A few years back, I had an interesting experience. Our son’s pediatrist worked in a private hospital. Apart from his skill and ability to be excellent with kids, visiting him was a pleasant experience due to its convenient location, ample parking space, neat and clean hospital and friendlier staff. The doctor was great with the kid and made us comfortable too. Due to some emergency, one fine day, we needed to visit his own consulting clinic. It was in a bit crowded locality, I struggled to find the parking space, entry to the clinic was through the side of the building and minimal waiting area. I was disappointed, and despite knowing the doctor for some time, I felt I should rethink — all for no reason.
The same doctor but the different setup, and I was willing to discount all the good experiences of a couple of years.
That’s nothing but how spaces impacted me — Mental Models.
I am not a movie buff, but I enjoy some. Vantage Point was one such movie. It has mixed reviews; however, I appreciated the way the concept was presented. The President is assassinated, and how Barnes — an agent on protection duty, rescues the President. The story covers how different people view the plot through their version of the events. Barnes solves the puzzle by connecting the dots. It’s a movie, so it obviously ends with the rescue.
A fragmented plot was a great way to portray the situation. It’s pretty relatable to real-life experiences where I thought I know the truth and, in reality, discovered the truth later.
That’s all because of an impression of everything on us or, in other words, the mental models we have.
What are mental models?
Mental models are very powerful constructs. It’s a lens through which we make sense of our surrounding. It’s one’s understanding of what’s out there, it’s ones own version of truth. They come in all shapes and forms, positive as well as negative.
I am sure all of us can count countless examples when someone stupid has solved a very complex problem. We also know some lazy person toiling hard today and achieving success. That’s the reality.
Some people make us feel comfortable in a very short time. If we think, carefully they would probably say something or do something which we believe in. Remember the bond we felt by knowing that the other person follows the same sport and shares the same home team. It’s incredible to notice how these connections shape our opinions about the person without actual experience.
Negative side experience is more adversely impacting. Most people like to make decisions about money will a little bit of patience. I am no exception. Once I came across a financial advisor who would start advising from the 2nd minute into the conversation. I formed a very negative opinion about the person and felt not at all worth trusting. He didn’t even listen to my thoughts until he finished with all the suggestions on what can I do. Naturally, I stayed away. Later on, I found out that person rose quite fast in the organisation due to his financial acumen.
Mental models are nothing but the mental imagery we carry about everything around us based on every piece of information we have collected in the past.
So if they can have so much damaging impact, what can we do about mental models?
Awareness is the key. Learning Mental models can help us know who we are, how we behave, what we like and what we don’t. It allows us to validate things. And with reasonable understanding, it helps to respond than react.
The root of our (mis)understanding lies in our ability to observe. We often listen or read what we want to hear or see, only to discover our misinterpretation later. Listening with intent and a clear mind goes a long way in getting the true sense of reality and getting a fresh perspective.
2 tricks to use the mental model effectively
- Observe intently
- Suspend the judgment; it’s a well-established fact that we understand it holistically if we listen to understand and not respond.
How to learn to observe?
One might argue that isn’t that something we do naturally. While that’s true, to be aware of one’s own mental models, we need to observes ourselves. That can be very, very difficult, as we are thinking and behaving accordingly anyway is a complex phenomenon. Add observing oneself to that, and it might get very complicated. There are some starting points. By no means this enough, but it would get us started.
Ask simple questions such as what is the purpose of this conversation, what are the thoughts, name your feeling at that moment. Along with this, pay attention to changes in the body — that helps in looking inward. As it is said,“The moment you observe it changes!”
Keeping the default point of view aside or suspending the mental model
This could be tricky and needs practice. The good part is the majority of the seeds are sown in the previous skill — Observing.
During the training, I learnt an activity which I believe pretty helpful. It suggests we write down assumptions, fears, thoughts about what we have. Physically tear and drop it in the dustbin. This helps in staying free from those thoughts, at least for a couple of hours. It just lets out some of the bit negativity and helps in focussing on here and now.
I am going through a course that will help me build a conscious awareness of various facets of trust. As I go through multiple sessions and activities, I intend to write here to share things with you and, in the process, understand them better. Looking forward to your comments and feedbacks.