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Mental models

Last edit: 2021-07-15

Mental models a.k.a. first principles find their reference in Aristotle's classic - Metaphysics. Internet is abuzz with the term - Mental models, and there are a trove of bullet lists on time tested principles like -- Thinking for yourself, second order thinking, inversion, and many more. Mental models help you breakdown complex problems into. Mental models help you make fewer mistakes and think better in situations which tend to re-occur every now and then.

This is a living page and I'll edit it as life goes on and I get more clarity about the past. As of 2021, I've battle tested three mental models which have worked well for me. Most of them are primarily around forming meaningful relationships which is what I am all about.

Battle grade

  1. Family > Health > Career
    Countless times I've faced a dilemma where the choice boiled down to choosing between family, health, or career. Life is not the same all throughout and mental models are prescriptive. Having this preference order in back of my mind gives me a starting point to think about situation without having to feel lost. These preference choices reflect and imbibe my "mental health first" principle too. My family has been supportive throughout my life and I make sure that I give then enough time without bringing in any baggage from other spheres of life. Health is the only wealth, and career is important too. However, life should be a playground where you sometime need to work, not the other way around. If play and career intersects that's the best situation you can hope for. But, in traditional sense I always focus on my mental and physical health before work.
  2. Hanlon's razor
    I came across this mental model while reading a book 5 years ago which I don't remember anymore but the principle has saved me many a times from thinking too much. People are stupid way more than they are clever. This is an anecdotal finding. They end up hurting you and as a return you feel pain, disgust, and hatred. I've worked for PayPal in the past and one of the guiding principles at the company was that think 99% of the people in the world are good. Surely, it has suited PayPal business, but for me this was a contrary thing by social standards where you look at everyone with doubt first. This mental model has helped me focus more on the goodness in the people than the spoonful of stupidity they sometime exhibit and annoy you. The result has been sustained good relationships. To clarify, the stupidity should not borderline with mental abuse. In which case, run. Run with both your slippers in hand. Just run.
  3. If someone gains from you without putting you at loss, give your best help
    This mental model is cliché, but that's the whole point of mental models. They are bound to sound like cliché. For this one I always credit my dad who made this one principle the foremost principle of his and our lives. Such situations might occur where you feel like someone is taking advantage of you but take a step back and think about it. If you are not at loss, give your best at elevating that person(s). For me, it has resulted in forming deeper connections with people than I would have otherwise.

Still experimental

  1. Lean into pain
    About 8 years ago, I read a book called Lynchpin by marketing guru Seth Godin. In the book, Seth talks about "lizard brain" and I remember one and only one line from that book --

    The lizard brain is the reason you're afraid, the reason you don't do all the art you can, the reason you don't ship when you can. The lizard brain is the source of the resistance. This term "lizard brain" has struck with me ever since. It was not until recently, I came across Aaron Swartz's awesome blog post on similar lines. Every time I'm overwhelmed by the thought that if I am taking on too much (work, lifting weights, push-ups, hot water shower) I pause to think if it is my physical body asking to stop or my mental lizard brain. This prescription has been working for now, I am calibrating it a little more to feel comfortable ignoring innate hardwiring.

Mental models