How to Change Your Life in the Present Moment: Consider Your Mental Models

When it comes to making changes in our lives, we often think about the future. We think about what we want to achieve, and how we’re going to get there. This is especially true when it comes to larger life changes – like quitting a job, starting a business, or moving to a new city.

But what if I told you that the best time to make changes in your life is right now? In the present moment? That’s what Malcolm Goldsmith argues in his book What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. According to Goldsmith, the only time we can actually change is now. The future is uncertain, and what has made us successful to this point, won’t continue to make us successful in the long term.

We can consider our mental models when considering changes we’d like to make. A mental model is an explanation of how things work based on a concept, framework, or worldview that helps us understand the relationships between things as we experience them. We often live our lives according to mental models that we’ve created over time. When we realize that something in our life needs to change it’s often because the mental model we are working from no longer serves us.

Yet, long before we change our mental models, we continue to use them because they allowed us to be successful in the past. In a recent blog post, The Map is Not the Territory Shane Parrish writes, “This tendency is, obviously, problematic in our effort to simplify reality. When we see a powerful model work well, we tend to over-apply it, using it in non-analogous situations. We have trouble delimiting its usefulness, which causes errors.”

For example, you might have a mental model that tells you the best way to get ahead in your career is to work hard and put in long hours. And for a while, this mental model may serve you well. But eventually, you may find yourself working harder and harder with diminishing returns. At this point, you realize that working harder is no longer serving you, so you start to evaluate your beliefs that are the basis of your mental model.

Our mental models provide us with a view of how the world works. When we work with limited models (because they have led to our success in the past) we are eliminating models that may show us greater perspective in our decision making.

A physical example of limiting our perspective is when you cover your right eye, you see things only from the left eye’s perspective. When you cover the left eye, you see things from your right eye’s perspective which is different than the left eye’s perspective. Each eye’s perspective works but is limited. It’s when you look at something with both eyes (both perspectives), you get a more complete picture of what you’re seeing.

Similarly, when we only rely on the mental models that have worked for us in the past, we limit our ability to see things from multiple perspectives that may work better for us. We may be missing out on information that could help us make better decisions.

To broaden how we see the world, make us more effective at tackling challenging problems, and have a greater understanding of the world around us we need to employ many mental models. But first, we need to consider the models we currently use.

Some questions to consider:

  1. What models do I have in my life that have contributed to my success?
  2. What models may be outdated and need to change?

Writing down your answers to these questions will help with reflection and understanding of these models. It will also help you recall what models you currently use and why they need to change in the future (say 2 hours from now) when you’ve stepped away from this blog and come back to it and wonder why you were so excited about changing your mental models in the first place.

Now start considering other mental models. Like everything in life that leads to great success-it’s simple, but not easy.

It takes commitment and time to look at our models and identify models that will work better for us, moving forward. But, if we want to truly understand our lives and make decisions that lead to success (however we define that for ourselves) looking at the mental models of others is a great start.

Learning about multiple models of others from primary sources is the most effective way to do this. Reading widely from the best books is another great way to look at multiple models and see how they have been effective for others. Finally, studying the fundamentals from fields like art, science, history, math, and philosophy all of which may seem unrelated but actually are connected because they apply to the different facets of life. When we examine the foundations of life from different perspectives we have the opportunity to make connections, learn from people with varying life experiences, and create meaning that is applicable to our own lives.

There’s a reason that the greatest leaders of our time and most successful business people make time each day to read. Bill Gates even takes two weeks each year to spend time alone, reading.

Taking in information from multiple sources and applying it to our lives through our personal filters of what holds meaning to us and what we value, it becomes liquid. Flowing from our relationships to our health, finances, and career decisions in creative ways that allow us to live with intent and updated mental models.

With the unprecedented availability of books, there’s no excuse not to read these amazing books. I rotate my reading daily from my Kindle to print books and audiobooks. I make use of the library for print books as well as audiobooks and e-books. Here’s a great list of books by the author of Atomic Habits James Clear. This list is a great place to start reading best books when considering what books to read.

The mental models that we use shape our lives. If we want to change our lives, we need to consider the mental models that we use. We can start by reflecting on the mental models that have worked for us in the past and those that may be outdated. We can also broaden our perspective by learning from others and reading about different mental models. It all starts with answering two simple questions:

  1. What models do I have in my life that have contributed to my success?
  2. What models may be outdated and need to change?

Then use the list of best books here to start changing your mental models. What are you waiting for? The best time is now.

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