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What is a mental set in psychology

What is a Mental Set in Psychology?

What is a mental set in psychology? Several doctors standing with arms crossed

A mental set is when people attempt to solve problems in a similar way as the past, even though they might not have an optimal or effective approach. It’s the tendency to approach a situation or problem in the same way because something similar may have worked in the past.

Think of how often people try to push open doors at shopping malls just because they’re used to pushing open doors more often than pulling them. Of course, one could just stop and read the one-word sign first, but that’s just so much work, right?

Mental Set: The Psychological Sticky Tape

Mental set is like sticky tape that holds on to familiar ways of thinking. It’s comfortable, but sometimes it can be a bit too sticky and prevent someone from thinking outside the box. A mental set can be a helpful tool in some situations, like when a tried-and-true method is the best way to tackle a problem. But in other cases, it can act like a roadblock, stopping someone from finding a more efficient or creative solution.

The Brain: A Creature of Habit

The brain is a creature of habit, and mental set is one of its favorite tricks. It loves to take shortcuts, and who could blame it? Shortcuts save time and energy. But sometimes, these shortcuts lead to dead ends or long detours instead of a quick path to success. That’s when mental set becomes a pesky problem that needs to be tamed.

Unsticking the Mental Set: The Power of Flexibility

Flexibility is the superhero of the psychological world. It swoops in to save the day when mental set gets in the way of solving problems. When someone is able to bend their thinking and approach a problem from a fresh angle, they’re using flexibility. It’s an essential skill for anyone who wants to keep up with the ever-changing world and tackle new challenges head-on.

The Mental Set Tango: The Dance Between Perseverance and Adaptation

Perseverance and adaptation are like dance partners, taking turns leading the way. Sometimes, sticking with a familiar strategy is the best way to go, and perseverance leads the dance. But when a situation calls for a new approach, adaptation needs to step up and take the lead. Finding the right balance between these two is key to dancing around mental set roadblocks and finding success.

Examples: Mental Set in Everyday Life

Mental set shows up in everyday life more often than one might think. Here are a few examples:

The Copycat Chef

Imagine a person who loves to cook and has a few favorite recipes. They always follow the same steps and use the same ingredients. One day, they run out of a crucial ingredient, but they don’t realize it until they’ve already started cooking. Instead of getting creative with what’s in the pantry, they run out to the store to buy the missing ingredient, because they can’t imagine making the dish without it. That’s mental set in action!

The Frustrated DIYer

Picture someone who’s handy around the house and has a trusty toolbox. They’ve used the same hammer for years and can’t imagine using anything else. One day, they come across a project that requires a different kind of hammer, but they stubbornly try to make do with their old favorite. The project takes much longer than it should and doesn’t turn out as well as it could have. Mental set strikes again!

The One-Track Driver

Consider a driver who always takes the same route to work, even though there are several other ways to get there. One day, there’s a huge traffic jam on their usual route, but they don’t even think about trying a different way. They just sit in the traffic, getting more and more frustrated, while other drivers take alternate routes and breeze past them. Mental set has reared its head once more!

In conclusion, mental set can be a helpful shortcut or a frustrating roadblock, depending on the situation. Recognizing when mental set is getting in the way and using flexibility to find new approaches can make all the difference in solving problems and overcoming obstacles. So, keep an eye out for mental set in everyday life, and be ready to dance between perseverance and adaptation when necessary.

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