[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]
I once spoke with a psychologist who specialized in intelligence. She told me that flexibility in how one sees the world is a major part of intelligence. At first I didn’t see the connection, but then it made sense. The more ways you can look at a problem, the more ways you can try to solve it. By contrast, if you limit the number of ways you see something, you limit the number of ways you can solve it.
Most people want to be more intelligent, but that’s a mere side benefit of today’s model.
A model to make you more intelligent and free: Flexibility in your beliefs is important
Inflexibility in how you see the world will ruin your life. Developing the ability to drop models and beliefs that don’t work for you and adopting ones that do gives you incredible freedom. And intelligence.
People have various ideas the cause them to stick to models — that the one they have is more accurate. they had that one first so anything else must be rewriting history, or the old one works well enough so why change it, or any number of other beliefs. They’ll sit their feeling both miserable and self-righteous, clinging to an old belief, not considering a new one.
The example that gets me the most is when people say “I just can’t do “, where the something may be getting in better shape, controlling their anger, saving money, leaving a job they don’t like, starting exercising, or anything similar. They get stuck in that belief and won’t consider an alternative.
I used to try to motivate people not to hold on to beliefs, but then realized telling people not to do something is hard. Now I promote valuing flexibility in their models, with the side benefit that it makes you more intelligent.
I also want to discourage people from confusing models with what they represent and thought of this relevant scene from Zoolander, in my opinion a funny movie. Derek Zoolander gets shown a model of an educational center — an actual architectural model, but an architectural model has the same properties that the beliefs and mental models that we talk about here. He looks at it and says “What is this? A center for ants?!?” and broke the model.
He can’t tell the difference between the model and what it’s supposed to represent so he thinks inaccuracy is a problem. In terms of accuracy, he’s right. The model is too small for people and is closer to ant-sized. I want to get people thinking that when they confuse their models for what they represent, they’re missing the point that models are always wrong.
When people say to me
I just can’t get in shape.
I’m going to start responding to them
What is this? A center for ants?!?
Just like Zoolander is “right” that the model they show him is too small, you’re “right” when you say you can’t leave your job or whatever. But your belief that you can’t leave is just a model. Your beliefs are different than the objects of your beliefs.
Unlike a physical model that he could only break, you can create new mental models immediately. You can borrow them from others, adapt other working ones from other situations, and so on.
So next time you feel miserable or could feel more emotional reward, ask yourself if you haven’t confused a model for what it represents, making it hard to drop it. Other people will see you like Zoolander. At least he broke his non-working model. Can you at least break yours, then create a new one?
When I use this belief
I use this belief when I feel miserable and know others in similar situations don’t. If anyone anywhere can feel better than I do in such a situation, I know I can too.
What this belief replaces
This belief replaces inflexibility and thinking only one model can work. It replaces not realizing I view the world through the lens of my beliefs.
Where this belief leads
This belief leads to being more flexible in how I see my environment, which lets me effectively change my world.
And since I can solve problems better, it makes me more intelligent.
Learn to make Meaningful Connections
with a simple, effective exercise from my book, Leadership Step by Step.
- Step by step instructions
- Video examples of me and Marshall Goldsmith
- An excerpt from my book