Mental models. Mental Models for industry. Mental Models for problem solving. Mental models for project management or even parenting.
In my mind, I’m thinking...why don’t we take the same idea and build the Mental Models you need to become a digital nomad AND a freelancer? Or a digital nomad AND an entrepreneur?
What I’m hoping to give you in this article, are some ideas that you can use to unlock the power of mental models in your own life.
Like anything, the real difference between you and the people already apart of the digital community, isn’t always financial. It’s about having the right sort of mindset. So...here are the mental models digital nomads will likely being using both knowingly and unknowingly to build the life they want. If you’re missing them include them in your arsenal. If you’ve got them already...well you’ll likely already be a digital nomad - we’d love to hang out...find out where we’re gonna be…
So, I’ve used the phrase ‘Mental Models’ approximately 840 times already - let’s get to it and discuss what a mental model actually is…
A mental Model according to Wikipedia is the following:-
A mental model is an explanation of someone's thought process about how something works in the real world. It is a representation of the surrounding world, the relationships between its various parts and a person's intuitive perception about his or her own acts and their consequences. Mental models can help shape behaviour and set an approach to solving problems (similar to a personal algorithm) and doing tasks.”
So essentially, if mental models help you understand how things work, and how you fit into this world, the stronger your mental models are, the more successful you will be.
Simple. Easy. Straightforward.
So today, we’re going to look at some mental models that will shape your journey into one that’s fun, exciting...beautiful.
So here follows some of the mental models we think Digital Nomads will find the most useful! I’ve renamed them for fun but the real names will be included in the paragraphs.
Let us begin *clap clap*
Don’t just work hard...work smart.
The Pareto Principle -
“for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.”
This model is particularly useful if you’re still on the fence about become a digital nomad in the first place. Most people don’t change their lives into what they want because they wrongly believe they need to engage in a major and immediate overhaul of all their current habits. If you want to travel most are convinced that it needs to be surplus income that funds it.
But think about it like this.
If you’re a remote worker, and you decided to sublet your apartment for a couple of months, that’s a saving of $600-800 a month. Include the bills. Maybe that’s another $400. T You take half that money and book a cheap flight somewhere, anywhere where the cost of staying alive is pretty low. You use the other half to live for a couple of weeks whilst you wait for your next paycheck. Rinse and repeat. To ensure you can get home or move to your next destination.
You didn’t have to sell all your belongings or have a huge amount of savings, although I would always advise savings. All you did, was divert a portion of your income. That’s far more achievable in my book and there was no life overhaul involved. AND YET, you’ve just produced what appears to be a HUGE lifestyle change. You wanted to travel and work. By diverting a bit of income away from regular bills, you achieved 80% if not more of that goal.
It is the same in the building of your personal projects and business. Change is never as far away from you as you think. It could be wrapped up in a $20 app that totally automates a process you’ve been doing manually. It’s can be as small as hiring a virtual assistant 3 days a week, that enables you to focus on the things that will help you double, triple, or quadruple your revenue. It could be as small as a book that costs $7.99 that gives you a different perspective or fresh knowledge on a situation.
I think what Pareto’s principle shows us is that change isn’t always a complete overhaul. In fact, it’s just an adjustment.
Don’t make perfection the enemy of good
Minimum Viable Product (MVP) — “A product with just enough features to gather validated learning about the product and its continued development.” (related: perfect is the enemy of good; de-risking; Customer Development, “Get out of the building.”)
Following on from what we’ve just talked about, the one mental model I am growing to appreciate more and more is the model of MVP. Minimum Viable Product. This model was borne into the tech/business world and the idea is simply that instead of chasing the goal of building a perfect product, release a product or service that is good enough to get the job done, and then tweak it as you get more feedback. Perfection stops being an unattainable mental blockage that causes delay after delay.
This style of thinking is one of the most versatile and upbeat mental models I think I’ve come across. I love it. Let’s go through some practical examples.
For digital nomads near and far and for those of you looking to take the leap, remember, it’s highly likely you’re only a couple of practical tweaks away from becoming a digital nomad or taking your business on the road. If you’re in a job where you work from home already, you’re maybe a couple of negotiation emails, and a flight booking away from getting into travelling, living and working in the most beautiful places.
For each of us personally, chances are there are loads of projects, and ideas we have thought of that we want to get off the ground, but we’ve mothballed them because the pursuit of perfection is just too much. MVP says get your idea to a working model. Release it and then refine it.
