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Which Mental Models Are You Running?

2022.06.28


A mental model is a catch-all term for any concept, framework, or worldview you carry around with you.

They guide our perceptions and behaviors, so it is useful to reflect now and then to see which ones are in play.

“Better safe than sorry” is a very common mental model. People operating with this one will often take actions to minimize risk or make detailed plans about the future.

As an economist, a mental model that deeply colors my view is that “incentives matter”.

Whether or not you inherently trust people you’ve never met is probably a mental model in play.


Mental models are sometimes explicitly used by organizations or teams. For example “be outcome blind” might be a common refrain to remind people to focus on the process.

Many times though, an organization or team will operate using unstated mental models. For example, an organization may have a bias toward hopping on every opportunity that comes along, regardless of strategic or tactical advantage, because implicitly it is operating for “regret minimization”.


Which Mental Models Are You Running?

Take some time to reflect on the mental models you are using, and whether or not they are helpful or holding you back. Anytime a "should" pops up, or other "rules", or the "right way" to do something, there is a good chance a mental model is in play.

  1. What’s your mental model around...?
  • stress
  • your capabilities
  • rest
  • saying no
  • people pleasing
  • eating healthy
  • leadership
  1. What mental models do you observe within your workplace overall, or your team specifically around ...?
  • conflict
  • transparency
  • deadlines
  • how the work gets done
  • being a team player
  • taking breaks or time off
  • leadership
  1. What mental models do you observe in your loved ones?

As you become more and more aware of your own mental models, you can decide whether they are helpful to you, or whether you'd like to retire any and try something new.

Observing mental models in play with your colleagues can give you more insight into the interpersonal dynamics that you are experiencing.

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