The Mindsets of Not Frum, Being Frum, and Becoming Frummer

A few weeks ago, on Shul Politics, I wrote about the valuable role our friends serve as both active and passive spiritual growth coaches. I feel fortunate to have a few offline friends that serve that role, including David Linn, with whom I’m working on an exciting new project. Between our Pomodoros we often discuss general and specific growth issues.

Through the years, especially when commenting was heavier here on Beyond BT, there have been a number of people who have been spiritual growth coaches, whether they realized it or not. One of them, who I’m still in contact with, (mainly through email) is Neil Harris who often recommends seforim, shiurim and secular books. In a post last month, discussing growth, Neil referenced a book, called Mindset, by Stanford and Columbia researcher Dr. Carol Dweck.

Mindset discusses two different lenses in which we view life, one in which our characteristics and situations are seen as fixed and the other in which we look at growth and improvement in every characteristic and situation. Dr. Dweck illustrates in many different fields and situations the detriment of the fixed mindset and the tremendous value of the growth mindset.

The book gave me an insight in to the plateauing or spiritual stagnation that many BTs and FFBs experience. For BTs, after our initial interest is awakened we work towards a goal of being Frum. The end state of being Frum consists of keeping Shabbos, family purity, davening regularly, keeping other mitzvos and learning Torah. When we’re in the process of becoming Frum, we’re in a growth mindset, but when we actually reach the observance level of Being Frum, we tend to enter more of a fixed mindset which slows (or stops) growth.

Perhaps the solution is to see Torah Observance in a mindset of always trying to become Frummer, i.e. growing spiritually, as opposed to being Frum, a fixed mindset. The difficulty is that we often talk about where people are (i.e. not Frum, Frum, Very Frum), and not they’re going (or growing). Thanks to Dr. Dweck for her important research and insights, and for giving us the opportunity to reframe from a fixed mindset of being Frum, to a growth mindset of always becoming Frummer.

19 comments on “The Mindsets of Not Frum, Being Frum, and Becoming Frummer

  1. “The writings of Rabbi Lord Sacks and Rabbi Boteach”

    If there are online articles that address these specific issues, I’d like to read them.

  2. The world is mamash thirsting for this! If these matters (idolatry and sexual limits) are understood and explained in a way that is consistent with the Torah’s underlying broad and noble vision of humanity, then they will address a huge need in the non-Jewish world that many already feel. The writings of Rabbi Lord Sacks and Rabbi Boteach come to mind as examples of these issues being addressed to the non-Jewish world from a traditional perspective that is capable of being heard and making an impact.

  3. “Going one step further, I happen to think it would hugely energize the Jewish people to take on the project to promoting the 7 laws of Noach to the non-Jews.”

    Good luck on promoting to non-Jews the laws concerning idolatry and sexual transgressions. :)

  4. Going one step further, I happen to think it would hugely energize the Jewish people to take on the project to promoting the 7 laws of Noach to the non-Jews.

    Whatver the cause, the Jewish people needs to have a strong GM in order to keep Jews energized and committed to being Jewish. Israel and Zionism has provided that but not all are strongly motivated by a vision that extends only to ourselves.

    Being a light to the nations will also ensure that we can be a strong light to ourselves along the way.

  5. The growth mindset/GM vs fixed mindset/FM distinction is very helpful and stimulating.

    What I feel is missing in this discussion is that it is very hard to maintain a GM when one’s focus is inward, i.e directed only or primarily at one’s self.

    It is much more natural to have a sustained GM if one is working on a project that extends beyond oneself, i.e. a cause to promote in or to the world.

    Becoming active in kiruv would be one such possibility. Promoting any relevant worthwhile causes who qualify.

    “When I am only for myself, what am I?”

  6. Given the fact that far too many members of our community are guests of the Federal correctional system for violations of white collar crimes, which the Talmud in BB emphasizes require a much stronger degree of Teshuvah than that of a violation of a Mitzvah She Bein Adam LaMakom, should not one area of emphasis be on halacha and how to be a Kiddush HaShem with respect to the Dina DMalchusa Dina of this great Malchus Shel Chesed as opposed to undertaking Chumros that may be inappropriate for our spiritual level?

  7. Bob,

    What you are saying about communities and leaders is very true. If you wait for a community or leader to step up to the plate, it might not happen.
    I think what any movement of growth needs to happen from “the people”.

    Last month, I started learning Chovos Halevavos (Duties of the Heart) with someone for 10 minutes after Kiddush every Shabbos.
    Any type of movement towards growth helps. However, it also means that you have to put yourself out there as a person interested in growth (without someone saying that, “Growth is only for BTs”).

