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Out of all the interventions we can do to make smarter decisions in our life and career, mastering the most useful and universal mental models is arguably the most important.
“Developing the habit of mastering the multiple models which underlie reality is the best thing you can do. “
— Charlie Munger
“Those who understand more of them and understand them well [principles / mental models] know how to interact with the world more effectively than those who know fewer of them or know them less well. “
— Ray Dalio
“It is important to view knowledge as sort of a semantic tree — make sure you understand the fundamental principles, i.e. the trunk and big branches, before you get into the leaves/details or there is nothing for them to hang onto.” — Elon Musk
Each of these luminary entrepreneurs use different words to essentially say the same thing.
I’ve collected the 650+ most useful mental models from the best mental model curators in the world. It is now the most comprehensive list in the world. And I’ve launched a free mental model mini-course to help you understand what a mental model is and how to apply it to your life.
This infographic is the culmination of all these articles. It is my personal list of the 12 most useful & universal mental models that I believe everyone should master first. For each mental model, I share the sub mental models that make it up and one paragraph explaining its significance.
This infographic matters because it would take 6,500 hours to master each of the 650 mental models that others have recommended. That’s a lot of freaking time! You probably aren’t ready to commit that amount of time to mental models… yet. By creating this infographic, I hope to save you dozens of hours determining which models to learn first.
What is a mental model?
Mental models are descriptions of reality that apply across every area of our life, don’t get outdated, and provide immediate results by helping you make better decisions.
They are like little miniature mental maps of how a particular area of life works.
And when you learn them, it changes everything.
What is an example of a mental model?
One of the most famous and valuable mental models is called the Pareto Principle. You probably know it as the “80/20 rule.” This mental models says that most of your results are going to come from just a small percentage of your effort or work.
Vilfredo Pareto, the man who discovered this principle noticed that 80% of the land in his area was owned by 20% of the people. He looked in his garden, and saw that 80% of the peas were in 20% of the pea pods. Then he realized that this was something like an organizing principle of life.
This phenomena applies across many domains including productivity, happiness, business, health, etc. Here are a few examples:
- 20% of relationships lead to 80% of happiness.
- 20% of exercises lead to 80% of health benefit.
- 20% of items on your to do list lead to 80% of productivity.
For example, by taking 30–60 minutes per day for prioritization, you can double your productivity. By auditing the relationships in your life, you can identify people you want to spend more time with and people you want to remove from your life. By looking at what experiences give you the most delight, you can begin to engineer your life differently.
This model is much more complex and it can be applied to infinitely more places, but this basic version allows you to quickly get value from it.