Ways to Challenge Destructive Mindsets

Bogged down in the same old arguments. Hurrah Democrats, Boo Republicans? Pro-life against Pro-Choice? Atheism versus religion?  Same old stuff ruling you?

quote about mindsets

This quote comes for Carol S. Dweck’s Book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.  We need mindsets (firm beliefs about what is) if we are to safely navigate the physical world. Imagine if the floor or earth beneath our feet varied with each step so we would not know if we would be held up, sucked into mire, or stepping into a hole. Fear would probably paralyze us.

Physical challenges for the most part start outside of us. Many of us relish them and endure the pain involved in running a marathon, being tackled in football, or balancing on our toes in order to be a ballerina, or simply growing very old.

Well, growing old is not always something all relish. However,  those of us heading toward eighty  will endure physical challenges knowing they could be worse and work at being grateful for staying alive.

Mindsets tend to be individual responses and come from within. This applies most strongly to emotional challenges. Just as we want the ground beneath our feet to be consistent, we want the beliefs that shape our emotional life to be consistent and unshakable.

As noted by Leon Festinger, the father of cognitive dissonance, “A man with conviction is a hard man to change. Tell him you disagree and he turns away. Show him facts or figures and he questions your sources. Appeal to logic and he fails to see your point.”

Jerome Kagan expands on Festinger’s theories. He calls cognitive dissonance “uncertainty” and views it as much of a motivator as feeding and f—king. He makes the point that questions involving what is good, what is bad, what is the meaning of life, is there a God or not, will be decided by the time adolescence is reached and will be changed only with great difficulty.

This plays a strong part in the shootings that are currently afflicting our land. How? Kagan notes that all of us want to be seen as good, doing the right thing, and being approved of. When we arrive at a belief we are bad and cannot change, self and other hatred blossom. For some the belief becomes if I am bad, I need to die, but I am going to kill as I go out. Those chosen to be killed are the ones who most shake our core beliefs about what is good.

On a lower level, we just argue. The sad fact is that arguing does not seem to change anyone’s opinion, but only confirms it. One of Festinger’s main illustrations of how difficult it is for some to change. involves the Millerites.

These  were the followers of the teachings of William Miller, who in 1833 first shared publicly his belief that the Second Advent of Jesus Christ would occur on October 22, 1844 and only those who gave up all their possessions would be saved.

His followers gave up all they owned and met to be transported to heaven. Nothing happened. The responses to the failure of this particular salvation prediction fell into three categories:

  1. Some Millerites predicted different dates—among them April, July, and October 1845.
  2. Some theorized that only enough people praying would bring about Jesus’ second coming.
  3. Others  simply gave up their beliefs and attempted to rebuild their lives often by joining another religious group. short time.

Kagan makes the point that when core beliefs such as these are challenged pain is created.  He  notes that psychological uncertainty creates intense emotional pain. He notes common responses to emotional challenges involve  getting  angry at the person creating the challenge or falling into despair and depression. He also makes the point that action–any action– reduces uncertainty.  Explains to me why  we argue so much about some things.

Anger is thought by Charles Brenner, a Freudian based analytic theorist, reduce anger to a cover-up for hurt or fear of being hurt.  I have always felt this made great sense. I challenged my students to find an anger that did not somehow start in hurt or fear of hurt. No one ever came up with a tale of anger that I could not peel back to hurt or fear of hurt.

What to do? The following tips help you open your mind a bit more.

Emotional Fitness Tip One:  Accept that human knowledge is limited. Remind yourself regularly that “Knowing for a fact” does not mean knowing all the facts. Accept that we humans know much less than we think we know.

Emotional Fitness Tip Two:   Seek common ground. How? By looking for the pain, the fear you and the other are dealing with.  With the friend mentioned above the common ground lay in the Golden Rule.

Kagan points out that most of us want to be kind and caring. That was what Jesus wanted and what the Jews want. Common ground. As the Rabbi Hillel who may well have influenced Jesus noted, the heart of Judaism lay in the phrase, “Do not do to others what you do not want done to do.”

He added that the rest was commentary, and did suggest learning the commentary, why some laws were laws.  One of the appealing things for me about Judaism and Torah study remains that much of Torah studying is arguing interpretations. Get three rabbis in a room and have seven opinions.

Emotional Fitness Tip Three: Remember that passions drive assumptions and core beliefs. The more passionate you feel about something, the more you need to honor other opinions.

I am passionate about the right of women to seek an abortion. At the same time I share the common ground of the Pro Life Group that a life is ended by abortion.  But I also know that women die if not allowed safe access to abortion, particularly young women.

Wanting to prevent abortions is  a  common ground  I share with the Pro Life Group. Our disagreement is how to do that. I want better education and more factually based use of contraception. I want men held more accountable for keeping unwanted babies from being, conceived, I want a good morning after pill.

Another common ground lies in my not wanting abortions to be carried out once the baby can live outside of the womb without major medical intervention. I baby who is aborted but seems to be trying to live needs basic care – warmth, oxygen, and feeding.

Emotional Fitness Tip Four: Don’t throw out the good with the bad. When we try to ban all mention of God or prevent prayers, we are throwing out the comfort and good offered by most religions.

I am a big advocate of examining every religions theology for those beliefs that lead to violence against another religion.  Ideas about who is saved and who is damned are my main concern and are best left of to whatever God judges us in the next life, if there is a next life.

Meanwhile evil acts using religion as a tool need to be fought against.

On the question of prayer:  Allow it anywhere in the form of silent meditation.

Emotional Fitness Tip Five: Often the best one can do is agree to disagree.  One of my dearest college friends was challenged by my turning away from Christianity to Judaism. She tried hard to bring me back to the fold.

Eventually, she said, “Lets not talk about religion, your faith in Judaism shakes my faith and I cannot bear the pain of doubt.”

I agreed we remained friends.

Emotional Fitness Tip Six: Beef up your self soothing kills, particularly those that help you stop seeing an opposing argument that challenges your core beliefs as a personal attack.  My eBook Self-soothing To Create Calm is a good place to start. Here’s poster coach about Sloganeering a major Emotional Fitness self soothing exercise.

A Poster Coach about Calming Self Talk


One word can expand your child’s thinking. That word? And. Tack it one to a conversation that seems one-sided and often the child will find his or her own way to other alternatives. If not one can expand a bit and say “And what other explanations might exist?”

Works for adults also.


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Finally remember sharing is caring. and an act of kindness. Share this post if you found it useful.

Thank you and work at staying strong until next time.  I work on doing that all the time. .


This post was not inspired by this WordPress Daily Prompt but does relate to it.  Papa Loves Mambo What sort of music was played in your house when you were growing up? What effect, (if any) did it have on your musical tastes?

There was no only this kind of music in my house. Mainly, however, we listened to the popular songs of the day. Eventually some early boy friends introduced me to classical music.  I love all kinds of music from Paganini to Willie Nelson; Hard Rock does not appeal.

Now that I am struggling with deafness, music no longer charms, but I do have some songs in my head that I can hear in my heart and these continue to comfort.


These links are for those not familiar with Emotional Intelligence or the idea of Emotional Fitness.

Emotional Intelligence (en.wikipedia.org)
The five components of Emotional Intelligence (www.sonoma.edu)
Twelve Easy Emotional Fitness Exercises (amazon.com)


Agree or disagree, comments are always welcomed.

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