10 Mental Models to Improve Your Thinking

Clear the noise in your head

Photo by Alice Butenko on Unsplash

You can’t see reality directly, all you can see is mental models.

Our mental models are just a simplified version of reality, we carry in our heads, and help us make sense of the world facilitating decision making.

Reality is too complex, there is far too much data to process, without models we’d be lost.

However, no model is perfect, these are some of their limitations:

We have a tendency to use a limited number of models, those we’ve been taught, ignoring the rest.

If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail

Engineers think in systems, psychologists in incentives and biologist in evolution models.

It’s important that we are aware of our own blind spots and correct them if we want to make better decisions.

10 useful models you can use in your daily life

1. The narrative model

We have a strong tendency to create stories out of random unconnected events. We see patterns everywhere and have an explanation ready for all this unconnected data. We prefer a story, even fabricated, rather than no story at all.

Even when we look back at the past, we insert a backfitting narrative to find a plausible explanation — ‘I’ve always been good with numbers, that’s why I became an accountant’

Not only we have our self-made narratives, but we also absorb societal ones.

Religion, sports, money, freedom, and even human rights are some examples of concepts with no objective reality. Some of these can be very useful to navigate life but it’s important to see them as mere mental constructs.

Examples of personal narratives are: ‘I’m an introvert’, ‘I’m creative’, ‘I’m lazy’, etc.

Once you believe a narrative, you don’t question it and it stays with you despite plenty of contrary evidence.

Since it’s inevitable to create and believe in narratives, you might as well chose those that benefit you and get rid of the negative ones.

If you believe you are lazy, shy, risk-averse, and untalented it’s because you have created these stories. If you look back, you’ll find plenty of examples in which you were hard working, extrovert, risk-taker, and talented. You’ve been telling yourself the wrong story. Change the story and you’ll change your life.

2. Consistency Bias

We, humans, have a tendency to remain consistent with our prior commitments and our former selves.

There’s societal pressure to project a stable image and to behave in a predictable way. People that keep changing their ways and personalities are rejected by the group.

However, we do change a lot throughout our lives and this pressure to remain consistent can be an obstacle to our development.

By being aware of this bias you can do something about it. You can decide to change and to improve regardless of what others (or even yourself) think. You can change your career, your personality, your skills, your perspective, your taste, your friends, and your political views.

People grow, develop, and change their minds and quite rightly so. Don’t get married to a position, review your vision, and make the changes you see fit.

3. Second-Order Thinking

We are capable of estimating the imminent consequences of our actions but often ignore or underestimate second and third-order consequences.

We may decide to play golf just for fun but in the long run, it can be an excellent opportunity for networking that might change your life.

When you are making decisions about the future, don’t stop at the obvious, keep digging. Actions have a domino effect and those consequences can be good or bad. Make sure you exhaust all the possibilities.

4. Compounding effects.

Small insignificant actions can reap huge benefits when repeated over and over.

What you do every day can have positive effects that grow exponentially over time. A healthy diet, exercise, reading, learning, new challenges are all very beneficial for your body and mind. Focus on the task at hand and let time do its work.

5. Via Negativa

What you don’t do is more important than what you do


Not smoking saves more lives than all cancer treatments combined.

You want to lose weight, get rid of junk food.

You want to be more productive, get rid of distractions.

You want to be happy, simplify your life.

Less is more

6. Inversion

Sometimes is very helpful to start thinking about a problem from the end instead of the beginning. Knowing where you want to get at and working backward from there can shift your perspective and make you arrive at new creative solutions.

Charlie Munger suggests that thinking about the opposite of what you want, can give you a competitive advantage in everything you do.

By avoiding being stupid, instead of trying to be clever you’ll achieve better results and be able to solve complex problems.

Every time you are confronted with a problem think about what you want to avoid instead of what you want to achieve.

7. Probabilistic Thinking

Nothing is black and white, there are no clear-cut solutions and very few things can be proved using the scientific method. Instead, it’s better to use probability and statistics in order to reach a conclusion.

Choose tasks with a higher likelihood of success and increase the odds by tinkering with the system.

8. Cognitive Dissonance

We all live in constant contradiction. We know smoking and drinking are bad for us and yet we still do it. In order to cope with those contradictions, we make rationalizations to explain our behavior.

Being aware of our cognitive dissonance can improve decision making and save our lives.

9. Confirmation Bias

We only see what confirms our predetermined beliefs and ignore the rest.

If you think flying is dangerous, you’ll notice every plane that goes down ignoring the millions that don’t.

This way of thinking ignores a big chunk of reality and should be avoided when making decisions.

10. Scalability

When you decide to take action, make sure you do it in a way that scales. Instead of working hard at a dead-end job, start a business, write a book, or invest your money.

Anything scalable is better in the long run. You invest your time once and it reaps benefits forever.


Be aware of the mental models you use to interpret the world. Make sure you have enough variety to see reality from many different points of view.

Be careful with those models that simplify too much and give you a biased perception of the world.

Realize that you’ll never be able to understand the complexities of life but if you choose the right models you can navigate the difficulties of life with success.

Be a model, use models.

Student of life. Trying to make sense of it all, be happy and help others achieve their dreams. Join me at: albertotheauthor@gmail.com

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