They are internal assumptions that we hold about how things/we work, how things/we are, and how things/we should be--and then apply them to our external surroundings.
In other words, it's what we believe mothering, weight, parenting, marriage, cleanliness, simplicity, tidiness, organized, healthy, smart, pretty, savvy, chic, creative, looks like.
And often, we spend our time comparing how far away or how far surpassed we are to that model in our life.
- How clean our desk should look
- What kind of relationship we should have with our children
- What good home-keeping looks like
- What successful feels like
- What thin looks like
- How fast we should be running
- How much money we should be making
And while mental models are important in making sure that we aim high, their existence doesn't guarantee that the aim is right. For you. Or your family.
I do a lot of journaling as a way to help challenge my own mental models and to make sure that my aim is right. Usually, if the model is wrong or our aim is off, we feel tension around it. I ask a series of questions in the process, an adaptation of which I'll share below. To illustrate their impact, I'll use an example that a friend shared with me recently:
Mental Model: Good employees go to the office summer party. I should go.
Why should you go? Because they're expecting me too and they've put a lot of time into arranging it. I'll probably end up having fun, anyway.She thought that being a good employee meant attending the summer office party. But through the questions, she realized that her model was more a mask that perpetuated some time sucking energy draining behaviors. She left our conversation questioning her values and wanting to spend more time with her family, with whom she felt at her best and who deserved her best.
What happens if you don't go? I'll feel guilty.
What would you rather do? Stay home and spend time with my husband and son.
How will you feel if you don't do what you'd rather do? I'll feel guilty, too. And resentful. But they'll understand more than work would.
If you had a party and someone couldn't come because they wanted to spend time with their family, how would you react? I'd totally understand. I'd probably even envy them a little bit.
What makes you think that work wouldn't feel the same way? I'm not sure, actually. Maybe they would.
Does considering that make you feel differently about going? A little bit. But I'm also afraid I might miss something.
And you're less concerned about missing something at home? I'm more confident at home, I trust home more than I trust work.
I suspect that by reallocating her energy to things that bring real fulfillment, she'll have more positive energy to give to things that bring the financial fulfillment as well.
Not all models are masks, or drains. But it's important to continuously challenge them to make sure they are helping us to become our best, not getting in the way of it.