What does mental landscape mean

Mental Models - Improve Thinking

Mental models simplify our thinking. Basically, it is a question of systems to map our multi-layered world and thus to understand it better. Man cannot perceive reality one to one - because we focus on different aspects and look at the world through subjective perception filters. Mental models help us to systematize the world so that we can also cope with complex issues and problems.

What are mental models?

The term mental models comes from cognitive psychology and was largely coined by the psychology professor Philip Johnson-Laird. It is about an explanation of how we perceive reality, solve problems and process information. In other words, it's a concept of how our thinking works.

Mental models not only simplify our understanding of reality. Because through them we also determine what is more relevant for us and make decisions. One also speaks of the cognitive map, which divides difficult and overwhelming information into understandable and organized ideas.

The concept of mental models goes back to the theory that our brain can process information better, especially through visualization, and thus solve problems better. True to the saying: "A picture is worth a thousand words".

Mental models and better work

Mental models have a direct impact on the way we work. Because they determine our thinking, our actions and how we make decisions. In teamwork, in particular, shared mental models are central to successful collaboration and the avoidance of stress.

Think better with mental models

The human being does not only have a single mental model. They are based on our experience and thereby shape how we sort the information around us. A mental model can be understood as a point of view: When looking at a forest, a forester will have a different perception than a walker. In this way, the example can be transferred to other areas of life. People tend to specialize and accordingly also build cognitive representations of reality.

But if we now include more perspectives - that is, have more mental models - we can look at problems in a multidimensional way and thus come to solutions more easily. Many mental models mean not only efficient but also better thinking.

However, some systems of thought also lead to Thought traps. Because we want to simplify our thinking, we do not question some lines of thought. We prefer to trust our empirical knowledge instead of examining every situation appropriately. This also means that actions and decisions are misdirected through the simplified thinking with the mental models.

Shared mental models for good teamwork

The other person perceives things differently than I do. He sees it, interprets it and accordingly evaluates it differently. This is perfectly natural because the perception and the mental constructs are extremely subjective. But it is precisely this that can lead to stress and problems in teamwork.

Mental models are determined by education and learning experience, by socialization or even the personal phase of life. People with different mindsets meet in a team. For teamwork to be resilient and to work efficiently, the commonalities of the different members are also important. A common denominator tends to lead to tasks being mastered as a team and to reducing conflicts.

In particular, openly addressing the existing ways of thinking helps to unite the different models. In addition, looking at the common development in the team can be a shared mental model. Different perspectives are essential for successful teamwork, but only if they can flow into the common result through a shared way of working.

Example of mental models

In the following, 30 mental models are listed for you, which describe general and specific ways of thinking of people. This exemplary list is intended to help understand how people understand in general. In addition, there are many other thought constructs in our everyday perception, but for a better understanding only a few of the most common are explained here.

General ways of thinking

1. The map is not the landscape

Making yourself aware that your own representation of the world does not have to be the same as that of the other person helps to avoid misunderstandings and conflicts. Through phrases such as “In my world I see it this way and that…” we let those taking part in the conversation participate in their own thoughts. They can then better understand our trains of thought and decisions and compare them with their own representations of reality. In my world, a spider is a mean, giant monster, while in yours it is perhaps just a harmless little creature ?!

2. The competence group

Your own circle of competence includes your own skills, competencies and knowledge. Knowing one's area of ​​competence, including the blind spots, is an important point of self reflection. Which skills do I lack and how can I compensate for them? Knowing about it helps you think more effectively and make decision-making processes.

3. First Principle Thinking

First Principle Thinking is a thinking strategy that is particularly shaped by the entrepreneur and visionary Elon Musk. This way of thinking breaks down a problem or issue into its basic components and then reassembles them together. This is how you come up with innovative solutions and break out of old thought structures more easily.

