4 Mental Rules If You Want to Be a Better Thinker

No matter your occupation or major.

Younes Henni, PhD
4 min readSep 4, 2020
Photo by Robina Weermeijer on Unsplash

Thinking in better ways is a skill anyone can learn.

For this matter, mental models can help you explore new ways of thinking about the world. If you build a habit of using them, your mind will have superpowers. You’ll get an edge over your peers in whatever you do.

Physics is full of mental models that transcend the lab to reach many aspects of life, from innovating in the face of challenges, managing your time, to better decision-making.

Here are four mental models from physics that are very useful in real-life situations.

#1 — A Mental Model to Beat Procrastination

In Physics, momentum is the ability to sustain a perpetual movement.

You must apply force to move a resting object. But once it’s moving, momentum carries it forward without any effort from you. Think of a rolling stone downhill or skating on ice. After that initial push, momentum carries the pushed a long distance.

How does this apply to work and life?

You can defeat procrastination for good using a momentum-based mindset. Starting a task can be hard, especially if you were resting. But once you work for a few minutes, momentum makes it easy to keep going for a long time.

When you feel lazy to start your task, tell yourself “I will work for five minutes, and that’s it”. Just give that initial push to get out of your stillness, then let momentum carry you for hours. You’ll be surprised how long you can go with a small push.

#3 — A Mental Model to Solve Complex Problems

Are you facing a problem that’s complex with many interconnected parts?

If this feels like you, then it is time you try a mental model called the adiabatic approximation.

This mental model is perfect for dealing with complex problems made of interconnected parts.

First, picture each part of the system independently; it’s no longer aware of other system parts. Once you take that specific part, focus on studying its characteristics in isolation.

While this logic seems a bit naive, evidence shows it’s quite useful to solve complex problems.

Often, the solution to a complex problem is not different from summing up the small solutions to the minor issues that make it.

Whenever you deal with complex situations, apply adiabatic approximation:

  • Break your complex system to small parts.
  • Work on each part in isolation: understand its features, function, issues and solutions.
  • Only then you can build the bigger picture from all the knowledge you’ve gathered on the isolated parts.

4 — Mental Model to Make Better Decisions

In the age of social media and big data, we often feel overwhelmed with information.

How can you extract the relevant information from the bullshit?

There is a mental model in astrophysics known as signal-over-noise. It measures the quality of data and helps you navigate the turmoils you encounter in the age of information.

Singal-over-noise states that the more signal (useful data) we can extract from noise (useless data) the better is the information.

Therefore, information is only meaningful if its signal over noise goes beyond a specific limit.

By applying signal-over-noise, you can learn to extract useful information and improve the quality of your judgments.

Learning to pick the good from useless information is very crucial to your progress in life. You can apply signal-over-noise to:

  • Read articles online and extract useful information (like in this one).
  • Browse social media with purpose.
  • Make a concise sales pitch.

Signal over noise improves your focus on what’s essential and tangible and discard the rest.

5 — A Mental Model to Innovate

  • Link to latest first principles article.

6 — A Mental Model to Grasp Success

  • Critical mass.
  • link to mind cafe article.

#2 — A Mental Model to Avoid Wasted Effort

According to the laws of physics, the universe is really good at minimising effort. From particles to galaxies, objects move from one place to another by wasting the least amount of energy.

Apples fall to the ground in a straight line, after all. That’s because a straight line is the quickest route from one place to another.

The universe is all about getting things done by wasting the smallest effort.

Strive to minimise wasted effort to get the results you want. You’ll be surprised at the inefficiencies that exist in your life.

Final Thoughts

There is no doubt that mental models make you smarter. They improve the way you reason about problems and help you deal with challenges smartly.

It’s often mesmerising to spot these beautiful analogies between nature's laws and our everyday’s lives. Yet, researchers are only starting to unravel the massive benefits of mental models in all aspects of life, such as business, career growth, and relationships.

I only showed you the tip fo the iceberg. There are plenty of other mental models to boost your thinking and turn you into a high achiever.

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Younes Henni, PhD

Physicist • Soft Dev • ☕ Junkie • I bring you the latest in science, tech, health, economics & personal growth. To read all: https://youneshenni.substack.com/