Think of all the things we use today, all the products, applications and services. Even down the blogs we read, or the youtube channels we watch. People started off with a video camera or one of those small digital cameras to record videos. Michelle Phan recorded her first video on her Macbook Pro. Quality wasn’t the best but it worked. Like many others, as the channel grew, so did her technique as a makeup artist and a videographer. Take a look at one of the first videos she released -
Now compare that to some of her latest videos before she decided to take her career in a different direction -
Notwithstanding the chuckle worthy title, the difference is actually pretty huge.
Facebook was ugly when it first started. Windows was gross. Apple computers were these super cute but still bulbous creatures. Now look at them. All the beauty...I digress. The point is this, release the working model and refine it as you go.
Start that website selling tea. Send that first email asking permission to work and travel. Book that first flight. Figure the rest out later.
Count the Cost
Cost Benefit Analysis
Opportunity Cost — “The value of the best alternative forgone where, given limited resources, a choice needs to be made between several mutually exclusive alternatives. Assuming the best choice is made, it is the ‘cost’ incurred by not enjoying the benefit that would have been had by taking the second best available choice.”
Sometimes we can be guilty of procrastination. Okay not sometimes. A lot of the time. In Tony Robbins’ book “Awaken the Giant Within” he talks about utilising pleasure and pain to get the brain to prioritise actions that will positively benefit us.
What this model allows us to do is go on a journey into a hypothetical future where we can explore the pain and the pleasure of undertaking a certain action. As you do this, you can start to roughly estimate the costs and the benefits of following different paths. The idea is that it will help you make the right decision and get your brain onside as you do it.
So imagine that you want to change how you run certain aspects of your business. You have the decision to leave things as they are or the decision to invest in the change. The wonder of your mind is that it can simulate what sort of outcomes could be a factor. You can run through scenario 1. You leave things as they are. You’re already aggravated by things, you’re getting more stressy by the day. Although you’re not ready to completely throw the towel in by any stretch, you’ve stopped in enjoying things. You ask yourself the question, “Am I happy with that?”
Then you press pause. Your brain loads up scenario 2. You decide hypothetically to invest in a personal assistant and a new system to do your bookkeeping for you. You imagine all the extra time you’ll have and the lack of stress! Oh it feels like a dream. Little bit expensive. But in comparison to the other option, you decide it is well worth it.
Mindtools.com has a brilliant breakdown of this - essentially you’re doing a pros and cons list to release yourself from decision paralysis and move things forward.
Think Outside the Box
“To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong” - Joseph Chilton Pearce
Lateral Thinking — “Solving problems through an indirect and creative approach, using reasoning that is not immediately obvious and involving ideas that may not be obtainable by using only traditional step-by-step logic.”
Divergent Thinking vs Convergent Thinking — “Divergent thinking is a thought process or method used to generate creative ideas by exploring many possible solutions. It is often used in conjunction with its cognitive opposite, convergent thinking, which follows a particular set of logical steps to arrive at one solution, which in some cases is a ‘correct’ solution.”
So much of working and travelling is rooted in thinking outside of the box. This is quite the unconventional lifestyle and you will find that flexibility and adaptability is absolutely necessary. When you combine these three models, you end up with a much higher chance of finding the most efficient solution to your problem. It’s true that there may already be a mapped out method to sort something out.
But what if those logical steps aren’t available to you in their entirety? What if say you need to be more productive, but you don’t have space in your apartment for a separate office and there are no coworking spaces?
That’s where lateral and divergent thinking come in. An office isn’t the only place with WiFi. If that all singing, all dancing coworking space hasn’t been built yet, local libraries were the very first coworking spaces and community based centres of learning. That little cafe tucked in a corner serving the best breakfast, often hides the sort of WiFi that will blow your head off. So think, think and think some more.
Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
“Think left and think right, think low and think high,
Oh the thinks you can think, if only you try!”
- Dr Seuss
No Man is an Island
Crowdsourcing — “The process of obtaining needed services, ideas, or content by soliciting contributions from a large group of people, especially an online community, rather than from employees or suppliers.”
In a world that is increasingly competitive, our once community based species has been conditioned in many ways to shy away from the help of others. But that doesn’t have to be the case. Digital nomads can still benefit from the sharing of services, skills, ideas...all the riches that come from relationship.
Digital nomads have an extensive support network that branches out into both personal and professional spheres. You can go to conferences, you can join Facebook groups, you can join forums on Reddit and Nomad List. Coworking spaces have cropped up all over the globe and communities like WiFi Tribe, Hacker Paradise and Remote Year all form a part of the ecosystem of support. Coliving houses by Roam and Outsite are making sure you can connect with others.
If you travel with this model, you’ll always have the tools to fend off that dreaded loneliness and add a warmth to your life that you won’t get anywhere else. We love it!
It’s very rarely one or the other...
