7 - Mind the Gap
Instead of focusing on the outcome, we need to "Enjoy the Journey". In this episode, Rabbi Lehrfield continues the discussion using our acronym Be Free.
Hey everyone. I'm Menachem Lehrfield. Welcome back to Zero Percent. We've been discussing the importance of the growth mindset, and delving into the work of Professor Carol Dweck. We're using the framework of freedom and our acronym BE FREE. In our last episode, we talked about the importance of being curious, asking questions and the focus Judaism places on those questions. This week, we continue our discussion with our first E, of BE FREE, which is enjoy the journey.
Carol Dweck writes in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, that in the fixed mindset, everything's about the outcome. If you fail, or if you're not the best, it's all been wasted. The growth mindset allows people to value what they're doing regardless of the outcome. And this is so crucial because when you look at people with a fixed mindset, it really all is about the outcome, and more importantly, what other people perceive as success in that outcome. It doesn't matter so much whether or not I succeed. What really matters is do I look like a success.
And when everything is judged based on the outcome, what ends up happening is instead of discovering what we're really good at, instead of improving in certain areas or even better yet, instead of just enjoying something I'm not good at, somebody with a fixed mindset shies away from anything that they're not good at instantly, naturally. And if we don't try new things, we don't get better at new things. And what ends up happening is the gap ends up widening more and more and more. And we see this in really all areas of progress. Oftentimes we see a lot of these things, most notably in sports and athletics, and it's not that those are necessarily more profound, more detrimental, more positive. It's just that oftentimes in sports, you see a much... I'll say you have a much clearer delineation of progress, of lack of progress, of how these things work.
So we see with children in sports, kids who are good at certain sports, continue playing those sports. And what happens? Because they continue playing them and because they can continue trying, they get better. The kids who are not so good instantly ended up not playing because they know that when they play it, they don't play very well. People are going to make fun of them. They're much better off shying away from and not playing that sport. And then what ends up happening? Obviously they don't get any better because they don't try and they don't participate.
So you end up going through whatever it is, the next 10, 20, 50, really the rest of your life, where those who are athletic and good at sports end up getting better at sports. Those who are not so athletic end up getting worse or staying the same, not improving at all. And that gap that was somewhat small at the beginning, ends up widening more and more and more, until one day you look back and you say, "Wow, these kids are so athletic, and these kids are not." Is that somebody with a fixed mindset would say, "You see, it's true. I told you I wasn't good at basketball. Look, they're so much better than me."
The reality is that the only reason why that person is so much better than you is because that person continued trying and continued playing, whereas you didn't because you didn't want to embarrass yourself by trying something you weren't instantly good at. And that's true with everything, right? The kids who are labeled the smart kids in kindergarten, first grade, ended up remaining the quote unquote smart kids for the rest of their academic career. And the kids who are considered the so to speak dumb kids end up staying the dumb kids. What we we're seeing is that people who are not instantly good at something, especially if they have a fixed mindset, shy away from participating, which is exactly the one thing they need to do to get better at the thing that they're trying.
And that's why you have the same kids winning the spelling bee and the science fair year after year after year after year, which really isn't teaching them anything. Because oftentimes the kids who are winning are not the kids who are putting in the effort. They don't put in effort. They just coast through. And the kids on the other end of the spectrum fall off as well, because they've already decided they're not good at it. If we can change our mindset and learn to really embrace the journey, the process, so that I can do something that I'm not good at, and that's okay.
Now, I think it's really crucial, and I wish we had time to delve into all of these things deeper, but we're just limited in our time. But I think it is crucial, especially as we move into adulthood, to figure out what it is that we're good at, to figure out what it is that I can devote my life to. But that doesn't mean I can't do something that I'm not good at. Now, I wouldn't advise spending your entire life doing something that is going to be a constant struggle. I wouldn't advise doing something your entire life that you're not naturally good at. Happiness, I think, is really the product of using your signature strengths in a way that makes an impact on the world and you find meaning in your life.
So yes, it's important to know what it is you're good at, but somebody with a growth mindset can do something as a passion, as a hobby that they're not good at, and that's okay. I could be a terrible dancer, but if I like to dance, if I have a growth mindset, I'll be confident and say, "You know what? I enjoy this. I'm going to do it." And I could be a horrible musician, or I have a horrible voice. But if I like to sing, I'm going to sing. Somebody with a growth mindset has the ability to do the things that they enjoy regardless of how it looks and regardless of whether or not they are so to speak good at it. Not only that, someone with a growth mindset can try new things. And the more we try new things, the more we discover things that we're good at that we never would have known otherwise. There are so many things that you are probably fantastic at that you have no idea. There is so much potential we have inside, and we have no clue what that is.
