30 Mar '18
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The Power of Mental Models and How to Build Them

In reaching your full potential, your decision-making ability plays an important role. After all, your life is just the outcome of your decisions. So the better you are at making decisions, the better your life will be.

Good decision-making has two characteristics:

  • Effective: you make the right decision for your situation. You choose the right action to do.
  • Efficient: you make the decision fast. It doesn’t take you too much time to make the decision.

If you can make the right decisions, and make them fast, then you have a good decision-making ability.

But how can we achieve that? How can we be effective and efficient in decision-making?

The key, I believe, is having good mental models. A mental model is a framework about how something in the world works. When you have a mental model about learning, for instance, you have a framework about how learning works. You have an idea about what the components are and how they interact with each other.

Having good mental models allows you to make the right decisions fast.

Why is that the case? Here are two reasons:

  1. You can predict what would happen, so you know what right action to take is.
  2. You already have a framework, so you just need to give some input to get the output. Everything in between has been figured out. It’s fast.

Having good mental models, as you can see, is powerful. That’s why you need to make building them a priority.

Here are some tips on building good mental models.

1. Read the stories of great people.

Great people become great because they make good decisions. That means they have good mentals models. By reading their stories, you can learn about their mental models. What is the thinking behind their decisions? Why do they do what they do?

2. Make theories.

When you face a situation, don’t just think about how to handle that particular situation. Instead, find the principle that you can apply to similar situations later. Figure out the components and how they interact. Make theories.

3. Keep an idea journal.

In building mental models, it’s essential that you keep an idea journal. Write down all your observations and insights there.

The journal helps you build your frameworks. It helps you connect a new idea to your previous ideas.You may have only a partial picture in the beginning, but over time it will become more and more complete.

4. Refine your mental models.

You need to constantly refine your mental models. Why? Because a mental model that worked in the past might not work now.

For instance, Warren Buffett initially invested only in a certain type of companies as taught by his mentor, Benjamin Graham. But opportunities became scarce, so he refined his mental model and started investing in other types of companies. Similarly, you should refine your mental models.

5. Use your mental models.

Once you have a mental model, make sure to use it. Use it to make decisions fast and right. Having an idea journal is useful here because it can remind you of your models.

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Improving your life means improving your decisions. That requires you to have good mental models. So build your mental models and use them.

How do you improve your decision-making ability? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

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