By Barb Ward

Have you ever been in a situation where you just can’t find the solution to a really challenging problem until a coworker walks in, you share the problem and suddenly, with her perspective, the answer is crystal clear? Why couldn’t you solve the problem on your own? It is because your mind has a specific process for approaching the problem.

Your process is limited by your own experiences, biases, and expertise. By adding views of another with different experiences and perspectives, you were able to work the problem from a different angle, thus allowing you to overcome the challenge.

This is called a mental model. 

Mental models are internal thought processes, stories, assumptions, judgements, and the conclusions you draw to understand how something works in the real world. They serve as filters that affect what you perceive and how you interpret the data. Simply put, it is the framework or lens through which you understand the world. 

Your mental models are unique to you and are intrinsic – they are guidelines by which we come to a conclusion or decision without a lot of conscious thought.  In fact, research has shown that we simply do not have access to many of the unconscious thoughts, feelings, and motives we experience each day. Therefore, we tend to draw conclusions and make decisions that may feel true for us, but do not consider the many other perspectives or possibilities.

 

While mental models are imperfect, they are immensely useful in daily life. And, the good news is, you can consciously develop new mental models by opening yourself to new perspectives and ways of looking at the world. Broadening your mental models can help you make wiser choices, take better actions, and think more clearly, rationally, and effectively.

 

Here are a few suggestions to help you expand your mental models:

  • Read quality books, articles, and blogs from authors with widely different perspectives.
  • Listen and learn from people with vastly different backgrounds, cultures, and life experiences.
  • Consider how information from seemingly unrelated fields fit together to create a bigger picture.

 

How could expanding your mental models help you in your career? With your relationships? In your life?