posttitle = “Mindset choice” is a confusion titleClass =title-long len =43

“Mindset choice” is a confusion

I said that to some friends—“mindset choice” is a confusion—and they were like “what?” and I wrote this response.

In order for this post to make much sense, you’ll need some referent for what I’m calling below “the complete stance” and “confused stances”… these are pretty obscure terms used by David Chapman on meaningness.com. I sent a draft of this to David and he said “it makes sense”. I used different terms in the original, which are even more obscure.

Arguably this point might hold for terms like “growth mindset” and “fixed mindset” but these are often treated pretty shallowly, and growth mindset has to be seriously steelmanned in order to be anywhere near as complete as the complete stance. In any case, we’re talking about constellations of foundational assumptions.

I refer below to “the complete stance” as having certain self-evident properties. If those properties aren’t obvious to you, then I must be pointing at something else than what you think I’m pointing at—either something completely different or something approximately the same but with some other detail. The thing I’m pointing at is precisely the thing that has those properties. So insofar as you have a referent that seems to work, try it on, but if it doesn’t fit, aim towards one that does. This is central to what I’m saying here.


To get started with, here’s another important not-what-I’m-saying: I don’t think “choice” is always a confusion. There’s something people experience that we created the word “choice” for… but that doesn’t mean that this is the best concept for the job. We created telegraphs, but now we don’t use them because we have email & phones. Newton created a model of mechanics, which is still the best model for doing most human-scale engineering but fails when things get really tiny or really fast. Nor does it mean that the thing it was originally invented for is the thing it’s being used for now. It might be a metaphorical application for which it is ill-suited.

It seems to me that “choice” is best suited for things like “do I choose to get on the plane to Paris or the one to Dubai?” Once the plane is in the air, the choice has been made and no further choice is needed—or even possible. Mindset is clearly not like this—one tries to choose, then discovers one has apparently unchosen without even noticing. Wat.

It seems also that “choice” is somewhat well-suited for situations like Malcolm & Sarah choosing to go to British Columbia. We were in the state of not having chosen for awhile, but being aware of such a choice, and then there was a moment when we chose. And ofc, if Sarah’s car had completely fallen apart, or an avalanche had completely blocked the entire Rocky Mountains, or we had had the worst fight of our entire relationship, or we’d gotten invited to an epic context somewhere else in the world, maybe we would have then chosen something different. But in the absence of some major unknown unknown, we were now in a state of intending to incorporate all emergent factors into a plan that included going to BC. To not let letdowns or breakdowns or meltdowns or lockdowns otherwise disturb that overall plan.

Mindset/stance, still, does not appear to me to be like this, inasmuch as with mindset:

A) people “choose” but then this choice appears to later get reverted without a conscious intention to choose otherwise. This would be like Sarah and I forgetting that we chose to go to BC. This does sometimes happen in relation to concrete choices too but it’s weird and indicates unconscious resistance here as well and more choosing is NOT the answer.

B) the complete stance is by definition better than confused stances in all ways, so if you appear to have a choice and the answer isn’t obvious, then the thing you have labelled “complete stance” isn’t the real thing. It’s missing something. And if the answer is obvious, why bother calling it a choice? (except perhaps as an interesting exercise… I’ve done this exercise on mundane things sometimes—it’s worth doing!)

As far as I can tell, when people say “I’m committed to X” what they actually mean is “I’m identifying with the part of me to which X makes sense, and distancing myself from parts of me that see things differently.” If they were unconflicted, it wouldn’t occur to them to say “I’m committed”. They’d just say “this is what I do.” The commitment often seems to represent a kind of social promise of a particular way of acting, or at least that someone else ought to be able to remind you to act in a particular way. But if the complete stance is obviously better, then there is no point in reminding someone they’re committed to it—if they aren’t doing it, it’s because they don’t see how to do it coherently (while caring for every other careabout that is present for them).

I’m entertaining, as I write this, the idea that one might say, similar to a marriage, “I’m committed to the complete stance, which means I will integrate all dissonance that arises in order to see the true complete stance“. But if you actually trust you will do this, then you still don’t need to frame it as a commitment. You would say something more like “I see that the complete stance is a pointer to a thing that makes more sense than confused stances, and sometimes I won’t know what that is, but I trust I will find it.” And this stance doesn’t take a side in the conflict, but instead grounds in self-trust.

By contrast, committing to any stance tends to carry with it something that could be described as a distrust of what one might label one’s confused stance thoughts or behaviors (as well as others’). And the quality of this distrust seems to me to undermine self-trust and generally generate downward spirals, even though it does so self-assuredly in the name of “the complete stance“, and then sees those downward spirals as being caused by the parts it is distrusting, rather than being partially caused by the distrust itself. Marriage or where to live is not like this, inasmuch as:

  • there multiple options
  • one can only make the choice at most a handful of times
  • it is impossible to cohabitate or raise kids with all of them
  • none is best; one does need to actually discover one’s values by choosing a specific

Whereas the complete stance is not a specific. Inasmuch as one has multiple options one is drawn to, there may be a need to choose a specific instantiation of a culture based on the complete stance, but there’s only one cultural platform that is the complete stance even as it has many expressions, and it is preferable to confused stances in every way that matters, by definition. So no choice exists, just confusion or clarity.

“Choosing the complete stance” amounts to “Choosing to ignore whatever part of me is saying (perhaps not in words) that my concept of the complete stance is not actually the real deal.”

If we get a little more specific and talk about concrete behaviors, then these are more chooseable. Sometimes I choose to listen, even though I have an impulse to mentally complain. Sometimes I choose to bite my tongue, even though I have an impulse to say something snarky. These choices are my best bets of what will serve whatever I’m caring about in those moments. But those choices are not (in my model) “the complete stance“. They’re on a different level of abstraction.

The complete stance is more like the process & outcome of dialoguing with & integrating every impulse & careabout that arises & every generator of such, all the way down, in oneself and others. And choosing X in the face of impulse Y does not automatically integrate those impulses, though it can be super helpful for discovering new possibilities. In order to actually get juxtaposition & reconsolidation though, one needs to actually dialogue the generator of the impulse with the new experience.

Learning how to bring the complete stance to every moment is a discovery process. You can have one experience of profound clarity that makes obvious why you would want to learn how to do so, but that doesn’t automatically organize your whole bodymind to be able to do so already. That involves a whole reorganization process through encountering many situations and seeing to simultaneously dovetail your current organization, the situation, and the clarity.

A drawing of a circle composed of tiny pieces, and a similar circle but with some of the pieces broken off, with a question mark indicating a choice between one of the broken pieces and the not-quite-whole circle.
I asked my friend Silvia to illustrate this piece, and this is what we came up with.
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About Malcolm

Constantly consciously expanding the boundaries of thoughtspace and actionspace. Creator of Complice, a system for improvisationally & creatively staying in touch with what's most important to you, and taking action towards it.



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