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The Six Mental Models for Problem Solving

Sometimes I feel particularly stuck on a problem and I know I have to make a decision, but none of the options feel quite right.

Over the past few months of research, I’ve picked up a series of six mental models (questions I can ask myself, essentially) that help me figure out the following:

What I really want from the situation.

Whether I’m using the right mental tools for the job.

Here are the six questions:

1. What Core Value Are You Optimizing For?

Asking ‘what core value am I optimizing for right now?’ gives me permission to prioritize the core value I care about the most. I can say ‘yes I care about X – but right now, I’m optimizing for Y.’

2. What Would Your Mental Board of Advisors Say?

Consulting my Mental Board of Advisors always helps when I’m stuck on a decision.

The Mental Board of Advisors is a group of 3-4 people (dead or alive) who you admire, and who you know well enough to be able to ask ‘what would [Naval / The Rock / Malala] do in this position?’

3. What Are Your Underlying Assumptions?

Every problem is propped up by a bunch of underlying assumptions. Challenge those assumptions, and the problem often fades away:

  • I can’t decide what film to watch tonight... → Who says I have to watch a film? Why not go for a walk instead?

  • I need to rush this YouTube video for the sponsorship deadline. → Do I? No one will pull the plug on a sponsorship just because the video came out a day or two late. I should relax, and focus on making a good video.

  • I have to do X thing, or my friends won’t like me any more. → Do I want judgmental friends? Are they actually my friends? Alternatively: would my friends actually judge me for this?

4. Can You Adjust the Friction?

If I want to do more of something, I minimize the friction for doing it.

I want to make more journal entries for example. So I’ve started keeping a journal with me at all times, and if I have an idea I can whip out my journal and start writing with zero friction.

And when I want to do something less, I maximize the friction. Keeping my phone away from bed, keeping sweets out of the house, switching off notifications.

Make things easier / more difficult for your future self.

5. Are You Applying Leverage?

Are you trying to solve your problem with brute force? By putting in more time and effort?

Or are you solving it the smart way – building a system, and using unfair advantages (contacts, skills, or money)? That’s what leverage is all about, using your resources to achieve the best possible outcome.

6. Are You Giving Yourself Permission to Experiment?

Instead of seeing every decision as life-changing and irreversible, think of yourself as a scientist running an experiment. Try shit out just to see what happens. Even if the experiment fails, you’ll still gain valuable data.

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