The First Block to Personal Mastery

The first block to personal mastery—and one of the biggest—is our unquestioned mental models. These are our fixed ideas of how the world works and how things should or shouldn’t be done. We accept these models so completely that we live our lives according to them. Everyone has mental models, but we call them by other names, like “the truth” or “reality” or “the facts.” We believe them absolutely. We have different models for different situations—for work, for love, for our families. We have dozens of them that we use, and some of them may actually be in direct conflict with others and we may not even know it. In fact, much of the stress in our lives arises from this lack of awareness. But that doesn’t stop us from believing that everything our mental models tell us is true.

Your life is a jumble of “mental models.” You use them for everything.

You have one model that tells you who to fall in love with, another that evaluates how you are doing in your job, a third that lets you know if your child is growing well, a fourth that spurs you into getting a divorce, a fifth that picks your friends, and so on. You have constructed dozens of these structures over the years and, collectively, they rule your life.

I now further suggest that many of your old mental models do not serve you well. They, and especially the ones that are at odds with each other, are the cause of the angst in your life. But not all mental models are unhelpful. Indeed, I am going to present you with some new ones now that are radically different from anything you have encountered before.

Do not pause and look too critically at the mental models that will be presented to you. Your natural tendency when you come across something that contradicts what you know to be “reality” is to back off and ask, “Is this true?” When you do that, it will not take long for you to come up with hypothetical situations where the model cannot apply and, rather than risk change, you will feel more comfortable rejecting it, heaving a sigh of relief, and reverting to your tried-and-true old models—even though they are the source of your misery. Don’t do this! Let me make it easier for you by admitting right now that the new models I present to you are not “true” either. If you push hard enough, if you penetrate deeply enough, all these models will crumple. But then, so will the ones you are currently using. The ones that you have not subjected to the same scrutiny.

When confronted with a new model, a better question to ask yourself is “Does this new model work better for me than the one I am now using?” If the answer to this is yes, or even maybe, then try it on for size. You can tailor it and tweak it and modify it and make it your own. If, after trying a new mental model for a while, you decide it isn’t working well for you, then drop it. Find another. You use only what works for you in your life.

You have constructed a “reality” around your situation. Most likely you believe that this is “the” reality. Explore its many dimensions carefully. Come up with an “alternate reality” for your situation. One that you like a whole lot better. It is not a bad idea to come up with half a dozen such alternate realities from which you will eventually select one. It is important that YOU, personally, be able to accept the alternate reality you devise.

For the next week, live “as if” the alternate reality you have selected were true. Behave in accordance with it. Jettison your earlier views and adopt this one.

As you live in this alternate reality, immediately acknowledge and dwell upon every scrap of evidence that it is working. Resolutely ignore the mountain of evidence that you are kidding yourself. You may feel as if you are playacting. You are correct. You are! Eventually you will become the role you are trying to play. It is important that you are very careful in selecting the role you decide to play. These roles will play an important part in reshaping your reality.