The Shift In Mindset All Parents Should Try

In his new book “Longpath,” writer and futurist Ari Wallach explores how shifting from short- to long-term thinking can make us all calmer, more rational people.

Originally Published: 
kid disturb his daddy while doing sport at home
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The following excerpt is from the book LONGPATH by Ari Wallach. Copyright 2022 by HarperOne. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.

I was in the kitchen making my world-famous dragon eggs dinner (eggs scrambled with cut-up hot dogs and cheese) when I felt a vibration in my pocket. It was an app notification from our local school. My twelve-year-old daughter, Ruby, had missed turning in her Spanish assignment, which had been due exactly twelve seconds before.

My instant reaction to that buzzing, though, was hundreds of thousands of years in the making. All sorts of chemicals and neurotransmitters started firing in my brain. Anger that she missed the assignment, sure, but beneath that was shame (what kind of parent am I?), fear (if she keeps this up, she won’t get into her choice of college), and a deep-seated sense that by doing something wrong, I had upset members of the tribe and was going to find myself “pushed out” of the cave tonight, forced to fend for myself against large animals with very big teeth. With all this going through my mind and body, I had a choice to make: freak out, lose my shit, yell at Ruby, or pause... and follow the principles of Longpath.

Longpath — a simple but profound mindset that shifts thinking from the short term to the long term — allowed me to take that half-second pause and recognize the swirl of chemicals and hormones rapidly welling up inside me. And in that pause are the hundreds of thousands of years that came before that moment, the hundreds of thousands of years that would come after, and the awareness that I was just a link in a greater chain of being. I was, in my best impression of Carl Sagan, part of a pale blue dot in the ever-expanding universe of space and time.

Half a second later, I realized that whether Ruby knew what biblioteca meant would not dictate her future or our collective humanity’s future. What was most important was not getting worked up over the missed assignment — that would get resolved later after we had dinner and I could talk to her about it. What mattered was maintaining the balance of mental and emotional states of mind as we were about to sit down as a family — a ritual where how I connected with my loved ones would have a much greater ramification on Ruby’s future than a single missed assignment. And then, even later, I’d do the most important thing: turn off those annoying phone notifications from her school.

We all have moments like these — probably more often than we realize. We live in a world of constant updates, notifications, and “breaking news,” and these all conspire to spike our cortisol and adrenaline levels, elicit fight or flight responses from our central nervous systems, and — if poorly managed — send us spiraling down into a pile of smoldering emotional wreckage. This is the result of short-term, reactionary thinking, which, while valuable at times, can bubble over if it isn’t kept in check. We lose sight of the larger whole — of what really matters to us in the big picture.

The problem is that a short-term mindset (mindset being a set of beliefs that influences how you think, feel, and behave) gets triggered constantly, whether it’s a distressing work email that intrudes late in the evening or the self-inflicted guilt that comes from a dad who feels he’s not doing enough for his daughter in Spanish class. These experiences are the new normal for so many of us, yet we face challenges that require us to go beyond this way of thinking and acting. There are moments when we need to think bigger than “right now” and think about a few hours from now, a few days from now, a few years from now, a few generations from now.

The Longpath mindset works in part to help relieve our reactions to stressful moments by providing a way of seeing the world that cultivates future conscious thinking and behavior. Longpath helps us start thinking and feeling beyond our individual life spans and to the impact we will have on future generations. And yes, that previous generations have had on us.

But Longpath is more than a mantra, a handy “mindful-ness time-out!” reminder, or a five-step prescription for a better tomorrow. It’s a way to move about the world with the right frame of mind. It helps us prioritize the things that truly matter and recognize what doesn’t.

Longpath is a mindset, a way of being, and an approach to life and the universe that seeks out comity and union with all other living and nonliving things across time and space — taking a view from thirty thousand feet in the sky and thirty thousand years into the past and the future. Longpath reminds us that we are part of something bigger than ourselves, and that while our own time is finite, we need to become the great ancestors our descendants need us to be.

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