  8. People have a natural inclination to rest on their laurels at a certain stage. Aside from daily introspection, incremental improvement, etc., there has to be an enthusiastic sense of new possibilities. Certain environments tend to boost enthusiasm, while others tend to douse it. Entire movements and communities initially built around enthusiasm can also become set in their ways to an unhealthy degree. Not all leaders can step in properly for charismatic founders.

  9. (Cont) SO, this lack of long-term inspiration after the moment (or time period) of inspiration moves the BT from a GM to a FM.
    This is built into the world (Rabbi Tatz give a number of examples in the first two chapters of LIVING INSPIRED). The issue is, as Mark so clearly stated, how do we “reframe Torah spirituality” in a way in a mindset of growing.

    There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. I think it needs to be addressed by using different platforms. I’m not suggesting anything that hasn’t been brought up previously in this blog. In no specific order:

    Mentors/help networks for BTs as they navigate their lives -post becoming observant. Not only can this help strengthen the BTs view of being left out to dry, but can help with community integration.

    Shuls can take on congregational projects involving learning or tefillah. This not only reinforces a sense of community, but it also puts everyone on the same playing field.

    Small groups can be set up patterned after Mussar Vaadim, based on the sefer Alei Shur by Rav Shlomo Wolbe zt’l. One could also study: Mesillas Yesharim, Derech Hashem, or even Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh.

    Special scholars in resident can be brought into shuls or communities. (In Chicago, it’s common that several shuls and kiruv organizations will share a speaker over a Shabbos, thus sharing the cost of brining out someone).

    Schools can run in-school programs that have counterparts within the family unit. (Our day school happens to have a “not TV commitment” program during Sukkos vacation. While I see the reasoning behind this, having a commitment for parents and children not say anything negative to others in their family could be just as effective.)

    I wish I could pull an answer out of magical black Shabbos hat and explain how someone can go from having Growth Mindset to a Fixed Mindset, but I can’t.

    I know, for myself, I oscillate between both mindsets. I’ve been giving it some thought all day and I can say that when I feel that our family schedule is packed, the first thing I do is reschedule or postpone learning. My attitude is that when things are hectic at home, or there’s a school project due and child X needs supervision on writing a report, I tell myself, “I can always learn later.”

    Lives are busy, over scheduled and it seems that the work week is way beyond 40 hrs for most people. As stated before, there isn’t one answer. However, looking at the above possible solutions, there’s one constant thread that unites them all…Talmud Torah.

    When we learn, we not only connect in a very personal way with HASHEM, but we gain a sense of accomplishment, which means we are GROWNING.

    Our bodies can’t service without nutrients, our cars can’t go without an energy source, and our neshama can’t connect and grow (which is what it is meant do) without Torah. As it’s the start of the Three weeks, I am committing (on the internet) to spend 10 minute each night learning Derech Hashem. It might take months for me to finish learning it (last time I learned it was in 2005), but a little each day is a good start.

  10. Neil, I strongly agree with what Rabbi Tatz says in that regard and I’ve referenced that exact point on Beyond BT in the past.

    However, a major benefit of the mindset approach is that it goes beyond identifying the causes (a fixed mindset or the withdrawal of inspiration) and points us to the cure in a way that is consistent with Derech Hashem, Mesillas Yesharim and other Torah sources. And that is: we need to constantly focus on growth, not just because it’s a good idea, but rather because it’s the essence of what it means to be spiritually successful.

    And it’s a day by day, step by step approach, lifetime approach to Yiddishkeit. It’s a focus on learning a little more today, saying an Asher Yotzer with a little more Kavannah, putting more effort into the 6 first words of the Shema. And the growth is achievable and more lasting because it’s in small consistent increments, and not the major jump that BTs go through when they go from non-observant to being Shomer Shabbos.

    Another major benefit is that is moves us out of the mode where somebody else’s spiritual success makes us uncomfortable. If we’re constantly on the growth path, where we are (or where someone else is), is not so relevant – it’s where we’re headed that really counts.

    There are also tremendous advantages in introducing people to Torah based spirituality with this mindset, but that will wait for another time.

  11. Before I comment on the thesis, the term “bnai alyiah” is a term that Rav Shlomo Wolbe zt’l used in he shiurim and writings. More recently he primary student, Rav Revuen Leuchter, uses it in his English sefer on Tefillah:

    Now, onto the thesis.
    Most of us (I hope) would agree that it’s better to have a “growth mindset” (which I will abbreviate as GM) rather than a “fixed mindset” (let’s abbreviate it as FM).
    As I wrote in my initial comment, the journey of a BT is, like the ultimate GM.

