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  • Reverend James Squire

Temporary and Permanent Mindsets

Updated: Feb 9, 2021



Have there been certain ways you thought you should act in order to be accepted by yourself or by others? How did you handle those behaviors? Do you feel you were successful in incorporating them into who you are today? Did you turn away from those behaviors when you thought they were no longer helpful to you? One negative behavior that comes to mind is the quest to achieve perfection. People who chase perfection never feel that they measure up to this unrealistic standard. The quest for perfectionism tends to go along with the whole human package whether we like it or not. Perfectionism can be deceitful. It can creep up on you when you least expect it. One of my mantras for learning has been “learn to fail or fail to learn.”

In the 2018 French Open, Sloane Stephens was defeated by the number one tennis player in the world, Simona Halep. Sloane had a high regard for Halep and following the match paid her opponent a great tribute. After taking time to reflect on her own performance, Sloane posted an inspiring message, “You win or you learn, but you never lose.” (Stephens 2018)

In my years of teaching I have observed that the students who struggle the most are those who have not had a “positive failing experience” from which they have learned and grown. Carol Dweck has a model that is very helpful in framing one’s life in a way to address failure and create a positive experience from it. If you have failed a test (or submit where you think that you have failed) and feel that it is a permanent issue for your life, you will be find yourself depressed, possessing a negative attitude toward yourself, and the inability to cope with moving forward. (Dweck 2006)

If after failing a test you say to yourself or others, “I am stupid. I will never be able to do well in this course”, you lock yourself into that mindset. If, on the other hand, you feel that your poor performance is a temporary condition and that you have identified the issues of why you didn’t do well, then you will be able to say to yourself, “I didn’t do well on this test, but I know what I need to do to correct things in order to do well on the next evaluation.” This attitude will enable you to see life as a challenge but one that you feel confident in addressing as you move forward.

People who frame life in a temporary way as they address issues take baby steps. That is one of the key tenets of Alcoholic Anonymous, still the preferred treatment platform for alcoholism today. They stress the mantra, “Take one day at a time.” That approach can also be applied to most problem solving.

The person who has a permanent mindset feels that change is not possible. All of us feel this way from time to time. This mindset destroys hope. Individuals with permanent mindsets take a long range view that stifles progress. I once met with a parent who was paralyzed by the thought that her child would not be admitted to Princeton. The child was in first grade. Taking the long haul perspective is not the way to problem solve.

The work of Edison and Einstein that led to their scientific discoveries illustrates that even for the greatest problem solvers, baby steps and many failures along the way were the reason they achieved so much. There are few overnight successes in life. The people that seem like overnight successes usually combined years of practice or work that met with good luck or providence!

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