Black or White — “When two alternative states are presented as the only possibilities, when in fact more possibilities exist.”
This is a principle I learnt from Tribe Member Steph Smith; she taught herself to code and released several digital products in just one year. She also invests a lot of time promoting women getting in to tech and believes wholeheartedly that everyone can code and that people should learn to code. Why is that important? Well if you don’t currently know how to code, what stops you? I know for me when I thought about it, I was like “I don’t want to be a software developer.”
But who said learning to code meant you were now going to be a software developer?
Herein lies the point. A lot of life exists not as absolutes, but as a curve. If you imagine coding as a curve, if you’re a beginner you’re at the bottom of the curve. If you’re a pro you’re closer to the top of the curve. Neither one is less valid than the other and there are many, many stages of experience in between.
You could learn the basics of coding in a year. Could you work for a firm as a senior software developer. Probably not. Could you learn enough to build and launch a digital product though? Yes of course you could. So don’t think in terms of absolutes - especially when it comes to growth, learning or even travel itself.
One question to ask yourself along the same kind of vein, is who decides when you’re a ‘proper’ digital nomad? Is there a sudden switch? If you’re abroad with your laptop and don’t come home for 6 months does that count? What if you decide to travel but you only move around your home country? If as a digital nomad you are only on the road for 6 weeks of the year, your experience is no less valid than people who haven’t been home for 3 years. So make it your own. The only factor necessary is that you can take your work with you.
Do you boo.
You can get it if you really want
Growth Mindset vs Fixed Mindset — Those with a ‘fixed mindset’ believe that abilities are mostly innate and interpret failure as the lack of necessary basic abilities, while those with a ‘growth mindset’ believe that they can acquire any given ability provided they invest effort or study.
Life on the road presents many challenges and sometimes in order to progress you need skills you don’t yet possess. I know I’ve been guilty of thinking in a way that suggests, if I don’t have the skill already , I will never have it, but recently I’ve heard a conflicting view. That’s a very fixed minded view. I don’t think it’s completely wrong - there’s no doubt that there are some things we have an affinity for. But actually, when I look at all the things I’m good at, cooking, singing, writing....I realise that I’ve invested many, many hours into all of these activities over course of many years. So was I born with it, or did I grow into it?
In contrast, the Growth Mindset suggests that you can acquire virtually any skill as long as you are willing to put in the time and effort needed to increase your expertise.
I don’t doubt it. The brain is one of the most fantastic pieces of kit.
In the digital nomad community, I’ve noticed that people strive to become learners. They constantly upskill, and we have an almost insatiable appetite for learning. This is good. I’ve learnt over the past 18 months to make time and space for this growth.
As a mental model, the growth mindset has the power to turn you into a chameleon and imbed a versatility into your life that folks with a fixed mindset will find hard to achieve.
Divide and Conquer
Divide and Conquer — “Recursively breaking down a problem into two or more sub-problems of the same or related type, until these become simple enough to be solved directly. The solutions to the sub-problems are then combined to give a solution to the original problem.”
Tribe member David Smith and founder of Gravity Wiz, did a skillshare in Cape Town on Personal Efficiency, and in it he talked about this mental model, which I have been putting into effect for all my tasks since.
The context he used was about breaking down your projects into small tasks, small enough that it’s a million times less of a burden to do them. As you complete all of these small steps over a period of time, you complete the project or you solve the problem, with less anxiety and less stress.
So, if you’re planning to do something new and exciting and the whole thing appears overwhelming, break that sucker down. It literally can be used to make your entire life less daunting.
Decision Fatigue is Real Bro.
Paradox of Choice — “Eliminating consumer choices can greatly reduce anxiety for shoppers.” (related: Hick’s Law, “increasing the number of choices will increase the decision time logarithmically.”)
The human experience is bound together with an infinite number of paths to take. For some, that thought is a huge positive. For others, it can be so overwhelming, it practically induces paralysis. The Paradox of Choice which is a mental model that has its origins in the business world, highlights that too many choices can lead to anxiety, and Hick’s Law suggests that the result of too many choices leads to increased decision making time. If no decision has made, there can be no action.
So what’s the answer to that?Narrow the choices available to you by deciding what it is you want. Having a clear vision is the most effective way to remove the noise and focus your choices. As different decisions arise and await your judgement, your vision becomes the benchmark that decides whether an opportunity is worthy of pursuit or not.
It's our minds that make sense of all we do...
To conclude this unintentionally long article, it’s clear to me that these mental models, these structures within our minds that we use to make sense of the world around us, are in fact the keys to our freedom. So from now on, I’m going to be choosing my models wisely, I hope you do too.
We are what we think.