    Why we might reach a state of “plateauing or spiritual stagnation”?
    One answer is the premise of Rabbi Akiva Tatz’s book LIVING INSPIRED. This is pretty much the same idea that Rabbi Yehuda Geffen recently wrote in his sefer (translated from Hebrew) called STAIRWAY TO THE SKY (translated by Rabbi Avi Fertig. I will type a section from the book and then submit this comment, so I can relay my own thoughts:

    This is always the pattern of life: Hakodosh Baruch Hu gives us an aliyah (i.e., boost, an elevation) in our learning; or He allows us to taste the sweetness of a proper tefillah, r the pleasure of mitzvah, and then, suddenly, we fill empty and devoid of all sense of spiritual connection.

    Perhaps there was a time when we were really inspired by Yiddishkeit. The lectures we listened to excited us. Our Rebbe motivated us. Learning was awesome. Shabbos was sublime [GM]. And now we feel as though we are wallowning in an abyss of uninspired routine. Learning has become impossible. The difficulties, it seem, far outweigh the breakthroughs; we cannot see our growth Sichot no longer inspire us and we feel no pleasure in mitzvos [FM].

    But here starts the true work of life! The whole point of that spiritual was to give us a taste of what we are aiming for- a vision that we must now strive for and attain on our own. Yes, we have come down, but all is not forgotten. We must experience our initial inspiration to energize us for our journey. Hashem has not forsaken us; He is with us every step of the way. At the beginning we were given an artificial boost of energy, of pure inspiration-now we have to work hard o return to that inspired state that we once experienced. This time, however, it’s easier, because we have a clear goal in mind. (Pages 88-89; sorry I haven’t finished the sefer, yet).

  12. Shmuel, I hear the objections, but I’m probably not going to rewrite the post at this point.

    I would be interested in opinions on the thesis: as BTs become more observant their mindset shifts from growth oriented to a more fixed mindset. This is not helpful for further spiritual growth and it’s important that we try to reframe Torah spirituality from a mindset of being Frum to a mindset of growing spiritually.

  13. I agree with those who said that not-frum, frum and frummer are not the most useful descriptions for this purpose.

    I also agree with Neil’s suggestion to use a different term and would suggest a tweak: those who are committed and in the process of growing and raising themselves “to be better and more complete ovdei hashem,” rather than “to a higher level of observance.”

  14. Neil, as I explained to Bob, I used the term Frummer, because Frum is standard terminology, and while I like the term Bnai Aliyah it’s not so standard.

    I think that all spiritual growth is internal. The mitzvos are outward actions that might signify a person takes their spirituality seriously, but to use the Orthoprax contingent as an example, you can never know where someone is really holding regarding their spirituality and relationship to Hashem.

    That being said, in my Shul and neighborhood, I know a lot of long term BTs and FFBs who I would identify as growth mindset people (even though we can’t know for sure as I stated above). I think a key characteristic is the admission of deficiencies and the expressed desire to improve spiritually.

    I don’t think the Growth of Fixed mindsets are all or nothing, but I think it’s logical that the mindset of being Frum moves one towards the Fixed mindset.

    I think a Rabbi Berel Wein line captures the preference for a growth mindset, “If you think you’re a Tzaddik, you’re not” – i.e. a Tzaddik by definition has a growth mindset.

  15. Excellent analysis and application of Dr. Dweck’s work. I was actually thinking about this exact topic on Shabbos night as it relate to Baalei Tshuvah and you zoned in on it perfectly. A BT is the uber-example of the “growth mindset”.

    I would suggest that one of the reasons, at least for me, that some find themselves plateauing is because internal growth is, well, internal. Starting to keep Shabbos, dressing within Halachic standards, not eat treif are all external actions.

    Growth for those who are frum, might be more internal (kavanah for davening), getting up early for daf yomi, committing to saying all of Tehillim within a week, etc.

    I think that instead of using the term “frummer”, it might be more appropriate to use the them, “Bnai Aliyah”, a term that describes those who are committed and in the process of growing and raising themselves to a higher level of observance.

  16. Bob, it’s a good point and I thought about it while writing this piece, but I used Frum as in Frum From Birth, because it’s the standard term for being observant.

    I think we’re more comfortable with the terms Becoming Frum and Being Frum, than we are with becoming Frummer. That could be because of the fixed mindset of people who are already Frum. They’re comfortable with the idea of being Frum, but grow uncomfortable with the growth mindset associated with Becoming Frummer.

  17. Is “frum” really the word we want to use here? It often has connotations of how we project vs. how we are inwardly.

Comments are closed.