Don’t Chase Mental Models
Build your own instead.
You didn’t, I’m wrong?
What was your inner sensation? What did it cause to start reading an article this way?
Maybe when reading “STOP,” an inner voice shouted at you just this. To stop. You may have seen a blurry image of a man waving his hand forward. Or a feeling of touch. Maybe someone pulled you back.
Whatever it was, we all have some inner feelings. It can be visual, auditory, or touch. For me, it’s a voice.
The way she talks to me. Here tone. Her joy on a bright sunny day or her self-pity following a failure. That’s my inner voice! Your inner voice is different from mine, but I bet they both have something in common.
What It Looks to Fail
I remember preparing an oral to present a work. I knew what I was talking about, and it was clear in my mind. The night before, while reading my PowerPoint, I’ve started picturing myself doing it.
My little voice took the floor. She was on fire and stringed-together sentence after sentence coherently, leading the audience to the perfect conclusion without any hitches. It was beautiful. It was smooth. It was the total opposite of what happened the following morning…
After several minutes of talking, I lost my words. I had memory lapses. I sometimes had to rewind my slides, take a breath, and go back to the fight slightly less motivated.
This day, my little voice disappointed me. But I realize something.
Simulation Powered by Mental Models
Since I was a baby, all the photons that bounced off my surroundings landed in my retina. All the audible wavelengths made my eardrum vibrate to the rhythm of the sounds. All of that led to a strange phenomenon; My brain eventually learned to do simulations of the real world.
That night. Before the disaster. My brain built the perfect scenario. It was me in Martin Luther King’s body, but when the day came, reality took over.
To solve this kind of problem, we have mental models. They exist to make our simulation engine works better. They shape our behavior and set an approach to solving problems and doing tasks.
Practice at least once in the same conditions before a talk. Here is a great mental model for not getting screwed as I do, to bring our simulation closer to reality.
We use tons of mental models in our daily life without realizing it. Often, they are just answers to ordinary situations.
For instance, I have a coat rack dedicated to my keys. I don’t trust my brain when it comes to knowing where they are, so I built this mental model; Put your keys on your coat rack when you get home. Take them to the exact same place before you leave next time.
Don’t Search for Mental Models!
Internet is a big market of mental models. All over the world, people are collecting them from the bests. From those at the top of their game — “la crème de La crème” in French—with this idea in mind: Good mental models = accurate view of the world = success.
Tons of content flaunt the mental models of Jeff Besos, Elon Musk, and Warren Buffett. From tech entrepreneurs to investors to politicians, we have them all.
Recently though, I noticed something. My best mental models are not mental models. I mean. When I came across them, they were not presented this way. And I didn’t actively search for them.
It is often content I resonate with so much that my brain immediately decided to update its simulation firmware.
Most people, though, prefer to actively seek them out. Which I think is stupid.
- “13 Mental Models Every Founder Should Know,”
- “Mental models that make you a better product manager,”
- “Mental Models: Look At Your Decision-Making Process, Not The Outcome.”
Forget these. The more you look, the less you’ll find. That’s the rule.
How to Build Your Mental Models
Follow your interests. It will lead you to stumble upon bits of wisdom. You’ll start by thinking: “That was so interesting! I feel like I’m learning” while reading a blog post. And then, the time will decide for you if it’s a worthy mental model. Discussions. Writings. Experiences will meet in a: “It reminds me of the blog post I’ve read!” Little by little, it will become a part of you.
There is nothing more useless than a list of mental models. No sensations. Vague personal story. Just a plain explanation of what it is and how it has benefits “Great leaders,” “Entrepreneurs,” “Successful Investors.”
You’re not Elon Musk! What feels right to him isn’t what feels right to you. Thinking from first principles is a cool one. Ask yourself if this is really for you.
I’m sure there are so many mental models you already have that are far more useful than this example. They can look simple, but they are profound and unique because forged by your sensation. From your experience. By your own “trial and error” process.
Your job now is just that. Stop searching for mental models. Build yours.
Let your mind pick on interesting topics freely that have nothing to do with mental models. Extract interesting ideas, those that make you feel good. Then. Refine them until the raw fragments of wisdom turn into gems of mental models. If you do, I assure you will become much better at running mental simulations.
And at doing talks.