Learnings Mental Models

Viscosity: The Mental Model That Traps Our Decision-Making


In the realm of decision-making, the viscosity mental model plays a significant role in shaping our choices and actions. Viscosity refers to the resistance or friction we experience when trying to change our current state, habits, or beliefs. It is deeply rooted in human psychology, affecting our day-to-day lives and influencing decisions that may not align with our best interests. Understanding the concept of viscosity is essential for making rational choices and avoiding cognitive traps. In this blog post, we will explore the concept of viscosity, provide real-life examples, delve into the psychological underpinnings, and offer practical strategies to avoid succumbing to this mental bias.

Defining Viscosity and Its Relevance

Viscosity, as a mental model, refers to the resistance encountered when attempting to change the current state of affairs. It manifests in decision-making processes by impeding the adoption of new ideas, behaviors, or beliefs due to the inertia of existing patterns. Viscosity operates on multiple levels, from individual decisions to group dynamics, organizational behavior, and even public policy-making.

In our personal lives, viscosity can hinder us from making positive changes. Whether it’s adopting a healthier lifestyle, embracing new perspectives, or pursuing new opportunities, the resistance we face often stems from the viscosity of our habits, comfort zones, and the fear of the unknown. Similarly, in business contexts, viscosity can hinder innovation, obstruct necessary changes, and impede progress. Organizational resistance to change often arises due to the viscosity of existing processes, ingrained cultures, and fear of potential risks.

Examples of Viscosity in Various Contexts

  1. Personal Life Decision: Sarah and Her Career Path

Sarah, a talented graphic designer, has been working for a design agency for several years. Despite feeling unfulfilled in her current role, she hesitates to explore other career options. Viscosity holds her back as she fears the uncertainty, the potential need for additional skills, and the risk of leaving her comfort zone. By succumbing to viscosity, Sarah stifles her professional growth and limits her potential to find more fulfilling opportunities.

  1. Business Scenario: Legacy Systems and Innovation

A large manufacturing company has been operating with outdated legacy systems that hamper productivity and prevent them from adopting new technological advancements. Despite recognizing the need for change, the viscosity of the existing systems, coupled with the cost and effort required to update them, hinders progress. The company’s resistance to change leads to missed opportunities for growth, competitive disadvantage, and decreased innovation.

  1. Public Policy-Making: Regulatory Capture

Viscosity is not limited to personal and business decisions but can also be observed in the realm of public policy-making. Regulatory capture, a phenomenon where regulatory bodies become influenced or controlled by the industries they are supposed to regulate, is a manifestation of viscosity. The resistance to implement necessary regulations or adapt to changing circumstances arises due to the influence of vested interests and the viscosity of existing relationships and power structures.

Psychological Biases and Underpinnings of Viscosity

Viscosity is intertwined with various cognitive biases and psychological underpinnings that contribute to our resistance to change. Some notable biases include:

  1. Status Quo Bias: Humans tend to prefer the familiarity and stability of the current state, fearing potential losses or disruptions associated with change. This bias reinforces viscosity by making it harder to break away from existing patterns.
  2. Confirmation Bias: Our inclination to seek information that confirms our existing beliefs or decisions strengthens viscosity. We tend to ignore or downplay evidence that challenges our current mindset, reinforcing our resistance to change.
  3. Loss Aversion: The fear of potential losses weighs heavily on our decision-making. Loss aversion, where losses have a greater psychological impact than equivalent gains, amplifies viscosity by making us reluctant to venture into the unknown and embrace change.

Overcoming Viscosity: Strategies for Rational Decision-Making

To avoid falling prey to viscosity and make more objective decisions, consider the following strategies:

  1. Recognize the Status Quo Bias: Be aware of the natural human tendency to favor the current state. Regularly question whether your choices are genuinely aligned with your goals or influenced by the comfort of familiarity.
  2. Embrace a Growth Mindset: Cultivate a mindset that embraces change, views challenges as opportunities for growth, and values learning. By reframing your perspective, you can reduce the viscosity associated with new experiences and ideas.
  3. Seek Diverse Perspectives: Actively seek out differing viewpoints, engage in constructive debates, and surround yourself with individuals who challenge your thinking. This approach helps counter confirmation bias and widens your perspective, enabling more informed decision-making.
  4. Experiment and Iterate: Start small and experiment with new behaviors or ideas. By breaking down large changes into manageable steps, you can reduce the viscosity associated with major shifts, allowing for gradual adaptation and increased chances of success.


Viscosity, the resistance encountered when trying to change the status quo, is an influential mental model that impacts our decision-making processes. By understanding the psychological biases and underpinnings associated with viscosity, we can recognize when we are succumbing to this cognitive trap. Armed with strategies to counteract viscosity, such as embracing a growth mindset, seeking diverse perspectives, and experimenting with small changes, we can make more objective decisions that align with our long-term goals. Awareness and active avoidance of the viscosity mental model are key to achieving personal and professional growth, innovation, and ultimately, a more fulfilling life.

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