There is a mental model you can use to better understand the world called thought experiments.

Here’s what thought experiments are, why they’re useful, and three lessons you can instantly apply today.

Thought experiments enable us to explore for the purpose of thinking. They reveal our instinctive knowledge, allow us to predict implications and outcomes, and anticipate problems.

Perhaps an example will help illustrate. I use this one from my friend Peter Kaufman.
Imagine yourself at 95. You’re walking in the woods on a quiet day. As you walk you look back on your life.

Imagine what people will say about you when you’re gone. As you look back on all the things you’ve done and accomplished, you discover what was noise and what matters.
You remember the big meals with friends and family .. The smiles, the wine, the laughs ... The first time the kids fell off their bike ... The time they graduated high school. You Remember the time you covered a bed in roses for your partner ... and what happened next ;)
As you walk ...

You remember how you treated people. You remember who showed up for you when you needed them.

You remember celebrating life with the people you shared the journey on.
When you look back you realize with clarity that HOW you treated people matters more than WHAT you accomplished.
This simple thought experiment allows the hindsight of your older self to become the foresight of your present self. You can suddenly see what you couldn’t before.

This is just one application of thought experiments.

Here are three lessons you can put to use today:
Lesson 1:

Think forward. Play out key decisions in your mind before you make them and avoid costly mistakes. For example, if you’re thinking of buying a new house but borrowing to the max, you can consider various possible futures and how they might affect you.
Lesson 2:

Shift your perspective. Look at the world from the point of view of others. In your next meeting, pretend you are one of the other participants. Try to understand the conversation from their lens. Do this for everyone and you’ll gain powerful insights.
Lesson 3:

Make it believable. Your assumptions should be supported by evidence, a believable context, and be falsifiable. Just like science.
Like all mental models, thought experiments are sometimes wrong but often useful. More than simple imagination, they require both rigor and work to be effective.
If you want more practical ideas on how to apply general thinking tools to everyday problems, check out The Great Mental Models Volume One on Amazon.

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