On Mind Sets

John Laudun
2 min readFeb 11, 2024

Reflecting on the oddities of an idiomatic phrase (very skippable)

Photo by Natasha Connell on Unsplash

I recently wrote a note to myself that I should “focus on putting myself in a mind set that gets me more often doing what’s important and less often worrying about what’s urgent.” (A hat tip to Stephen Covey for introducing what remains, for me, a useful distinction.) I didn’t write down get a mind set, as in actively seeking to possess it, but put myself in a mind set, as is to put myself into a (my?) place.[¹] Mind set is of course an interesting phrase, conjuring as it does the mathematical notion of set, {} — is it {mind} or is it mind {}? — as well as the common sense notion of something being or becoming fixed, as in “allow the glue to set” or “her sights were set.”

Like fixed, which can signify both static as well as repair, set allows for both the active, as in setting of sights, as well as the static, as set in one’s ways. And these two comes with different valences, one positive and one negative valences. “I am setting myself up” is active (though we can often set outselves up for failure). “His mind was set” is rarely a good assessment: it almost always suggests being closed off to new ideas or evidence to the contrary of one’s beliefs, an altogether too common problem in my homeland at this time.

For me, overlap with mathematics is just too compelling, if only because we are so often encouraged to “change our mind set.” The implication is that the set involves certain contents that one changes out for a different set. (And, like in mathematics, we never ask ourselves to re-order our mindset: our assumption is that the contents can only be ordered in a particular way.)

That’s all fine and good, but what was my mind set before and what mind set am I encouraging myself to take on? Given what I’ve written above, I am only seeking a partial change, removing some elements in my mindset and replacing them with others. And I’ve already noted the differences between those elements: I want more of the important ones and fewer of the urgent ones.

What’s important to me at this moment is writing, writing as both a form of thinking and as a way of communicating. What I want from the latter is to find other people who are interested in moving forward not only with what they think (and write) but also what they do.

[¹]: Crabb’s English Synonyms tells me that put’s Anglo-Saxon antecedent meant thrust, so perhaps putting is a bit more active than I originally imagined.



John Laudun

Cultural Informatics Researcher focused on Stories, People, Networks