Lesson #4: The Value Of Mental Models Comes From Their Application

If you just get one idea from the course, this should be it...

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The value of mental models comes from using them in specific situations in order to think new thoughts, make better decisions, or take smarter actions.

Let’s take the 80/20 rule as an example.

There is almost zero value in knowing that the 80/20 rule is a general pattern that was recognized by economist Vilfredo Pareto where 80% of the outputs often come from 20% of the inputs.

This might help you win Trivial Pursuit or solve a crossword puzzle, but it won’t help you in your day-to-day life. The value of mental models isn’t in knowing them. The value of mental models comes from systematically applying them.

For example, when I first applied the 80/20 rule to my life, I decided to focus on daily habits, because what we do daily determines our destiny. I thought to myself, “If I can get the right habits in place now and put them on auto-drive, I can virtually guarantee a good life.”

Next, I made a list of all of the habits I was aware of in the most important domains of my life; career, money, productivity, family, friends, parenting, and health.

Then, I narrowed down the list by looking for the 20% of habits that created 80% of the positive results in my life. After a lot of trial-and-error, I determined that the following habits were the key ones:

  1. Have one green smoothie per day.
  2. Take Vitamin D, Krill Oil, and B Complex vitamins daily.
  3. Get 8 hours of sleep per day.
  4. Walk 10,000 steps per day.
  5. Do 20 minutes of aerobic exercise 3-4 times per week.
  6. Spend 30 minutes prioritizing my day.
  7. Spend my mornings on the most important things I could do in the day.
  8. Spend at least 1 hour of quality time with my wife, and my kids every day.
  9. Spend 1 hour per day on deliberate learning.

Now, that I had a manageable number of habits I could afford to focus on accountability and follow-through for each of them. Over time, I experimented with a number of methods in order to be consistent.

But I didn’t stop there….

I went a step further and did an 80/20 on that list and realized that sleep was the #1 habit that created the most results (i.e. the 20% that gave me 80% of the impact). The basic observation was that if I was sleep deprived even for just one day I would become more likely to be distracted, have trouble thinking deeply, feel semi-depressed, be more irritable, have less willpower, and be less healthy. While I wouldn’t notice any immediate effects of the other habits, the effects of sleep deprivation were impossible to miss.

This realization pushed me to go really deep on developing a rock-solid sleep routine so it would be more consistent.

These habits are just a small fraction of how I use the 80/20 rule in my life. (I will share all of the ways I personally use the 80/20 rule in the weeks to come.)

Do you see the difference between knowing about mental models and getting results from them?

Many people think they understand a mental model because they can explain it, yet they only apply it in 1-2 areas of their life at a very surface level.

No. No. No.

When you go to the gym, the unit of exercise is a rep. When it comes to mental models, a rep is making a new connection or reinforcing an existing connection between a mental model and a situation.

My goal for you is to work up to 10 reps per day. You can do this by setting aside a block of time to brainstorm or as you go through your day, you can constantly ask yourself, “How can I apply XYZ mental model to this situation?”

Here are a few examples:

  • When you’re having meetings with people.
  • When you’re having lunch.
  • As you’re planning your day.
  • On your commute.
  • As you’re doing the chores.
  • As you’re doing your work.
  • When you are with family and friends.
  • When you’re thinking about what to eat.

The good news is that you don’t need to make it a huge time commitment. You just need to be consistent.

As you do this, you’ll start to notice something miraculous. Your unconscious mind will start to automatically notice relevant mental models. Then, they’ll just start to become part of your normal language.

This is the key. If you internalize this and do the reps, you will get the result.

How do I apply mental models in everyday life so I effortlessly use them in the right moments?

To master mental models (or anything for that matter) requires the same mastery process:

  1. Identify the fundamental components.
  2. Practice those components over and over until you have mastery.
  3. Learn to seamlessly combine components together until it's automatic.
  4. Learn to use the mental models in ALL of the areas of your life where they're relevant in the moment.

Let me tell you a little bit about my journey to becoming a top tennis player in the state of New Jersey when I was in high school.

At my peak, I would go into a flow state where I wouldn't even think about what I was doing; I would just do the right things at the right times. For example, in just one point, I'd expertly toss the ball in the air to just the right height, bend my knees the right amount, arch my back the right amount, rotate my shoulder the right amount, and crack the ball right in the center of the racket and send the ball flying at 120 mph. As soon as my opponent hit my serve with his racket, I would split-step and expertly position myself for the next shot and continue playing the point in the same effortless way. One point might only last a few seconds, but behind the scenes, I had unconsciously performed hundreds of little actions that set me up for success.

Getting to this level took 10 years of practicing tennis five days a week, receiving extensive coaching, and starting tournaments when I was still in grade school. Over that period, I meticulously practiced each component of each shot. It took me many months of practice until I even learned to play the sport.

The process of mastery is 100% doable for anyone, but it's not easy. There isn't a silver bullet where you can instantly get all of the results. It takes a lot of work over a long period of time to master anything. But it always starts with the fundamentals.