4 mental models that will revolutionise how your teenager sees the world
4 mental models that will revolutionise how your teenager sees the world

4 mental models that will revolutionise how your teenager sees the world

FutureSelf Awareness

Every now and then you find out a whole new area of human knowledge exists and you’re left feeling like a dum-dum, how did you not know this existed? I only came across mental models a few years ago and whilst it’s not a regret, I know my 16-year-old self would have had an easier future ahead for knowing them.

This article covers the must-know models for your teenager. There are plenty of mental frameworks that apply to your soon-to-be adult so I’ve only included the ones that pull the curtain back to make them realise the world looks totally different to how they think it works.

P.S. that’s what mental models are, they are simply frameworks for thinking about how the world works and exists. They already have these, whether they’re inherited from you, as their parent and then passed down to your child, or versions they have made up for themselves.

Either way, we can both agree that how they think about the world affects your thoughts, beliefs and then actions?

So let’s dive into what your teenager needs must know:

Growth Mindset

“In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.”

Dweck; 2015

Having a growth mindset has many benefits:

It will take the pressure off schoolwork

Rather than thinking ‘why don’t I get this’ or ‘I can’t do this’, i.e. unhelpful states to be in when you're learning, it removes the constraint of having to achieve something right now.

Of course, if you’re studying for an exam then the knowledge has to be learned in time, but that is more down to preparation, rather than mindset! Nobody needs to add negative self-talk into the mix and one way to avoid this is to buy into the idea that on a long-enough timescale, you can learn anything.

An easy way to buy into this idea is to think - if I lived forever, would I be able to learn this?

Notice how this idea makes you feel.

You won’t ever have unlimited time but you can borrow from this feeling and then prepare and plan things accordingly.

Seeing potential all around you

If you believe that you can learn anything, then you will actively look for opportunities to grow.

It comes back to your Reticular Activating System (RAS), a part of your brain responsible for filtering the information you let through and then gives attention to. An easier explanation is if I tell you I bought a new car today and it is blue, the next few cars you’re likely to notice are likely to be…blue.

Of course, there are no more blue cars today than any other day, it’s just how you’re choosing to see the world.

Since we’re creatures of comfort, consistency and certainty, we like to live in an organised world.

A world that has a structure in line with our values and beliefs about how it exists. We’re always filtering our world but it is only ever an interpretation of what actually exists so we’re usually just validating how we already see things (also known as confirmation bias). This is why scientists say out of our 60,000 thoughts a day, 95% are repeated notions!

In fact, someone reasonably intelligent that lived 500 years ago consumed only 74GB of data in their entire lifetime (think the number of Youtube videos you watch in a month), which is now how much we consume daily!

Since we’re constantly bombarded with information, it’s important to filter out the noise but equally, to spot the windows of opportunity.

With that being the case, what if we gave our RAS a different way to look at things?

Putting this into practice

  1. Ask the question ‘If I lived forever, would I be able to learn this?’ about something you wish to be better at or to learn.
  2. Notice how that makes you feel in the moment. You can ‘borrow’ that feeling and state of certainty, confidence, maybe reassurance or calmness. It’s available anytime you need it when you associate and practice this state repeatedly.
  3. Now ask the question - what do I really want to do but I think is currently impossible?
  4. Step back into the feeling from point 1 and just ask ‘what if’ questions about something from your ‘impossible list’ What if I could have this? How would it feel if I had already achieved this? How would my life be different if I was already on the other side of this goal?
  5. Now allow your RAS to just notice the world. It will let you know when it notices an opportunity to connect the dots between your reality and your aspiration. It will tell you to walk through doors or make enquiries when it notices a way forward for you.


credit: @Liva_Jan_

If we believe we have more potential and possibilities available to us, we allow these into our thinking. This is how your teen will develop their thinking both in and outside of school.

They can then look out for these and create better outcomes, which leads us on to our next mental model…

Luck-Surface Area

Do you believe in luck? I do, here’s why.

Luck isn’t the same thing as hope. Of course, good things happen to people but I believe that successful people 1) put themselves out there often enough and 2) use their RAS to connect the dots and spot the opportunities around them that are creating positive conditions in their lives.

