Blog PostsPsychology

The Theory of Two Mindsets: Fixed and Growth

[The following is an excerpt from an edited transcript]

…Now we said that consolation,נֶחָמָה  also means to change one’s mind. In one verse it says that God doesn’t change His mind, “the Eternity of Israel does not deceive and does not change His mind for He is not a man to change His mind” (וְגַם נֵצַח יִשְׂרָאֵל לֹא יְשַׁקֵּר וְלֹא יִנָּחֵם, כִּי לֹא אָדָם הוּא לְהִנָּחֵם).

But, like we quoted before from the sages that the Almighty intended to create the world one way with a measure of judgment, but then changed His mind and created it with a measure of compassion. So which is it?

Apparently it’s both. If there are an infinite number of ascents and each ascent involves a reversal of understanding, my whole conceptual scheme reverses from moment to moment. But for the Almighty, both dynamics exist in the present moment, without any dependency on time. Therefore we can say that God is both non-changing and changing all the time. What is non-changing is that in every split second, there is new light, new understanding. At first He created the world with the measure of judgment, then He added the measure of compassion (which He made then precede judgment, as it says, “On the day that Havayah (the Name of Compassion) Elokim (the Name of Judgment) created earth and heavens” (בְּיוֹם עֲשׂוֹת הוי’ אֱ־לֹהִים אֶרֶץ וְשָׁמָיִם).

Now after all this, let’s connect this all with a popular topic in psychology. In English it’s called a mindset, or דְּפוּס חֲשִׁיבָה in Hebrew. Modern idioms in Hebrew are usually translations from English. The most well-known figure in this area today is a professor from Stanford by the name of Carol Dweck. Because consolation is about changing one’s mind, one’s mindset, one’s conceptual scheme, we’ll explain what is said about this in the world, and how to understand this based on the Torah.

Game Theory and Politics

One example, related to the concept of mindsets, and presented before Dweck’s theory, comes from Robert Auhmann, an Israeli professor, who won a Nobel Prize in economics for game theory. We earlier mentioned the idea of the Cold War (between the US and the USSR). Just as every individual possesses his personal mindset, so is there a collective mindset, like the mindset that ruled during the Cold War. The collective mindset is usually very difficult to change. Sometimes, a mindset has some benefit. At the time, there was a mindset that since each of the superpowers had the power to destroy the world a few times over, they would not attack one another. This was of course beneficial, because it kept the world peaceful without nuclear war. This is a good example of how to introduce the concept of a mindset. One important area in game theory is mindsets vis-à-vis politics.

Normally, every person is beset by a particular mindset, or a fixation that they find hard to change. With regard to a collective mindset, the mind of each individual is meant to agree with this mindset, which is like putting the individual into a straightjacket. Our problem is how to change, how do we move our mindset so that we can bring the Mashiach? It seems that it is almost impossible to move the current mindset of the Jewish people. So again, the first area where mindsets are useful is in understanding politics.

And it is also useful in looking at a ruling party. And here there is something new. If a ruling party is not flexible at all, unable to change its own platform even a little, at least from time to time, it cannot sustain its power. Meaning that every successful party is sustained by its inner criticism, it is always changing its mind. As much as this seems contradictory, there comes a time when one tires of a certain mindset. So this is an important point that a party has to have flexibility within its platform. The country that demonstrates this best is the US, where neither of the two parties can hold power for a long time, because the two parties are inflexible in what they believe. And that is why the public changes the ruling party from one to the other every so many terms.

Fighting Terrorism

A second area in which mindset is applicable and useful, is in relation to the fight against terrorism. This is something very relevant to us here in the land of Israel. Warfare in general has to use a flexible mindset. You have to change the way you fight all the time, especially when fighting terrorism. Even your policies and standards of morals have to be flexible. Among other things, here at the Torat Hanefesh School of Psychology, we want to develop a picture of what a state run according to the Torah would be like, and what kind of war morals it would hold by.

As said, it’s important that these morals be flexible. This is difficult for someone who is connected to Jewish law to fathom, because Jewish law is seemingly unchanging. But, to be successful, you have to understand God’s sense of consolation, of changing His mind, from time to time. You have to see how He Himself ‘plays’ with the rules of the game all the time.

Mindsets in Psychology

Now all this was just an introduction to how this all is reflected in relation to the psyche. In psychology there are two types of individuals considered. One type is called a “fixed mindset” person, and the second is called a “growth mindset” person. The fixed mindset type is static, and the growth mindset is changing and dynamic. The main point (which is very popular in the world today) is that children should be educated to have a growth mindset, rather than a fixed mindset. There are many sayings from the sages that were said to foster a growth mindset, but one in particular is יָגַעְתִי וְלֹא מָצַאְתִי אַל תַּאֲמִין, etc…

If someone says, “I have worked hard, and I have not been successful,” don’t believe him. If someone says, “I have not worked hard and I have been successful,” don’t believe him. If someone says, “I have worked hard and I have been successful,” believe him![1]

This is the essence of all growth mindsets. Now the idea is that there is a type of person who thinks that all his success in life has some kind of mystical reason behind it. An example of this in pop culture used to be “The Secret.” Dweck’s growth-mindset system is already better.

