Mental Models: How Thinking in New Ways Can Significantly Elevate Your Exercise, Movement, Manual or Physical Therapy Business

One of the best ways to significantly elevate your Exercise, Movement, Manual or Physical Therapy business is to expand the set of mental models you use to think, analyse and make decisions.

Although I wasn’t using the term ‘mental models’ when I embarked on my mission, I developed a keen interest in cross-discipline joined-up thinking whilst running my first clinic in a private gym in Surrey, some 10 years ago.

During this time, I began to realise that not only was this a good thing, but it was actually essential for robustly and sustainably solving human body exercise, movement and injury issues.

Move on 10 years and my coaching clients have developed a reputation for explaining and solving problems that others simply haven’t been able to solve.

When I sustained my sporting back injury 30 years ago, I consulted about 8 different professionals and they ALL gave me a different explanation and tried different things, none of which worked. I now know the reason for this. They were each looking through the lens of a single mental model.

The secret weapon here is not intelligence, rather a simple strategy of building more and more mental models to draw upon when faced with client issues.

The best exercise, movement and manual/physical therapy professionals have the broadest set of mental models to draw on.

What is a Mental Model?

A mental model is an explanation of how something works. It is a concept, a framework, or worldview that you carry around in your mind to help you interpret the world and understand the relationship between things.

Mental models are the thinking tools that you use to understand things, make decisions, and solve problems. Learning a new mental model gives you a new way to see the world.

There is no single mental model that provides a flawless explanation of the entire human body jigsaw, but the best mental models in this area have allowed us to build bridges and develop new approaches. As Yuval Noah Harari puts it, “Scientists generally agree that no theory is 100 percent correct. Thus, the real test of knowledge is not truth, but utility.”

The best mental models are the ideas with the most utility. Understanding these concepts help us make wiser choices and take better actions. This is why developing a broad base of mental models is critical for anyone interested in thinking and analysing clearly, rationally, critically and effectively, something that all exercise, movement, manual therapy and physical therapy professionals should aspire to become expert at.

The Secret to Great Thinking and Decision Making

Expanding our set of mental models is something we all need to work on, experts and novices alike.

We also need to be mindful that mental models have a lifespan and can be (and often are) superseded.

We all have our favourite mental models, the ones we naturally default to as an explanation for how or why something happened. As we grow older and develop expertise in a certain area, we tend to favour the mental models that are most familiar to us.

Here’s the problem: when a certain perspective dominates our thinking, we’ll try to explain every problem we face through that perspective. This pitfall is particularly easy to slip into when we’re smart or talented in a given area.

The more we master a single mental model, the more likely it becomes that this mental model will be our downfall because we’ll start applying it indiscriminately to every problem.

What looks like expertise is often a limitation. As the common proverb says, “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

When a certain perspective dominates our thinking, we’ll try to explain every problem we face through that perspective.

Technically speaking, none of these perspectives are wrong. But nobody is seeing the entire picture either.

Each individual mental model is just one view of reality. The exercise, movement and injury challenges and situations we face in life cannot be entirely explained by one field or one perspective.

All perspectives hold some truth (until superseded). None of them contain the complete truth.

Hence why my back injury issue remained unsolved until I acquired new mental models that allowed me to see the problem differently.

Relying on a narrow set of thinking tools is like wearing a mental straitjacket. Our cognitive ‘range of motion’ is limited.

When our set of mental models is limited, so is our potential for finding a solution. In order to unleash our full potential, we have to collect a range of mental models. We have to build out our decision-making toolbox. Thus, the secret to great thinking and great problem-solving is to learn to seamlessly employ a variety of mental models.

When we choose continual professional development training for example, do we ask ourselves, “Does this training add a new mental model to my toolbox, or does it simply further entrench an existing one?”

Expanding Our Set of Mental Models

The process of accumulating mental models is somewhat like improving our vision. Each eye can see something on its own. But if we cover one of them, we lose part of the scene. It’s impossible to see the full picture when we’re only looking through one eye.

Similarly, mental models provide an internal picture of how the human body works. We should continuously upgrade and improve the quality of this picture – with new and updated mental models.

This means reading widely, studying the fundamentals of ‘seemingly unrelated’ fields – which means studying the perspectives of different modalities and disciplines – and learning from people with wildly different experiences.

