It was a summer morning in Ahmadabad. I had started my morning walk. The atmosphere was pretty warm, even in the early hours of the morning. To avoid direct sun, I had a chosen a road, which is covered with trees and some tall buildings, so their shade makes my walk pleasant. Ahmadabad is peculiar, as far as stray dogs are concerned. I have stayed in many cities of India but the population of stray dogs, in Ahmadabad is very large, as compared to other cities. And the culture here, is of not harming the animals.  I see couple of  ladies feeding the dogs on the road in the morning. Ahmadabad Municipal Corporation does not cull the stray dogs but just sterilizes them. So, on every corner of road there are 3 -4 dogs. Some dogs have propensity, to climb on the hood of the car, parked on the side of the road. Though they are harm less, you have to be alert to their presence, to avoid any untoward incidence. I was walking on the road and on the footpath at some distance away, I saw a brown dog, a big one. I became alert and continued walking. When I reached near it, I felt suddenly relieved. It was not a dog but a trunk of a tree cut and kept on the footpath. That brown trunk, looked like dog to me from a distance. How your mind plays tricks on you! I was alert to stray dogs on the road, so I saw a dog in the tree trunk. I smiled at myself.

How many times, we see a dog, an elephant, a face, in the clouds above, though there is none. Are our senses, tricking us? Or, are our thoughts creating images? We are programmed, to look at the world around us in a certain fashion. This programming through which we see the world is known as our world view or our mental model.  

 Prof. Srikumar Rao in his book “ Are you ready to succeed: Unconventional strategies for achieving personal mastery in Business and life”  says- “A mental model is the notion, we have, about how the world works or how things are done or ought to be done.” It is an inner representation, through which we provide meanings, to the events happening in and around us. We use mental models, to explain ourselves why things happen, to console ourselves, to satisfy ourselves and to tell us, what we should do, in a particular situation. Through mental models, we evaluate events, happening to us and around us and try to find meaning, security, sustenance and happiness from the events.

Most of the times, we are not aware, that we are using mental models. The classic case, is the example, I have given you above, about seeing a dog, in the trunk of the tree lying on the footpath.  These mental models, are formed because of the conditioning, we have gone through in life due to our family, our upbringing, education, society, culture, work place, our experiences, advertisements and so on.  It is not that, mental models per say, are good or bad. If we want to change ourselves for the better, be happy, perform at peak in our chosen profession, we should be able to understand, what models we are using and discard the ones, which are not supporting our growth.

Prof. Srikumar Rao says that – “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 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.”

Some of the mental models which we can see around (In India at least) are-  

For a young student   – If I study hard, get a good education, preferably from premier institute of India, then I will get good job and then I can be happy.

About work place- In my work place, the atmosphere is very competitive. Everybody wants, to win at any cost. People with connections and influence, get promoted faster, there is no place for merit.

 A common mental model about Govt.- All govt officers are corrupt. Govt institutions does not work.

On family – one should marry with in class, caste, religion, education/ social standing for finding happiness.

In family:  Duties of husband and wife are defined and are separated. (Though I know, this is changing, especially in Covid times). Children should study hard and become academically successful. Family traditions should be held high. Girls should go in particular professions. (Of late we are finding girls venturing into professions like drivers, pilots, defence service officers, which are traditionally seen, as professions suitable for Males only)

Money: Money is hard to come by. You should work hard to get money. Or I am indifferent to money. The lucky ones get money. Money attracts money.

 These are just a representative, of a whole lot of mental models, that are in operation. Sometimes, we are aware of the models, we are using, but most of the times, we are not aware. And our behaviour and interaction with the world is driven by these mental models.  Prof. Srikumar Rao says for achieving personal mastery, awareness of the models, we are using, is the most important thing.

 So, what you think? What are some of the dominant mental models you use for navigating this life? Do you think they are useful or obstructing your progress?

Pl see the picture below. What you see?

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