Building a mental model

In a world growing ever faster and more complex, are you prepared to adapt your way of living to keep moving forward? Being able to think critically, analyse and situation and then take action sounds simple, but when facing a barrage of emails, phone calls, meetings, and face to face conversations, are you able to apply a usable mental model to all your engagements or are you simply reacting to the world around you in a frantic scramble to keep up?

Mental discipline and focus are two values I hold close to my heart, but as the volume of information we process daily increases, it becomes harder and harder to maintain them. In business, this is reflected by the growth of bureaucracy, excessive procedure and policy and the waste which arises from hundreds, if not thousands of people working together.

Many problems within businesses are totally obvious to those at the coal front, but senior managers seem unable to address the problems swiftly and effectively, even when those problems are totally predictable. We seem to focus more of looking and saying the right thing than actually doing it half the time, meaning that companies like Carillion end up producing fantastic annual statements, passing audits with flying colours, and then going bankrupt just months later.

As an individual, you are unlikely to affect the outcomes of an entire company, but you can always affect the outcomes of your own life. Before you can do this, however, you must develop strong mental discipline and analytical models to identify and act on salient information. It sounds obvious, but bad thinking leads to bad outcomes – so why not develop good thinking?

If you’re interested in developing good thinking, you might want to start by considering some of the ideas below;

  1. Avoiding black and white statements. When people say that it’s “My way or the highway”, it’s the same mental principle as stating ‘Women are only good for the cooking” or that “Black people are thieves”. Speaking with confidence is a good thing, but not to the point where you’re overgeneralising. The world is full of nuance – become used to identifying and working with it.
  2. Accepting all opinions as equal. We are all entitled to an opinion. But we are not entitled to force that opinion on others or to blindly accept opinions as fact. When you blindly accept whatever people tell you, you open yourself up to their biases’ or pre-disposed ideas without critically examining a situation for yourself.
  3. Read widely. One of my biggest strengths comes from accepting that I am not an expert on everything, but that I can gain access to the knowledge of experts by reading their ideas. Wherever possible, seek to learn new ideas for yourself – whilst delegating is a powerful tool to boost productivity, blind delegation leaves you open to shoddy workmanship.
  4. Challenge what you are told. Just because someone tells you something, doesn’t mean that it is 100% correct or that it can’t be improved upon.
  5. Don’t sweat the little stuff. Having patience is one of the most important traits for maintaining mental discipline. You might take 100 decisions in a day, from the clothes you wear, to your route to work, what you eat, how to tackle the projects you’re working on and handle the family crises that inevitably spring up. If you have only a single decision to make, you can spend the entire day gathering information and opinions before you take action, but if you have another 99 things waiting on you, you have to be swift and decisive. By recognising that not every decision is of equal importance, you can focus on the things which will drive your agenda forward.

Sign up to receive the latest content, fresh from the press.

I don’t spam! Read our disclaimer for more info.