So whether it’s luck, serendipity or any other label, it’s more systematic than you realise.

My coaching mentor Robert Ellis taught me the formula for finding your true love, something that even your teenager should have approach for! He talks about ‘wandering and wondering’ his way through dating, and staying open to the experiences of it until he met his life partner, Michelle.

Wandering = Being curious and exploring new opportunities

Wondering = Staying open and curious about the experiences that come your way.

When good things happen in your life, the pessimists will call it lucky, and the haters will call it dumb luck but only you will know better!


In this interview with Ryan Roslansky, CEO of LinkedIn, he explains the role of luck… Adi Ignatius (Interviewer): ”One question I like to ask everybody is, how did you become this person? Tell us a bit about your background, and maybe one or two pivotal moments that led you to becoming CEO of one of the most important social networks in the world.”

Ryan Roslansky: ”It is a true honor to be the CEO of LinkedIn, especially through what’s a pretty pivotal time in the world of work. I don’t know if there’s one or two moments that I’d point to. But I would probably point to three things that have got me here.

Number one is luck. I was born at the right time to the right set of parents that were loving and caring and taught me the value of work and set me up with a great education. So that was number one.

Number two is also luck. I was lucky to be a freshman in college in 1996 when the internet was just starting to get going, and meet a couple of people, and together we started a company. Taught myself how to code, and was lucky to be in that place at that time, and really learn about the internet and learn about technology.

And the number three is actually luck as well. I was lucky that as a junior product manager a long time ago at Yahoo! I had the opportunity to work with and meet a gentleman by the name of Jeff Weiner, who would go on to become the CEO of LinkedIn. I came with him as his first employee. And there’s been a lot of hard work and choices along the way. But when you take a big step back on all of it, I think luck, luck, and luck were pretty pivotal to getting me to the position that I’m in today.”

Adi Ignatius: ”You’re being very modest. And obviously you created opportunities where then luck could work your way.”

Ryan mentions three types of luck:

  1. Luck of birth
  2. Luck of environment
  3. Luck of networking

The interviewer sums up nicely how the world works: we make the most of our luck in life when we see it around us and then take action, it’s a combination of all types of serendipity.

Here’s how you generate luck as a teenager

  1. The Rule of 6

Ryan may have been luckier than most to meet the first CEO of LinkedIn to advance his career but we’re all connected to every other person on the planet within a chain of six people.

I.e. If I need to be introduced to 45-year-old Bob from Memphis, Tennessee, the one with three kids and a wife living in the suburbs (he must exist, right?!) then I only need to think of someone who might know who, who will do the same….until within six connections, I would be in touch with him.

The very help you need is closer to hand than you realise.

Tim Ferris talks about building a network such that the person you need help from is within reach of one person you can ask that knows the helper.

How powerful would it be for your teenager to start their network now? With ready-made networks like Linkedin, it’s so easy to find the person with the dream job they aspire to or simply someone available to mentor them.

  1. Offer your help for free

What is your teenager really good at?

Ask them to offer this help for free so they can:

  • Experience the ‘rule of 6’ in action
  • Connect with people that recognise the value they can offer to the world
  • Start wandering and wondering their way into lucky event situations

This could be building a website for your friend who has just started a side business or simply talking about everything they’ve learned about that subject online. The main point is to start expanding their luck-surface area in the easiest way possible.

Second-order thinking

What stops young people from believing in luck?

Partly second-order thinking. Luck rarely stares you in the face and if the results of your child’s actions don’t happen straight away, there is the tendency to give up faster. This is known as hyperbolic discounting, i.e. basing decisions about the future based on the immediate or short-term pay-off.

It takes a certain amount of wisdom to look past the immediate effects of your actions and to trust in luck, which is why second-order thinking is so important.

‘Would you rather?’ is my favourite game to play with my 5-year-old, it goes something like this: Would you rather sit in a bath full of slime or mud? Or You can only pick one - go swimming today or go to Disneyland in three months?

