Why mental models matter
In times of crisis, we may not have anything at all but a mind with the capability to think, which is more powerful than anything we may not have
A lot of times we find ourselves in moments of crisis - financial, psychophysical or social. In those moments, we tend to give up our efforts. It is not often our fault when something happens to us through external causes that are out of our control. Yet, we become sufferers of these circumstances.
It is a vicious cycle - the more we suffer, the more we tend to withdraw and the more we withdraw, the more we fall victim to the sufferings.
It is commonly agreed that suffering is universal. The universe is mostly cold and certain forces of nature are constantly trying to take our lives. Most of our efforts are to avoid suffering in many forms. And indeed, history proves that certain forms of suffering can be alleviated through human efforts.
Realising that we cannot avoid suffering, we wonder whether we can take measures that could delay or block it for some time. We all wish we had the capacity to do something about it.
Ironically, we all possess the tool. We just do not know how to use it.
Thriving in times of crisis requires more than just health, wealth and allies. Sometimes, these are absent, and the state and feeling of nakedness are often associated with feelings of loneliness and suffering itself.
French Philosopher Rene Descartes once famously said, "Cogito, Ergo Sum," which translates to: "I think, therefore, I exist."
His argument was that even if his whole life was a dream, he could not doubt that he was the person who was thinking this very thought. Thus, he came to the conclusion that his mind and thoughts were proof that he existed.
In times of crisis, we may not have anything at all but a mind with the capability to think, which is more powerful than anything we may not have. It is still the one thing we can rely on to continue our existence.
One might argue that we could have our minds in times of crisis and still suffer. The answer then is to be more precise and say that having the right mindset, or mental model, is important.
But what is a mental model and why do we not know about it?
At educational institutes, we are taught many things to fill our minds with, but we are surprisingly not taught how to use our minds. A mental model is a collection of mindset, perspective, value or principle that helps us think with emotional intelligence, creatively from a different perspective and helps build psychological resilience.
From historical to contemporary times, there have been endless situations from which cornered human beings have broken out of. Not only did they break out, but they also continued to thrive because of the very insights they gathered from those moments.
From the textbook "Robert Bruce and the Spider" to Thomas Alva Edison's invention of light bulbs to Elon Musk's SpaceX breakthrough, the stories are endless. Yet, it is surprising that we fear challenges that lie out of our comfort zone.
So why do so many people still lay sunk in perpetual frustration?
Mental models, by nature, are a choice. No one can teach or force anyone to acquire these skills if they are unwilling to acquire them. And it is only when we are interested, or feel the need to acquire these mental models and virtues, is when we start to find hidden gems everywhere.
For those who want to get started, journaling is a good place to begin. We talk to people when we are sad, we vent on social media, but rarely, despite the availability of pen and paper, do we use it to talk to ourselves.
Keeping a journal of daily events, thoughts, actions and feelings can help you track your emotional needs, strengths and spots for improvement. It is the first stage of you getting to know yourself.
Different people around you will probably have different needs from you. Maybe you have an unhealthy habit that you want to give up. Maybe there is a traumatic memory that is making you suffer or maybe your financial status is making your life difficult. Getting to know your needs will help you start thinking of the changes you want in your life.
Most of us want to change, but we are not sure what we want to change or what it is that we want to see changed. Writing down a vision for change will help you get there.
You may feel compelled to force yourself to go for overnight changes but that may not work. Study others who fell into similar situations as you. Join a community, read a book, search the internet or watch documentaries.
When you listen to the stories or watch the documentaries, you will be able to put yourself in their shoes. You can look for techniques and frameworks as well. Some of the widely used techniques are setting a goal, analysing cause and effect, prioritisation, compound interest, behaviour change, cognitive biases, network building, problem solving, scientific methods, opportunity and learning how to learn.
An infographic by Michael Simmons gives an excellent overview of the mental models. In his book "Atomic Habits", James Clear talks about how small changes in our everyday life, if sustained for a long period of time, can bring about enormous long-term changes.
It is not easy to break and build habits but there are a myriad of examples and evidence of how people have successfully remoulded their habits.
Many times you may get obsessed with what you are doing and when there is no expected result, you get angry and feel like giving up. A better strategy is to rest and try another day.
Mental models do not bring immediate changes. The human brain has an attribute called "neuroplasticity". It implies that it can change and adapt to many things, but this adaptation takes some time and effort. The more you train your brain to do useful things, the better it will be adept at acquiring more useful things, and vice versa.
If you are struggling today, either with society, financial state or life in general, and I have convinced you to put your best tool to use, now is the best time to start. You can do it!
Muhammad Mustafa Monowar is the deputy manager of Human Resources at Bangladesh-China Power Company (Pvt.) Limited
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.