A Law of Human Nature: Inability to Discard Working Mental Models

When a person finds a way of achieving a goal, they build a mental model about how the world works and the right way of doing things to get this result. If they feel satisfied with the results and this model yields the most results they have ever achieved, they assume it is the best way of achieving it. Even if there’s actually exists a better way that exists.

In fact, some people will become so attached to this model after a few years of using it, that they block themselves from any other possibility or suggestion that there could be a better way. I say some people because there is a small minority who are open-minded enough to discard a working mental model of theirs for another for a few reasons:

  • they’re not fully satisfied with their results and they’re seeking some better way
  • they’re aware of this bias and they want to prevent it
  • they’re naturally inclined to be more open-minded

But it’s certainly difficult for most people, especially as they get older and stuck in their ways. They may even get argumentative or really resistant if you try to convince them otherwise. You may even need to employ some serious persuasion skills to get them to change their mind or even consider. Here are some industries/areas of life where I have observed this bias exists. As you can see, it’s possible anywhere:

  • A man gets pretty good at getting dates from dating apps, so he stops trying to meet women in any other avenues. Apps becomes his gospel and what he preaches to others and eventually … the one and only best way. He stops going out. He just sits in his room and uses the apps all day to meet women. It’s his only way. But why change? It’s working. The cost is he neglects other channels that he could meet girls, potentially better girls or girls he’s missing because they’re never on the apps because they don’t need to be. His social / dating skills beyond texting / messaging/ 1 on 1 dates lags behind.
  • An investment firm finds a decent method to invest in companies that yield a decent return. It works fairly well. Not spectacularly but good enough. After many years of this model, it becomes their source of truth and holy grail that they preach and teach within the company. Even though there’s probably a better model out there they haven’t found that could yield more returns.
  • A certain fad diet or workout routine works well for an individual. They preach that as the best way for their kids and friends, even though it’s just a way that worked for them, and won’t work for others. In fact, it may not even be close to the most optimal way of living, eating, and building muscle.
  • Certain parenting or dating tips worked decently enough for some average people, so they impart their wisdom onto their children, not understanding that the world has changed or that their methods weren’t the best but were good enough to get the job done.
  • A dating guru teaches certain principles and a school of thought, and it gets their students from floundering to decent success. They start believing these principles are gospel truth and that there’s no other way, even when there could be a better way or some of the advice is a bit off. For instance, they’re told that looks/physique and game/charisma are the only things you can work on, so they become completely resistant to the idea that there are various other attributes like humor, leadership, preselection, hygiene, social intelligence, academic intelligence, style, etc. that could be used. Or they’ve been taught to take a lot of posed photos with women or by themselves where everyone’s looking at the camera for social media and apps, completely resistant to the idea that more candid, caught-in-the-moment photos could be better.

So, to level up, get more results, you have to be open-minded to consider new ideas. But not too early. In the first six months of learning something, for example, copy it and follow it to a tee. The beginning stages is not a time to innovate. If an expert is telling you to do something that works, trust it. Don’t add your own weird twists and mess it up because you’re not following through 100%. But then, after months or years, when you’ve hit your plateau with this method and mastered it, and someone else tells you something different or you discover something. Don’t be afraid to test and try. Many people close off at this point.

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By Will Chou

I am the the founder of this site and I am grateful you are here to be part of this awesome community. I help hard-working Asian American Millennials get rich doing work they love.

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