4. Thought experiments

Through thought experiments, we can experience situations and possibilities in a safe environment - namely in our head. For example, by thinking through imagined crises, we can proactively strengthen our resilience and thus build up resistance to real crises - this is then called prosilence. Many other disciplines, such as philosophy or physics, use thought experiments to learn from mistakes and improve solutions.

5. Second order thinking

With this mindset, the quickest and easiest way to solve a problem is not taken. The second order or level includes the long-term consequences. It is about taking into account all possible solutions, including those that appear negative at first glance. Reviewing decisions for long-term consequences helps you better deal with the consequences that follow.

6. Weighing probabilities

One approach to simplifying the world and making decisions is to weigh up probabilities. These can be based on actual numbers or based on experience. Since we do not always know or take into account all facts, the use of probabilities is an important tool in order to make decisions more precisely and effectively.

7. Inversion

Sometimes it's easier to know what you don't want. The principle of inversion, or inversion, is simple. Solutions are found by carefully considering how not to solve a problem. It can also be described as avoiding the negative. Looking at something the other way round helps to resolve mental blocks and, so to speak, to bridle the horse from behind.

8. Occam's razor

Occam's razor, or in other words, the thrift principle, comes from philosophy. The point here is to explain something as simply as possible and with as few components as possible. This thinking principle helps to make complicated facts easier to understand by saving complexity.

9. Hanlon's razor

This principle of thought is about the fact that the most likely cause of human wrongdoing is not malice, but ignorance or stupidity. Mistakes are human and through this general mindset we remind ourselves that something can always go wrong, especially if it is not intended. As with the economy principle, it is an extreme simplification for explanatory approaches.

Math thinking

10. Conversion and combinations

By changing the order of certain sizes and a new combination, some facts can be better understood and thus get a simplified sense. This way of thinking is particularly popular in combinatorics, but it also helps with general problem solving.

11. Coincidences

Understanding coincidences is very difficult for our brains. People are habit-loving and struggle with unclassifiable and unexpected events. However, some things are just beyond our control. For your own health, it is helpful to have coincidences present as a mental model so that we can deal with guilt resiliently and cannot dump responsibility for coincidental events from ourselves.

12. Multiply by zero

No matter how big the number is, multiplied by zero, the result will always be zero. This applies to mathematics as well as to other areas. This way of thinking helps, for example, to find and change the weakest factor in work. Effort and effort are in vain if something is great in many areas but does not work at all in one.

Systemic thinking

13. Scaling

Scaling helps very quickly and easily to classify a result, a feeling or a problem. By assigning things to a certain size, we can assess them better and also observe changes in processes. Methods like that Affect balance are based on this mental model.

14. Pareto principle

The principle, named after the sociologist Vilfredo Pareto, is also known as the 80-20 rule. The point is that 80 percent of the results can be achieved with just 20 percent effort. For the remaining 20 percent, however, we would have to use 80 percent of the total effort. Basically, it is an energy-saving way of thinking to put little energy into a large part of the result in order to avoid unnecessary effort.

15. Backup systems

Backups are particularly known from engineering. These are built-in redundancies so that systems continue to function should a component fail. The idea is to create security, since no system is ever perfectly perfect. However, the mental model of always having a backup can cause stress on the one hand, as this type of control is not always possible. On the other hand, if safety is overestimated, it can also lead to risky behavior.

16. Network effect

This conceptual construct describes that a network can significantly increase the value of a product. For example, a phone is useless if you are the only person owning one. With every additional telephone in your circle of acquaintances - i.e. every additional node in your network - the value of the telephone increases. This can also be applied to human resources, such as social support. The Network orientation is therefore also an important part of resilience.

17. Via negativa

This mental model can also be understood as the art of omission. Sometimes positive results are only achieved by removing or leaving out certain elements. Change is not determined by the principle of “more of the good” but rather “less of the bad”.