But every now and then I throw in something to really make her think and includes some second-order thinking:

“If you could eat sweets every day but never read books again, or you could read books forever but never eat sweets again, which would you choose?” This one really made her scratch her head (and the bookworm in her won over, which I was secretly delighted about).

Second-order thinking is your brain’s ability to see past the immediate response to your actions. For my little one, today that looks like ‘should I eat sweets now or later?’. Tomorrow that might look like:

  • Do I be kind to this girl even if the majority of kids are not?
  • Do I eat healthily today or eat takeout again?
  • Do I buy that car I really want or save for my future?

This is a true life skill, so much so that delayed gratification has been shown as a measure of how successful a person will be in life.

How can young people apply second-order thinking?

Most people have heard of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs but there is a different diagram to the one most people know that is more useful.

Instead of:


…which is too neat a summary to capture how humans progress through the life, I show young people this version:


What’s the difference?

Well, show me a teenager that isn’t looking for self-actualisation. Isn’t that exactly what they are doing when they’re pulling away from you and trying to find their own identity and sense of meaning about the world?

A 15-year-old I worked with once asked me ‘Is it ok to have different ideas from my parents?’, to which I replied ‘I don’t know, is it ok?’ and left him to confirm what he was already realising. Your child is already trying on second-order thinking for size and most of the young people I’ve worked with are simply looking for validation that it’s ok to go through this process.

Since they’re already working on this, try out some of the coaching questions I use myself when they’re in a mood to chat with you:

  1. Let them explain a situation, challenge or problem where the conversation is future-focused
  2. Ask ‘And when {Insert situation}, what would you like to have happen next?
  3. Repeat this again in response to the new comment or scenario - And when {Insert new comment or scenario}, what would you like to have happen next?
  4. Ask the same question up to six times
  5. Finish with ‘And is there a relationship between {Last comment or scenario} and {the original situation}?
  6. Let them connect the dots and reflect on the relationship between where they are and where they want to get to

If you try this, remember to use their language precisely, where you are repeating back their words. Try and use the same wording and tone as best as possible.


If your teenager is open and smart enough to take on the previous three mental models, the only job left to do is to compound the learnings and actions they will now be putting in place.

Your teenager is a time-billionaire (since a billion seconds is 31.5 years). I mention this to them because it’s the best analogy I have for explaining how very much time they have on their side, that the deck is chronologically stacked in their favour.

“It is nearly impossible to have your best idea the first time you think about something. The most likely way to uncover important insights is to frequently revisit a problem. The longer you’re in the game, the more ideas bubble up to the surface. Time unlocks insights.”

James Clear

The thing is, being rich or successful when they’re your age or in your position in life doesn’t appeal to them, so what else can you suggest to motivate them?

Compounding is a better lever than motivation because you don’t have to focus on long-term discipline as the path to success. You can help your teen to put forward one foot in front of the order. If they can build the habit of doing this, again and again, the results will be nothing short of spectacular for them.

I learned this for myself recently.

Three years ago, I was pulling my hair out trying to write sales emails.

I’d never had to do my own marketing before as a salesperson and the process of putting my thoughts down into coherent words was soul-destroying. With a bit of googling, I stumbled on the word ‘copywriting’. So I emailed our content manager and asked her, ‘how do I learn copywriting? How do I write words that sell?’

She recommended a famous book, ‘Confessions of an Advertising Man’ by David Ogilvy.

And off I went.

From there, I started to practice anything copywriting-related that I read when actively working with clients on their advertising. I held live Zoom calls with them and tried to write their copy there and then. The pressure of doing things created results. Working with multiple clients day in, day out, transformed practice into competency.

Only 30 months later, I’ve gone from not knowing what copywriting was to testimonials like this:


This is how you hack learning any skill.

It has nothing to do with where you’re starting from and everything to do with compounding.


Putting the four mental models together

These four mental models are so powerful that your teenager can use them as a blueprint for future success:

  1. Use a growth mindset to believe in yourself and open new possibilities
  2. Keep putting yourself out there to maximise your luck surface area
  3. Cement your ‘why’ for attempting something by looking at the future payoff
  4. Practice, practice and practice until compounding leads to outsized results

Would you like to share these ideas with your child?

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