We also shouldn’t be constrained by what we perceive to be, or have been told are, valid or invalid models. Robust clinical evidence is just as valid as the so-called “gold standard” of research. Remember, nothing in the fields of exercise, movement, manual or physical therapy is proven.

Be sufficiently “fluid” to take a model, try it and use it. The powerful mental model of ‘Triangulation’ gives us a tool to help validate what we are doing and seeing, and this is a mental model that we firmly embed into our coaching programmes.

The mind’s eye needs a variety of mental models to piece together a complete picture of how the world (or the human body) works. The more sources we have to draw upon, the clearer our thinking becomes.

As the philosopher Alain de Botton notes, “The chief enemy of good decisions is a lack of sufficient perspectives on a problem.”

The Pursuit of Liquid Knowledge

In our core professional training as body-working professionals, we separate knowledge and practice into different silos—Personal Training, Pilates, Sports Massage, Sports Therapy, Physiotherapy, Osteopathy, Chiropractic etc.

In the real world, information is rarely divided into neatly defined categories. In the words of Charlie Munger, “All the wisdom of the world is not to be found in one little academic department.”

World-class thinkers are often silo-free thinkers. They avoid looking at life through the lens of one subject. Instead, they develop “liquid knowledge” that flows easily from one topic to the next.

This is why it is important to not only learn new mental models, but to consider how these connect with one another. Creativity and innovation often arise at the intersection of ideas. By spotting the links between various mental models, we can identify solutions that most people overlook.

Tools for Thinking Better

Here’s the good news:

We don’t need to master every detail of every discipline or modality to become a world-class human body thinker and problem-solver.

Each discipline or modality has a few mental models that form the backbone, or “pillars” of the subject.

If we can understand these pillars of each discipline, then we can develop a remarkably accurate and useful picture of how the human body fits together, how it works, how and why it doesn’t work and what we can do to resolve issues we find.

I’ve made it a personal mission to uncover the most impactful human body models and the links between them.

Over time I developed a better view of what I call the ‘human body jigsaw puzzle’ and how to leverage the different mental models to provide a better understanding and hence deliver better problem-solving.

I continue to build on this understanding by constantly seeking out more mental models, which I then integrate with all the others where it makes sense to do so.

Why did I choose The Integrated Fitpro™ as a business name?

Because I came to realise that no single discipline or modality has all the answers, but more importantly, no single discipline or modality can solve human body jigsaw puzzles (whether they be exercise, movement or injury) on its own.

It’s not just a “nice to have” to be able to draw on and seamlessly integrate disciplines and modality mental models when working with clients, it’s essential.

But it starts with the Pursuit of Liquid Knowledge and Silo-Free Thinking. And this requires a willingness to look outside of the lens of one subject, one discipline, one modality (or even one school within a discipline).

It beggar’s belief how our industry maintains its silo training and silo thinking approach. It also beggar’s belief how professionals in our industry hold on so tightly to single mental models that they think are better than any other.

Indeed, even within disciplines and modalities, different schools teach different ways of thinking and this becomes entrenched in those whom they train, re-enforced by school-specific continual professional development.

We need to dispense with this siloed approach and realise that the more mental models we acquire AND learn to seamlessly integrate, the better results and outcomes we are going to get for our clients.

Here at The Integrated Fitpro™ we start with the principle of understanding the above problem and then move to the principles of both integrated thinking and integrated working.

We offer the only fully integrated learning and development programme for exercise, movement, manual therapy and physical therapy professionals, specifically designed to help obviate siloed, straitjacket thinking and working.

My clients seamlessly integrate different mental models with their clients as and when the circumstances indicate. Providing them with enhanced analysis skills and enhanced problem-solving skills.

This massively differentiates my clients from others, enabling them to offer human body jigsaw puzzle thinking, analysis, explanations and solutions that others simply cannot provide.

If this article has peaked your interest and you’d like to know how you can enhance your thinking, analysis, explanations and solutions, leading to elevated results that massively differentiate you from all of your competitors then pop over to and click on the button to book a call.

© Simon Wellsted, The Integrated Fitpro™ – 9th April 2021 – All Rights Reserved
With grateful thanks and acknowledgement to James Clear for providing the framework for this article.

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