A mental set is a tendency to approach a problem or situation in the same way that has worked in the past. It is a type of cognitive bias that can limit one’s ability to think creatively and find new solutions. Mental sets are often formed based on past experiences and can be difficult to break free from.

How Mental Sets Work

Mental sets are formed when we learn a particular method of solving a problem or completing a task. For example, if we learn how to solve a math problem using a specific formula, we may become overly reliant on that formula and have difficulty solving similar problems with different methods.

The Benefits of Mental Sets

While mental sets can be limiting, they also have some benefits. When we encounter situations that are similar to ones we have encountered before, mental sets can help us quickly identify the best course of action based on past experiences.

The Drawbacks of Mental Sets

The main drawback of mental sets is that they can limit our ability to think outside the box and find new solutions to problems. When faced with a problem that requires creative thinking or an unconventional approach, mental sets can prevent us from exploring new possibilities.

Breaking Free from Mental Sets

Breaking free from a mental set requires conscious effort and creative thinking. One way to do this is by intentionally trying out different approaches and solutions, even if they seem unconventional at first.

Another effective method is to take breaks and come back with fresh eyes. This allows us to approach the problem with renewed energy and perspective.


In conclusion, mental sets are both beneficial and limiting depending on the situation. While they can help us quickly solve familiar problems, they can also prevent us from finding new solutions when faced with unfamiliar situations. Breaking free from mental sets requires intentional effort and creative thinking but can lead to more innovative and effective problem-solving in the long run.