There's a famous story of the Netziv, Who's a great sage. And he wasn't doing very well in school. And his parents had decided... And he overheard this conversation they were having in the kitchen. He ever heard his parents having this conversation where they said to one another, they said, "He's not doing very well in his studies. He's not going to grow up to be a sage. Why don't we have him apprentice as a shoemaker? At least this way he can make a living. He can do something with his life and do something productive." And he heard this conversation and he decided he was going to really devote himself to his studies. And he did. And he ended up becoming one of the greatest ages we've ever had, the Netziv. And he said, "Can you imagine, after 120, I would have gotten up to heaven, and they would have said to me, 'Where are all the books that you wrote? Where all of your Talmudic discourses? Where is everything? Where's the Netziv?" And he would have said, "I don't know what you're talking about. I'm a shoemaker."
That's a scary thought, isn't it? There are so many things that we can become. We have the potential inside to do so many things, but if we don't try those things, we're never going to know. The growth mindset is the internal motivation that says, "You know what? I'll try that. Why not? I've never done it before, but that's exciting." Because it's not about the end result. It's about the journey. It's about the process. So as parents, I think personally, we have the responsibility to encourage our children. And when I say encourage, in my family, that means bribing children to do things that they don't necessarily want to do right away, because I think that they're going to enjoy it. My children live in Colorado. I strongly believe that as they become teenagers, they are going to love and want to ski. So I will bribe my children to go to ski lessons for X amount of time. Once they've done enough lessons that they can get down in mountain comfortably and safely, then it's up to them.
If they want to do lessons, I'm happy to put them in. If they don't want to do lessons, then we're done. And I have this argument with my children now. I'm like, "I'm not bribing you with a prize to go to ski school. Ski school is the prize. Do you have any idea how much money it costs between... and what a pain it is between schlepping up there, paying for the lesson and the lift ticket and the equipment and the rentals? I mean, it's unbelievable. There's no way I'm going to Target to buy your prize after all of that. That is the price. You can do it if you want. But at the beginning, I will bribe you. At the beginning, I will pay for all that and take you to Target for the prize afterwards, because I want to give you the opportunity to say that you really tried it."
Because if they went for their very first lesson, they tried it once, there are very few kids that after their very first lesson are going to say, "Oh, I love this." And that is true with piano. That is true with athletics. That's true with skiing. It's true with almost everything. Now, another thing is a lot of times when something is difficult, we assume we don't like it because it's really hard. And that could be the fixed mindset. So what we have to understand, is my child in general very growth mindset oriented? Do they enjoy challenges in all the areas of their lives? And they can say, "I enjoy challenges in general, but I don't really like that so much." Like my son, Ozzie, when he goes rock climbing, he'll try the routes that are challenging, that are above what he's done in the past. He'll push himself. And he enjoys the challenge of working hard at it. So if he tells me that he doesn't like skiing, so then, okay, you don't have to do it anymore.
But if I see that in every area of his or her life, they're not putting an effort and they don't enjoy the process of working hard at something, then they're just a normal kid, as most of us who don't really like working hard at things. And we have to work on building that growth mindset before we can assume this is just not something for him or her, right? Are they not doing it because they just don't want to put in the effort? Or is it something they don't really enjoy? But I agree, there needs to be a passion there, and finding that balance. There's a difference between... And going back to the point we made before, there's a difference between the thing that you're going to spend your life doing, your life's work, and things that are passions, the things that you enjoy. If it's a hobby and you don't enjoy it, then I don't see why continue.
And you see this all the time with kids in gymnastics or karate or hockey or any of these extracurriculars, where the kids are miserable, they hate it. And their parents are dragging them to do it. Unless you truly feel that your child is going to be an Olympic athlete, why put them through that? If it's not enjoyable and they're not enjoying it and it's not going to be their life's work, so then find something that they do enjoy, especially if they're wasting the time and the money and the energy.
That's not to say that we shouldn't educate our children to try hard at something and to give it a shot and to really work at it. But when you've determined that that's the normal amount of time that they can try something out to see if they really enjoy it, if they don't, then move on to the next thing. Again, unless you know that it's just that they don't want to put in the effort. In which case, you can go from one thing to the next, it's not going to help because everything is going to require effort if they're going to want to enjoy it.
