CREATE YOUR OWN MENTAL MODELS

My first advice to anyone who asks me how to deal with procrastination is — take the first smallest step. If your task is to read a book, my advice is to just take it out of your shelf and flip through it. Eventually, you will feel like reading it. It works for me, and I am pretty sure it will continue to be the same way.

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The reasoning behind this suggestion is that the first step is always the most difficult one. It is tough to get started.

I am giving this little piece of wisdom for the last three years. It is probably the most used mental model I have. However, a year ago I came across the mental model of Activation Energy on the Farnam Street blog. It was similar to my above-mentioned advice. I am not trying to establish some sort of intellectual supremacy over an ambiguous idea. Don’t mistake me for that.

My point is that you can create your own mental models. There is nothing uniquely genius about them. I was already practicing most mental models I have read till now.

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Reading about them just reinforces their relevance in your mind. It makes you more confident when you use them the next time.

Related: Occam’s Razor and Analogous Thinking

Before we get into the fine details of creating mental models, it is important to understand what they actually are.

What Are Mental Models

Mental models don’t make you intelligent, they make you smart, they make you clever. They are more like blinkers than telescopes. Mental models are shortcuts that make your thinking efficient. They are cheap hacks that give you the right lens to look at a problem. They reduce your cognitive load.

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However, an important thing to keep in mind is that all mental models will eventually be proved wrong to a greater or lesser degree.

The goal of an ideal mental model is not to be always right but to be less wrong — to be useful in games it is created for. They are very crude chunks of wisdom, that are prone to further modifications and alterations.

It is as George Box noted — “all models are wrong, some are useful.” You have constructed a successful mental model if it is useful. If it is proven wrong a few times in certain unique settings, don’t worry, exceptions don’t discredit the rule itself.

Without further ado, let’s discuss a three-step journey to create mental models.

Assume | Act | Analyze

The first step to create a mental model is to observe your environment and look for a specific pattern. Your life is a network of complicated games.

Your college is a game, your house and your interactions with your family is another, the place you are visiting in your vacations is also a game (probably a collection of games).

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Every social setting where you feel a change in the momentum of your behavior is a different game.

Related: Game Theory

The way you interact with your co-players changes as you transition from one game to another. You don’t talk to your parents the way you do with your friends.

Assume

Identify the game you are in and formulate assumptions around the rules of that game. Observe your journey in that game and the payoffs you are looking for. Create the assumptions that will help you to:

  1. Maximize those payoffs.
  2. Establish a fundamental understanding of the game.

Act

The next thing to keep in mind is that your assumption is just a raw piece of unreliable information. Don’t trust it, test it. Externalize it in the real world. Through externalization, a part of your mental model becomes codified and embedded into a reality upon which others will place their own constructions.

Analyze

This moment is commonly referred to as the moment of truth since it either validates or invalidates your emerging mental model. This is why it is the most important step. You look back at your actions to analyze whether your assumptions make sense in the real world or not.

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Since we rewrite history all the time to support our sacred theory, retrospectives can lead to delusions as easily as they can lead to wisdom. Your moment of truth should be an act of creative destruction. You should always aim to falsify your hypothesis. And it is a reliable hypothesis if it is difficult to do that.

Related: How to Think Like a Scientist

Whether your reconstructed memories are delusions or critical histories depends entirely on your capacity for honest introspection.

The world will tell you to assume and judge less, I say do more of it. You don’t have to communicate those assumptions. You don’t have to rude and rigid about them. Be skeptical about them. Doubt them and test them.

The essay was originally published in my substack newsletter. If you like what you just read, then, by all means, subscribe.

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