6 Mental Models for Solving Problems
Sometimes I feel particularly stuck on a problem.
I know I have to make a decision – but none of the options feel quite right.
Over the past few months of weekly coaching sessions with my executive coach (and now friend) Corey Wilks, I’ve picked up a series of six mental models (questions I can ask myself, essentially) that help me figure out:
- What I really want from the situation.
- Whether I’m using the right mental tools for the job.
Here are the six questions:
🎯 1. What Core Value Are You Optimising For?
Asking ‘what core value am I optimising for right now?’ gives me permission to prioritise the core value I care about the most. I can say ‘yes I care about X – but right now, I’m optimising for Y.’
My main core value at the moment is freedom to learn and teach on my own terms.
I care about other things too, like being respected by my peers. But I know that I’m optimising for freedom, so I’ll choose that over other values like 80% of the time.
💁 2. What Would Your Mental Board of Advisors Say?
Consulting my Mental Board of Advisors always helps when I’m stuck on a decision.
The Mental Board of Advisors is a group of 3-4 people (dead or alive) who you admire, and who you know well enough to be able to ask ‘what would [Naval / The Rock / Malala] do in this position?’
My Board includes Tim Ferriss, Derek Sivers, and a few others. Asking ‘what would Tim Ferriss advise me to do in this situation’ actually solves a lot of my problems.
I’ll often find I knew the answer all along.
💀 3. What Are Your Underlying Assumptions?
Every problem is propped up by a bunch of underlying assumptions. Challenge those assumptions, and the problem often fades away:
- I can’t decide what film to watch tonight… → Who says I have to watch a film? Why not go for a walk instead?
- I need to rush this YouTube video for the sponsorship deadline. → Do I? No one will pull the plug on a sponsorship just because the video came out a day or two late. I should relax, and focus on making a good video.
- I have to do X thing, or my friends won’t like me any more. → Do I want judgmental friends? Are they actually my friends? Alternatively: would my friends actually judge me for this?
🐌 4. Can You Adjust the Friction?
If I want to do more of something, I minimise the friction for doing it.
I want to make more YouTube videos for example. So I’ve started keeping a camera with me at all times, and if I have an idea I can whip out my camera and start filming with zero friction. My recent 28 Life Lessons video would never have happened if I’d had to put it into my filming schedule, go into the studio to film it, etc etc.
And when I want to do something less, I maximise the friction. Keeping my phone away from bed, keeping sweets out of the house, switching off notifications. My friend Neel actually sets his lightbulbs to switch off around his bedtime.
Make things easier / more difficult for your future self.
🦾 5. Are You Applying Leverage?
Are you trying to solve your problem with brute force? By putting in more time and effort?
Or are you solving it the smart way – building a system, and using unfair advantages (contacts, skills, or money)? That’s what leverage is all about, using your resources to achieve the best possible outcome.
After doing YouTube for 2 years, I made enough money to hire a full-time video editor. I leveraged my YouTube success to fix my ‘editing capacity problem’, and that made me even more successful on YouTube because:
- I had more time to make videos.
- Those videos were better edited.
🧪 6. Are You Giving Yourself Permission to Experiment?
Instead of seeing every decision as life-changing and irreversible, think of yourself as a scientist running an experiment. Try shit out just to see what happens. Even if the experiment fails, you’ll still gain valuable data.
One of my old Part-Time YouTuber Academy students Imran has a video where he recommends thinking about your life in chapters, and I absolutely vibe with that approach.
The choices you make right now don’t have to define the whole rest of your life. They only shape one small chapter. So let yourself experiment, and move on to the next chapter if you don’t like the outcome. Otherwise, you’ll never try out any genius (but slightly risky) ideas.
Shoutout again to Corey for these mental models. Check out his Intentional Life Design course if you like, or follow him on Twitter for more actionable advice.
Have a great week!
Notion is an incredible productivity app. I use it for all my creative and business projects, including:
- 🎬 Scripting Videos
- 📮 Writing Newsletters
- 🎙️ Researching Podcast Guests
It’s also game-changing for planning personal projects like holidays, workouts, and meal prep. My favourite thing about Notion is how easy it is to customise workflows. You can use kanban boards, video embeds, smart spreadsheets – and new features are being added all the time.
It’s a super-clean and minimalist app by default, but I give my pages some character by adding emojis and images. For more ideas, Notion has a massive online community creating page templates (check out my free set of YouTube creator templates).
Get started on Notion today for free (!), using my link: https://ntn.so/sundaysnippets. You can also check out their template gallery for inspiration.
Thanks to Notion for sponsoring this issue of Sunday Snippets 😄
♥️ My Favourite Things
🎙️Deep Dive – Moral Philosopher Will MacAskill on What We Owe the Future. This interview probably changed my life. Will and I discussed how to effectively donate your money, change the world with your choice of career, and ‘longtermism’ – the idea that we should think seriously about how our actions effect humanity in the long-term. Will even got retweeted by Elon Musk last week.
📚 Book – The Case Against the Sexual Revolution by Louise Perry. Not as explosive (or conservative) as the title would suggest. Louise’s basic argument is that yes, the ‘sexual revolution’ has made it acceptable for women to have sex, which is good. But that doesn’t mean that they now have good sex, or that they aren’t pressured into doing things they don’t want to do.
📒 Notebook – Leuchturm 1917. My favourite notebook by a long way. I’ve used the 1917 range for years, but after doing more physical journalling in the last few months, I really appreciate how nice the paper is to write on.
📚 Book – You Have More Influence Than You Think by Vanessa Bohns. Makes a good case that we all have way more influence over other people than we think. You’d be surprised how often people say ‘yes’ when you ask them for a favour. This is actually a superpower – use it wisely.
🎬 My New Videos
😊 Why You’re Not Happy And What To Do About It – Since interviewing happiness expert Mo Gowdat on my Deep Dive podcast, I’ve thought a lot about happiness, and whether it’s actually in our control. In this video I try to answer that question.
🏦 How I Make $4 Million Per Year – The Creatorpreneur Business Model – Last year my business made over $4 million in revenue. In the video I run through my business model, essentially giving a mini-version of my full Creatorpreneur course, which helps creators to start and scale up their businesses.
✍️ Quote of the Week
Procrastination, in contrast to other forms of delay, is that voluntary and quite deliberate turning away from an intended action even when we know we could act on our intention right now. There is nothing preventing us from acting in a timely manner except our own reluctance to act.
From Solving the Procrastination Puzzle by Timothy A. Pychyl. Resurfaced using Readwise.