Learnings Mental Models

Turtling: The Mental Model That Keeps You Stuck


In the realm of decision-making, there exists a common cognitive bias known as “turtling.” Derived from the behavior of turtles retracting into their shells for protection, turtling refers to the tendency of individuals or groups to retreat to their comfort zones and avoid taking risks or making necessary changes. This mental model plays a significant role in shaping our decisions, often leading to irrational choices that hinder personal growth, hamper business success, and impede effective public policy-making. By understanding the psychological underpinnings of turtling and recognizing its occurrence in various contexts, we can develop strategies to avoid this trap and foster more objective decision-making.

The Psychological Anchoring of Turtling

Turtling is deeply rooted in human psychology, drawing upon our instinctive desire for safety, familiarity, and security. Our brains have evolved to prioritize survival and minimize potential threats. As a result, we tend to be risk-averse and seek comfort in the known rather than the unknown. This inclination manifests itself in our day-to-day lives, shaping decisions that may not always align with our best interests.

Examples of Turtling in Different Contexts

Personal Life Decisions:
Consider the individual who stays in an unfulfilling job or relationship simply because it feels familiar and secure. Despite recognizing the need for change and growth, the fear of the unknown and potential failure keeps them trapped in their comfort zone. By turtling, they avoid taking the necessary risks that could lead to personal fulfillment and happiness.

Business Scenarios:
In the business world, turtling can manifest in multiple ways. For instance, a company might resist adopting new technologies or innovative practices due to a fear of disrupting existing processes or the potential for short-term losses. This reluctance to adapt hinders progress and stifles competitiveness in an ever-evolving market. By turtling, businesses miss out on opportunities for growth and risk being overtaken by more agile competitors.

Public Policy-Making:
Turtling is also evident in the realm of public policy. Decision-makers often prioritize short-term gains over long-term benefits due to the pressures of re-election or public opinion. As a result, policies aimed at addressing pressing societal issues, such as climate change or income inequality, may be delayed or watered down. By turtling, policymakers prioritize maintaining the status quo over pursuing necessary systemic changes, thereby hindering progress and exacerbating existing problems.

The Biases and Psychological Underpinnings of Turtling:
Several cognitive biases contribute to turtling and reinforce our inclination to stay within our comfort zones. These biases include:

Status quo bias: Humans tend to have a preference for the familiar and established, often fearing the potential negative consequences of change.

Loss aversion: The fear of losses tends to outweigh the desire for gains. We are more likely to cling to what we have rather than take a risk that may result in a loss.

Confirmation bias: We seek out information that confirms our preexisting beliefs and preferences, ignoring or discounting evidence that challenges them. This bias reinforces turtling by creating an echo chamber of ideas and limiting exposure to new perspectives.

Endowment effect: We place a higher value on things we already possess, leading us to be less willing to let go of them, even if they no longer serve our best interests.

Identifying and Overcoming Turtling

Recognize your comfort zone: Start by identifying the areas of your life or decision-making process where you tend to gravitate toward the familiar and avoid risks. Reflect on the potential missed opportunities that may have resulted from this mindset.

Seek diverse perspectives: Actively seek out viewpoints that challenge your existing beliefs and opinions. Engage in dialogue with individuals who have different backgrounds, experiences, and expertise. Embrace the discomfort of cognitive dissonance, as it can lead to growth and more well-rounded decision-making.

Set small, manageable goals: Overcoming turtling requires taking incremental steps outside your comfort zone. By setting achievable goals and gradually expanding your boundaries, you can build confidence and resilience in the face of change.

Embrace failure as a learning opportunity: Instead of fearing failure, view it as an essential part of the growth process. Learn from your mistakes, adapt your approach, and embrace the potential for growth that lies beyond your comfort zone.


Turtling, the cognitive bias rooted in our psychology, can significantly impact our decision-making processes. By understanding its occurrence in personal, business, and public policy contexts, we can recognize its detrimental effects on our growth and progress. By actively challenging our comfort zones, seeking diverse perspectives, and embracing a growth mindset, we can break free from the constraints of turtling and make more objective, informed decisions. Awareness and active avoidance of this mental trap are essential for personal development, business success, and societal progress. Embracing change and taking calculated risks can lead to greater fulfillment, innovation, and positive change in our lives and the world around us.


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