3 Powerful Mental Models For Thinking Clearly

Clear thinking is rare, because thinking is hard. Show me someone who thinks clearly and I’ll want to know their process for achieving it. Personally, I’m more concerned by being seen as someone who thinks clearly than someone that’s called smart. You can be smart, but you won’t be able to communicate and influence if you’re unable to think clearly.

So, how can you think more clearly?

One way is to become aware of, and deliberately combat, what stops you from thinking clearly. Emotions impede you from thinking clearly; specifically fear of uncertainty, which causes stress. What else? From a cognition point of view, having only one perspective impedes you from thinking clearly.

Mental models, having many of them at your disposal, is how you can think better and gain a mental edge. What is a mental model? A mental model is an explanation of how something works. The phrase “mental model” is an overarching term for any sort of concept, framework, or worldview that you carry around in your mind.

Mental models help you understand life; which is complex and unpredictable. Thus, they also help you think more clearly. And having many mental models, of which there are many, at your disposal will enable you to think better no matter the situation.

To see a full list of mental models, check out Farnam Street’s guide on mental models.

The following 3 powerful mental models will help you think clearly: Reasoning from first principles, second and third order thinking, and inversion.

  1. Reasoning from first principles. Popularized by Elon Musk, if you learn first principles you will be able to deconstruct your problems and solve them from the ground up. That way, conventional thinking won’t stand in your way. How do you reason from first principles? The Socratic Method: ask why until you get to the truth. Reasoning from first principles is one of the best ways to learn to think for yourself, unlock your creative potential, and move from linear to non-linear results.
  2. Second and third order thinking. How often are you surprised by an outcome of a decision? How often are you surprised by the secondary effects of a decision you made? Most people never consider the second and third order effects of their decisions. Second and third-order consequence thinking can help you make better decisions because you will consider the many and different consequences of every possible scenario or outcome.
  3. Inversion. Instead of looking at problems from the conventional (forward-thinking) perspective, learn and use the inverse principle: imagine everything that could go wrong or consider the opposite of the good outcomes you want. It’s a thinking process that reduces or minimise risks. Inversion helps improve understanding of a problem because it forces you to consider different perspective; in this case the opposite perspective.

Someone who is curious, thinks clearly and has a bias for action is a high value impact player. So, become curious about what impedes and enables you to think more clearly.

Bottom line: Mental models are useful tools to simplify our complex reality, they are lenses from which you can see situations from a different angle. Arm yourself with them and you’ll think better and gain a mental edge over those who don’t.