There's a beautiful idea that when the Jewish people got to Sinai, the Torah says in reference to the time that they all got there to the Sinai desert, it says [foreign language 00:11:56], on this day. And Rashi, who's the classic commentator, his job is to help us understand the words in front of us. Rashi scratches his head and says, "Wait a second. Why does it say on this day? It should say on that day." It's referring to a date in the past, not to mention a date that we're reading about over 3000 years later. And the Torah is a document, we believe, for all time. So why does it say on this day? It should say on that day.
And Rashi gives a beautiful answer. Rashi says the reason why it says on this day is the tourist teaching us that every day we should experience Torah. We should approach Torah learning with this newness and freshness as if it was just that day. We should basically be able to transport ourselves back to that time, and we should relive that day over and over again, every single day of our lives. Which is a beautiful idea, unless you actually read the verses and understand the context. Because the day that we're talking about, literally nothing happened. It's the day they got to the Sinai desert, not the day they got the Torah. You would think if the Torah was going to teach me this lesson about being in the moment and reliving that day over and over again, and going back to that point and going back to that moment and living a life of Torah with freshness and newness, you would think the day that it would be bringing us back to it would be the day that we actually got the Torah.
Yet that's not what happens. The day that we're talking about, literally nothing happened. They probably ate and went to sleep and woke up the next morning. That's what we want to be aspiring to live every single day? But the answer is, yes. You see, we don't live with the Sinai experience. We're not having a revelation from God every single day of our lives. The thing that we want to be reliving is the process, the journey, from that point to receiving the Torah. Every day of our lives, when we wake up in the morning, we're reliving that march towards a destination, that process, that progress of moving ourselves to where we need to be and to where we want to go. The Torah is showing us the importance of the journey versus the end result.
And that's why, and we'll probably repeat this when we talk about the holidays, when we count the days between Passover and Shavuos, we count the days between Pesach and Shavuos. Instead of counting down like most times we count, we count up. And imagine for a second, January 1st, New Year's, we're counting to the ball dropping in Times Square. And instead of going 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, we start from one and go up to 10. Can you imagine that? 8, 9, 10, happy new year! It seems weird, right? It's very anticlimactic. Think about anytime we count, whether it's a rocket launch or a countdown to an important day, a wedding or a graduation or a vacation, you don't count up. We count down. I have seven more days, six more days, five more days, four more days, three more days. Now, I have seven more days, eight more days, nine more days. We go down, not up. So why with the count from Passover to Shavuos do we count up?
We start off and we'd say today's the first day of the Omer, the second day, the third day. Generally speaking, when I have a countdown, a countdown is very outcome focused. A countdown essentially says, "I am here in time. Event A is there in time. And as far as I'm concerned, all the space in between should disappear and go out the window. That's the countdown. I really want all the space between now and then to disappear. I want to be there already." That's not what we're doing as we count from Pesach to Shavuos. The count from Passover to Shavuos is a process of self-growth. It's getting ourselves ready for receiving the Torah. So it's a process where I'm counting the spiritual floors that I built. And I say, "Here, I built two floors. I built three fours. I built four floors." Not, "I have 40 floors left to build. "
That's not our process when we're actually going through the process. So both are showing us the importance of the journey, the importance of really enjoying that process and not being so focused on the end result. In fact, the Torah tells us to count 50 days. We don't count the 50th day. That's something to think about. Why don't we count the 50th day? We only count to 49. We don't count the 50th day because that's not where our focus is. Yes, we're moving towards a goal. Yes, we're moving towards a point. But the outcome is not in our hands. We focus on the journey. We focus on the process. That process takes 49 days. The 50th day, we'll know when we get there.
Join us next week as we continue our conversation about enjoying the journey, focusing on the process that gets us to our destination without overly focusing on the outcome, which is often outside of our hands. If you're enjoying Zero Percent, why not subscribe to make sure you never miss an episode? New episodes air every Wednesday morning. And you can subscribe on our website, joidenver.com/podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. The greatest compliment is a referral. So if you're enjoying this podcast, please share it with another friend who you think would enjoy it as well. Reviews help listeners discover new podcasts just like this one. So please leave us a five-star review. Let other listeners know what you enjoy about it. And don't forget to drop us a line to let us know as well. You can find all that information at joidenver.com. Be well, stay healthy and keep learning.