Mental Models

Thinking from First Principles: Why You'll Need a Mindset Shift to Think Like This

Darren Matthews
Last Updated:
First finger held up in the air.
Table of Contents

Thinking from first principles requires a mindset shift.

One which will challenge most of us. As often, we are too comfortable living with our assumptions to want to change.  

Assumptions litter our thinking.

They define our beliefs, our behaviours, and often our outcomes. Guided by our earlier experiences we build assumptions — and live by them.

We don’t grasp the consequence of luck, the impact of others, or entropy on future outcomes.  

When tasks before us are simple and repetitive — assumptions are fine. They make life easier to live.

The problem comes when we apply old assumptions to new situations. We don’t expect the unexpected. So, when things go wrong, or the outcome isn’t to our liking – we rarely see it is our assumptions that have failed.

Thinking from first principles changes everything.

Instead of living with assumptions, you go looking for them. You question them, you pull them apart—as you look to find the underlying elements of your assumptions. Now, you’re questioning everything. You’re asking questions as a child does; why, why, why?

Now you can see the horror of the ‘because it does’ answer — the one every parent tells their kids.

As you find assumptions you must challenge them with open questions. Test your conclusions, tweak them, and tune them as you redefine what you know, by seeing what you don’t know.

Thinking from first principles is hard. Living by your assumptions is easy —it’s your choice.

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