How we think, adapt and grow is the big question that we all must grapple with, over and over again.

Here’s one mental model that might help. It’s one that I’ve recently been using as part of (virtual) keynotes and workshops around being more adaptive and developing greater mental agility.

This model explores the gap between ‘you’ and ‘you and your reality’. It embraces the fact that we are unreliable, irrational beings. Worse, rather than just irrational, we are ‘rationalising’ beings who justify our decisions and views often in the face of evidence and data that tells us otherwise. I believe that such cognitive dissonance between our reality and our beliefs/identity is one of the biggest blocks to effective thinking, adaption and growth.

So what can we do about it?


Reality: So many models and approaches view us as robots, detached from our physicality and emotional states. When, in truth, so much is viewed and interpreted through the prism of our emotions. We learn more effectively when we have an aroused emotional state, we interpret information through the way we ‘feel’ about it.

Action: It’s a tough one but acknowledging this truth is a great start. This includes checking-in with ourselves and developing self awareness. One of my favourite tools for this has been Marshal Rosenberg’s Non-Violent Communication, which suggests a process of Observation/ Feeling / Needs/ Strategy or Request. This has a process of acting as an outside observer about ‘what happened’, before checking in with feelings and actively building a strong literacy around those feelings. Eg. Appreciating that under anger is often fear.


Reality: I describe two types of frames, mindset and mental models. Mindset can be viewed as attitude and beliefs, while mental models are those frameworks and concepts that we either consciously or unconsciously use to interpret and act in our complex world.

Action: Mindset can be challenged but first, it needs to be ‘outed’. So being totally honest about what our beliefs are. Next is building up evidence for shifting it – which is often one of the hardest things to do, especially when such mindsets form part of our identity. Similarly, outing mental models involve a process of meta-cognition, of thinking about thinking, where we are conscious about our go-to frameworks and concepts. Beyond this, we can actively expand and collect mental models to the point that we view any challenge with a combination of mental models (a diverse cognitive toolkit) rather than a single one (a hammer).


Reality: Our ability to focus attention helps to define what moves from sensory and working memory to long term memory. It also defines how we can work productively and finish tasks. And we generally overestimate how broad this focusing ability is. It’s not a broad light, it’s a narrow spotlight with limited width.

Action: Stop multitasking, it’s not a thing, and no one can do it effectively. It’s switch tasking and it will make you learn less, be less productive and … hey, look a cat on youtube! Yeah, well, I know it’s hard but it’s important – so try to set yourself up for success (he says, typing at 11:30 pm so the kids wont keep shouting and throwing things at him).


Reality: Clay Shirky is attributed with saying, “It’s not information overload: it’s filter failure.” We need filters – otherwise, we’d been stressed and overwhelmed… ok, more stressed and overwhelmed. But, filters can also narrow our intake of information to a ‘siloed existence.’ We are drawn to safety and comfort, to the ease of people, experiences and information that reinforces what we think and believe.

Action: We can actively diversify filters, but be warned, it’s effortful and often painful. We need to be well resourced and have ‘full cups’ to hear and work with differences. There have been many studies on the powerful outcomes of working in a diverse team, but the truth is that it will also be challenging – that’s where the innovation and great outcomes come from. Similarly, are you looking to move beyond your comfort zone into your stretch zone to pick up new experiences? And, think about your news sources and social media – are you in the classic echo chamber? Or do you allow voices that might annoy you but ultimately challenge beliefs and views that you hold tight?

Of course, exposure through diverse filters isn’t enough – you have to combine this with a shift in mindset. One of the most powerful things I ask myself when faced with someone/ something different to my beliefs is, “If I was wrong, what would I see?” This at least sharpens your focus to detect evidence that will otherwise be hidden by our confirmation bias.

That’s it. There’s so much more I can say on each of these but hopefully, this quick overview is helpful. Let me know what you think.



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