Now the fixed-mindset type thinks that all success depends on whatever talents, whatever genes I was born with. It is all predetermined in this sense. The growth mindset type feels that all success depends on hard work (עֲבוֹדָה). If you work hard, you’ll be successful. If you don’t work hard, you won’t be successful. If you toil, you will find, if you don’t toil you won’t find; if you find and you didn’t toil, also don’t believe it. Only if you’ve toiled, can you believe that you’ve found (success). Especially in Chassidut Chabad, this is called working with one’s own strength. Not to trust in what is given to you from the outside (given to you as a present).

A related saying in Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) is, אִם אֵין אֲנִי לִי, מִי לִי. וּכְשֶׁאֲנִי לְעַצְמִי, מָה אֲנִי, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me. But, If I trust only in myself (meaning: I trust in what I have been given from birth, my innate qualities), then what am I?” You have to work hard, regardless of what you have been given. Again, what is the example with regard to educating a child? A child was successful with something. The mother says, “Oh Wonderful. You are so wise and smart.” This is a cue (it is a subconscious trigger) that the mother is giving the child. In the subconscious, what this creates is a fixed mindset that success depends on how he is, not on how hard he worked. The wise parent says, “Wonderful, you must have worked very hard to achieve this success.” This is a subconscious cue for growth mindset that everything depends on your toil.

Implementing Both Fixed and Growth Mindsets

When the Alter Rebbe appointed his son, the Mittler Rebbe to teach the young chassidim, the Mittler Rebbe had very stringent demands. And the moment they didn’t achieve, there was disappointment all around. One time, one of the young chassidim said to the Mittler Rebbe: “Do you think that we are all the children of you father (that we can achieve your level)?” This statement really moved the Mittler Rebbe.

Later, the Alter Rebbe then told this young chassid, thank you for educating my son, for teaching him how to be a chassid.

Growth mindset is free will, while fixed mindset is determinism, but there are indeed things that are determined. There are certain innate traits that we have. So the balance is needed, even though (as the theory states) the main point of education should be to teach about growth, also the other side is needed as well.

Rebbe Nachman of Breslov too nurtured growth mindset consciousness in his chassidim. He said to them, “You should all try to be like me.” Don’t say that I’m a tzadik, what kind of a soul I must have. You have to try as hard as you can to reach the same level. The nature of a Jew is to be, “a mover among those who are standing.” One who has a fixed mindset, is afraid of failure. But, someone who has a growth mindset is not. He knows that a tzadik falls seven times and gets up. He knows that failure is part of the toil in this world. This is a very important point. As Jews we are meant to move, walk, among those who stand.

Primordial Kings from the World of Chaos

All the Primordial kings died because they had no flexibility and no growth. Growth is a mindset, and one also has to have the flexibility needed to move between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset.

Now there were seven kings that perished and one that did not: Hadar.[2] The seven died because they were with a political mindset that could not change. As we explained before such a mindset cannot persist. So what was special about Hadar? Hadar means “to return,” which means he changed his mind (הֲדָר בֵּיה, in Aramaic). But, if he didn’t die it also means that he saw judgments differently (he saw death differently). His wife’s name is mentioned (the others are not): Meheitavel, מְהֵיטַבְאֵל, which means that without a wife you are always in a fixed mindset. For a growth mindset, all the more so to be flexible between the two mindsets, you need a wife who tells you: “You can be better.” That is the meaning of Meheitavel. You might be ok now, but you definitely can be better. She is called the “daughter of Matred” (בַּת מַטְרֵד). She was always spinning his head around (the meaning of Matred is “giving you a hard time”). And she’s also called בַּת מֵי זָהָב, the daughter of golden waters. Water is always moving. You have to be able to change your mind, you have to be alive; and the sign of being alive is always being on the move. This is the golden property of life.

From Rabbi Ginsburgh’s class for the Torat Hanefesh school of Jewish Psychology,

11th Av 5773, Har Hatzofim, Jerusalem

[1] Megillah 6b.

[2] Genesis 36:39.


Related posts

Lectures on Chassidic Psychology • Lecture 2 • Part 1 • Categories of Psychological Work

Moshe Genuth

Seeking Advice from a Genuine Tzadik

Imry GalEinai

Love, Love Love?

Gal Einai

Leave a Comment

Verified by MonsterInsights