Successful, field-tested mental models likely to improve your life

May 1, 2011 by Joshua
in Blog, Freedom, Tips

Here’s some great news: you never observe or sense your world directly. Besides having limited and imperfect senses and a fading memory, your expectations influence all your observations.

These limitations are not problems. On the contrary, you can use them to improve your life. After all, a good life (whatever that means to you) doesn’t come from more information or accuracy. There is infinite information and your brain is finite, so no matter how much you have, there’s always infinite more. A good life comes from rewarding emotions, like happiness and joy, or whatever emotion you want for your situation.

We form mental models for parts of our environments and tend to funnel new information into them. They also lead to strategies. By strategies, I don’t mean we make plans based on them like a strategist would. I mean we do the best we can based on how we perceive the world so when our models influence that perception they influence our behavior.

Most of us passively acquire the mental models, not realizing they aren’t objective reality — they’re mental constructs. Some of us realize we can choose new models. Here I’ll share some simple models I’ve found effective for me that differ from some common counterproductive models.

More important for your life than any one model, no matter how effective it is for me, is the idea and practice that you can purposefully change your models. You aren’t stuck with whatever first one came to mind. You can create your own.

Still valuable, though less important, are the models themselves. I hope they work for you as much as they work for me. I expect you’ll modify them to fit your needs.

I also expect I’ll update this post periodically in two ways. First, I’ll add new models as they occur to me or I adopt new ones. Second, I expect to turn each item into a link to a post on that particular model, which will include how I use them, what mainstream models they replace, examples, and exercises to help adopt them if I can.

  • Strategy: “Always interpret everything positively” (Model: “Beliefs and expectations filter your perception.”)
  • Strategy: “Don’t look for blame but take responsibility for making things better to the extent you can” (Model: “Everyone always does the best they can based on their perception of their environment and their abilities”)
  • Model: “Everything always works out.” (Strategy: “Enjoy the moment, even in otherwise stressful moments”)
  • Model: “I have something to learn from everyone” (Strategy: “Assume people are smarter than you. Be humble.”)
  • Model: “Life decisions are like skiing when a path forks or choosing a wave to surf.” (Strategy: “Realize that choosing is better than not choosing.”)
  • Model: “Life is like surfing or skiing (as opposed to a competitive, zero sum, or strategy game like chess).” (Strategy: “Enjoy life! Don’t expect that someone has to lose. You get better with practice.)
  • Model: “Someone has already solved a problem just like yours.” (Strategy: “When faced with a problem, ask ‘What problem is like this one, how was it solved, and how can I use that solution here?'”)
  • Model: “Dealing with difficult people is emotionally like lifting heavy weights at the gym: exercise that builds muscle” (Strategy: “Look forward to it like going to the gym.”)
  • For most tasks, people’s abilities don’t differ that much. (Strategy: “What anyone can do, I can too.”)

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3 responses on “Successful, field-tested mental models likely to improve your life

  1. Pingback: » How to choose between nearly equal but incomparable options Joshua Spodek

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  3. Pingback: Joshua Spodek » More thoughts on being less judgmental

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