Physical world

18. Activation energy

Some processes require the investment of energy to get them going. For example, a fire doesn't need much more than fuel and oxygen. And yet wood does not start to burn on its own. It takes a certain amount of activation energy to trigger a reaction. And this thought applies not only to the physical world, but also to many other areas in which change is to be brought about.

19. Relativity

Relativity as a mental model basically means that we cannot fully understand systems if we are part of them. A person on the train does not feel the movement, only the movement of the interior. However, an outside person can observe the movement very well. In this way, other areas of life can also be viewed better from the outside than from the inside.

Biological world

20. Cooperation

One of the greatest strengths of mankind is the ability to cooperate. Working together enables us to do things that are not possible for us alone - it is the basis of every form of organization in which we live. Competition and cooperation are not opposed to each other, but exist in parallel. Here comes the too Protective factor of social support to wear, which contributes significantly to health.

21. Customization

Living things adapt to their environment in order to survive. This does not only happen on a genetic basis in the course of evolution. Because each of us adapts to circumstances or opinions on a daily basis in order to avoid tension and stress.

22. Instinct for self-preservation

The instinct for self-preservation is inscribed in our DNA. Through him the Stress reactions: Fight, flight, or rigidity a - because it's about protecting your own life. Cooperation is another important model for survival, but in dangerous situations the instinct for self-preservation predominates due to stress and can even lead to harmful behavior towards others.

23. Dunbar number

The Dunbar Number is generally understood to be the number of people with whom one can maintain a social relationship. Social networks and the resulting ones Ties extremely important for our mental immune system. However, through his studies, primatologist Robin Dunbar found that there is a 'cognitive limit' to the number of relationships. From a biological point of view, we cannot maintain a relationship with every person we meet.

Human nature

24. Reciprocity

A basic principle of human action is reciprocity, or reciprocity. This means that actions, especially in social relationships, relate to one another. However, that does not mean that this relation must always be rational.

25. Trust

Basically, our modern society is based on the attitude of trust. In most cases there is of course trust in the family, but we also trust strangers to enable cooperation. In addition, trust is usually materially or emotionally rewarded.

26. Tendency to be envious

Envy is a fundamental thought construct of humanity. Often we cannot resist being jealous of people who, from our point of view, have 'more'. In addition, there is the sense of justice that we want what is due to us. Although envy can lead to harmful actions, it is very human and should be considered in social systems.

27. Availability heuristic

This mental model shortens thought processes by relying on the information that is currently most available to our memory. This means that we base decisions and judgments on events that we can easily remember and calculate the consequences from them. This quickly leads to errors of judgment. For example, we think driving a car is more dangerous if we have recently been told about an accident.

28. Bias

People tend to accept the first conclusion and not think beyond it. This way of thinking saves energy. If something immediately seems plausible to us, it would be wasted energy to think further. But the first thought doesn't always have to be the right one. However, we can learn to question our own thoughts and thus be open to innovative ideas.

29. Over-generalize

Generalizations simplify our thinking enormously. We quickly fall back on experience and thus accelerate decision-making processes. Unfortunately, we also make generalizations on the basis of small amounts of information and that leads to more wrong decisions. It is the same with stereotypes. Thinking in boxes makes our brains more efficient, but that doesn't automatically mean we're right.

30. Urge to be activism

People often have the urge to want to do something. This also leads to them taking action when it is useless or even a hindrance. This mental model is based on various motives, such as the will to prove oneself or the so-called helper syndrome. In addition, boredom is not only uncomfortable for people, but in the long run is just as damaging as excessive demands, like that Boreout Syndrome shows.


Sebastian Mauritz, M.A. Systemic consulting, is one of the leading resilience experts in Germany. He is a five-time specialist author, keynote speaker, resilience trainer, systemic coach, board member in many coach and trainer associations and entrepreneur. His focus is on individual resilience and prosilence®, resilient leadership and team resilience.He is the initiator of the resilience online congress, during which he exchanges ideas with over 50 other resilience experts from various disciplines (www.Resilienz-Kongress.de).