The Power of the Mind & Mental Models: Our Potential for Life

The Author

E. Alana James

E. Alana James

Dr E Alana James is reinventing herself again! Coming full circle to the first love of her life - art - and bringing back to her images all the lessons of her life as author, researcher, academic and wife. Concerned mostly with the idea of images as vehicles for expression of the truth of our inner and outer life experience.

You may have heard the phrase, “What you see is what you get.”  It implies that our view of the world inhibits our ability to experience it. Few would argue with the fact that a person who has never experienced love in their lives has a great deal of difficulty finding, maintaining, or sustaining a first-class relationship. In a similar fashion if you’ve grown up in abject poverty, it takes a great deal of personal transformation before you can live with abundance easily.

This article explores the similarities between the mystic tradition of “the power of the mind ” and the scientific or organizational development tradition of “mental models”. We all want something. Playing with these ideas leads us down the road where we are more likely to get it.

A bit of history

I’ll start our comparison of the power of the mind with mental models and a bit of history. As a long-held mystic tradition, alchemy, (which you may have heard of) the ability to change lead into gold, deals with the ability to change an experience which is heavy laden to one that is full of potential and abundance through the transformation of our ideas. Changing the bad to the good using the power of our minds has been a topic that surfaces periodically through human history. The most recent and widespread form has been the movie The Secret and the proliferation of some very good teachers, such as Jerry and Esther Hicks. People who work with the power of the mind build upon the idea that the ‘subconscious’ might also allow us to be in touch with the life force of the universe. Through meditation, and other processes that open our consciousness to more than what we are aware of in our limited form, we will have access to ideas that take our lives in new and unexpected directions. Jerry and Esther Hicks add the emotion to this mix and teach us that our ’emotional guidance system’ always lets us know if we are on track with ourselves by whether or not we experience happiness and lightness in our lives.

Mental models can be traced back to the work of Kenneth Craik in 1943 when he suggested that the human mind constructs small-scale models of reality that it uses to anticipate events. He went on to suggest that mental model can be constructed from perception, our imagination, or the norms of the lives we lead in the times we live. The interesting point here is that mental models tied closely to visual images and can be abstract. Have you ever looked at a drawing of someone’s idea, and “gotten it” instantly? That is the power of the mental model. Jay Wright Forrester defined mental models as:

“The image of the world around us, which we carry in our head, is just a model. Nobody in his head imagines all the world, government or country. He has only selected concepts, and relationships between them, and uses those to represent the real system.”

While Senge explains

“Mental models are deeply ingrained assumptions, generalizations, or even pictures or images that influence how we understand the world and how we take action.”

What is common to both of these ideas is not until we realize the limits of our thinking, or mental models we can’t change them. Once aware, our ability to take action on new ideas is greatly enhanced.

Putting it all together

What is the usefulness of these ideas? Whether we phrase it the power of mind or a mental model, our first step is to recognize the constraints we have in our lives due to the way we think. Just as we could not have imagined the lives that we so easily live today connected with people over the world a mere 30 years ago, we need to open to the idea that the potential that life could be much more vast and much more interesting than we can imagine today. Jerry and Esther Hicks would remind us that if we are embroiled in things that don’t feel good we are out of connection with our highest potential. The people who work with corporate mental models also suggest that if we can’t get past the way we think now, we will ever be able to open up to the new potentials around us.

My question is what would happen if large groups of people began to seriously design the lives they wanted for this planet? What if rather than focusing on the deterioration of the environment, we focused on building Paradise on Earth? What if rather than spending billions on tje understanding of ill health, we get serious research on those things that create health? What if those of us who are serious about building connected community became the norm rather than the exception? What kind of world do you envision for your children and grandchildren? How can we we focus our mental models, or power of our minds, to create just that?