynn K. Jones.

P.S.  Thanks in advance to anyone who chooses to add their comments to the discussion or wishes to forward the blog link.  I’m GLADO!!

Dr. Lynn K. Jones
, Certified Personal and Executive Coach

Your Mojo Maven

Dr. Lynn K. Jones is a Certified Personal and Executive Coach based in Santa Barbara, California and a sought after coach and consultant for organizations and individuals across the US.   Her doctoral work completed at the Wurzweiler School of Social Work, Yeshiva University concerned organizational culture; she coaches, consults and trains organizations on what they need to do to create organizational cultures that are aligned with their vision and values using a process of Appreciative Inquiry.  She coaches individuals on achieving their reflected best selves.  An MSW@USC faculty member, Dr. Lynn K. Jones, MSW, DSW, CSWM, teaches Human Behavior and Social Environment.




  1. Steve Loraine on November 25, 2011 at 9:17 pm

    Great article. One I would like to link our clients to so that they can appreciate Ellen Langer, and of course, Dr Lynn!

    • Executive Coach on November 26, 2011 at 3:12 am

      Awesome, Steve. I would love for your clients to be introduced to Ellen Langer and to be part of my network!

  2. Emily C. on November 27, 2011 at 12:56 am

    I’m so happy you introduced our class to Dr. Langer’s work. She has revolutionized the way I view the human mind. I’ve already adapted some of her principles to my own life, and I look forward to using them in future clinical practice.

    I believe Goethe sums it up best, “If we treat people as they are, we make them worse. If we treat people as they ought to be, we help them become what they are capable of becoming”.

    • Executive Coach on November 27, 2011 at 2:19 am

      Goethe’s quote really sums it up beautifully, Emily. Thank you for sharing that! I am truly thrilled that your learning about Langer in our class “revolutionized” the way you think about the human mind! That is more than a social work professor could hope for and I have much gratitude that Ellen Langer came into my life so that I could share it with you!
      Dr. Jones

  3. michelle on November 26, 2011 at 8:41 pm

    Likewise, Your post is a wonderful introduction to Ellen’s work. I am also a fan! Thanks for sharing.
    will FB and Twitter your message 🙂

  4. Calla Gold on November 28, 2011 at 11:06 pm

    This is great! I love her message, and GLADO is a great acronym to live by.

    • Executive Coach on November 28, 2011 at 11:44 pm

      I agree. She is right that it is easier said than done, but well worth the effort! My sense is that you live, by GLADO, Calla Gold! 🙂

  5. Pam on November 30, 2011 at 11:40 pm

    Wow, Lynn! With the triad of Dr. Langer’s work, Nancy Kline’s work (Time to Think and More Time to Think), and Appreciative Inquiry one could have quite an array of techniques for living a positive life. Any of them pose some challenges for change and it’s interesting to me to see how the theories are connected.

    • Executive Coach on December 1, 2011 at 1:03 am

      You are right, Pam, they are very much interrelated. our mindsets, the way we think about and understand our situations, is at the vortex of the triad!

  6. AO on December 9, 2011 at 5:47 pm

    I like the GLADO idea but to truly know what each mean- Generous, Loving, Authentic, Direct and Open- is something else. I now know I had the wrong idea of what compassion was.

    Is it just me that doesn’t know what each of these truly mean?

    • Executive Coach on December 10, 2011 at 4:36 pm

      Think about how you respond with your mindsets and then ask yourself, can I be more Generous, Loving, Authentic, Direct and Open in my response?–using your own definition of those terms. So for example, someone says something that irritates you, ask yourself rather than irritation can I respond with GLADO? You might then say to yourself, “he must be having a rough day…” and then dismiss your own irritation because that is not an appropriate response to someone that is having a rough day. Hope that makes sense, but it is that kind of reflection on our knee-jerk automatic responses that I think Langer is talking about here.
      Thanks for asking a great question!

  7. Keisha on January 1, 2012 at 1:10 pm

    Dr. Langer’s philosophy of never accepting “No” for an answer has me sold on wanting to read her book. Throughout my life, I have lived by this philosophy. I have been told by various people what I can’t do as well as being rejected for different things. However, I did not allow a “No” or a rejection to deter me. I believe that there is more than one way to accomplishing a task or goal.

    In addition, Dr. Langer’s suggestion of noticing new things in its parts rather than as a whole object helps a person to be more appreciative and opened. It enables a person not to develop a single mind point of view or tunnel vision. Actually, it reinforces Dr. Langer’s philosophy of never accepting “No.” Dr. Langer’s philosophy certainly does positions a person to opportunities of possibilities.

    • Executive Coach on January 2, 2012 at 9:38 am

      Langer’s book is a great read for the new year, Keisha. I think you will find that it exceeds your expectations and that your mind will truly be opened to new possibilities and opportunities. You’ll be more GLADO and good can only come from that!

  8. Sandra on March 6, 2012 at 9:16 pm

    Thank you for introducing Dr. Langer. I’m a big fan of acronyms, I always have been. Interestingly my work life is filled with acronyms therefore GLADO makes sense to me, and its simple to remember! I appreciate the Very positive message.

    • Executive Coach on March 14, 2012 at 1:19 pm

      GLADO, Sandra! All the best to you as you incorporate being more generous, loving, authenticity, directness and openness in your life!

  9. […] in advance to anyone who chooses to add their comments to the discussion or wishes to forward the blog […]

  10. […] Not too surprising, considering what Ellen Langer has shown us about mindsets and their powerful ability to influence how we live our lives.  (See my recent guest blog post, Ellen Langer: Priestess of Possibility.) […]

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