Skip to content
Welcome to the Cabrera Research lab for

Systems Thinking & Mental Fitness.

The world's leading research lab in the science of systems thinking and the practice of mental fitness.

You make mental
models of reality.

Cognitive complexity

Right mental models
drive right action.

systems thinking

Fit your mental
models to reality.

Pioneer and INTERPRETER 

A couple of scientists from Cornell University.

Drs. Derek and Laura Cabrera have worked for over two decades to develop the world's most advanced theory in systems thinking at Cornell University. Scientifically-driven and evidence-based, we will teach you how the universe and your mind organizes information, how you build mental models, and how systems thinking works to develop mental fitness in your everyday life.

Our courses

Learn the science of systems thinking.

Build the core skills that enable you to grasp complexity, intentionally structure your thinking, visualize systems effortlessly, and design adaptive organizations.

Intro to Systems Thinking
Systems Thinking 101

To succeed and thrive in today’s increasingly interconnected world, the ability to understand complex systems, think fluidly, and solve complex problems is essential. Intro to Systems Thinking is a self-paced online course that provides concrete systems thinking tools you can apply to analyze complex situations. You’ll be able to integrate systems thinking concepts, principles, and practices to improve existing processes, operations, and thinking patterns. Based on their ground-breaking empirical research, Cornell University faculty, Drs. Derek and Laura Cabrera will guide you each step of the way toward a better understanding of how you think and how systems work and how you can better understand the complexities of the modern world.
  • Online, 5-6 hours
  • Self-paces, access to community network
  • Certificate of completion, open enrollment
  • Highly interactive exercises
  • Prerequisite: None.

Systems Mapping
Systems Thinking 201

Systems Mapping is an essential and deeply practical skill that makes Systems Thinking visible and tangible. Once you've been introduced to the basic concepts in Systems Thinking 101 (ST101) it's time to visualize it with Systems Mapping 201 (SM201). SM201 is a self-paced online course taught by Cornell University faculty, Drs. Derek and Laura Cabrera. In this course, you'll learn how to map any system, regardless of their level of complexity. Get ready to use hands-on examples in Plectica Systems Mapping software, allowing you to practice making beautiful and easily understandable maps. You'll learn skills that you can use in any software or medium including whiteboarding or on the back of a napkin.
  • Online, 5-6 hours
  • Self-paced, access to community network
  • Certificate of completion, open enrollment
  • Highly interactive exercises
  • Prerequisite: None. ST101 recommended.

Systems Leadership
Systems Thinking 301

To round out your experience in Systems Thinking (ST101) and Systems Mapping (SM201), you must learn how to apply these skills to your organization with Systems Leadership 301 (SL301). SL301 covers the specific skills and steps needed to design, manage, and lead adaptive organizations and teams and how to bring about cultural change. In this self-paced online course taught by Cornell University faculty, Drs. Derek and Laura Cabrera, you’ll learn how to build an effective vision, mission, capacity map, and learning systems in order to maximize the productivity and culture of your organization. Learn the systems approach to change management.

  • Online, 5-6 hours
  • Self-paced, access to community network
  • Certificate of completion, open enrollment
  • Highly interactive exercises
  • Prerequisite: None. ST101 and ST201 recommended.

Trusted by individuals and organizations.


From Silicon Valley startups to kindergartners, special forces operators to scientists, our work empowers all to thrive.

Build high-performing organizations

"Derek and Laura Cabrera have zeroed in on the most important aspects of building high-performing organizations to succeed in our VUCA world."

George W. Casey, Jr.
General, U.S. Army (Retired)

Learn a set of systems thinking skills

"When I saw DSRP, I realized that it broke systems thinking down to the bare essentials: a set of thinking skills."

Gerald Midgley, PhD
Professor of Systems Thinking at the University of Hull

Immediately applicable

"These ideas have vast applicability. It should be core curriculum in business education."

Dave Silberman
Chief Development Officer, RedLeaf Ventures & Advanta Analytical Laboratories

As deep as you want to go

"It's deep and gives a framework for organizational design that attends to aspects often overlooked.  Thank you!"

Prashant Goel
Leadership Coach
Cornell University
Dick's Sporting Goods
Dept of State
Special Forces
Northrop Grumman
University of Wisconsin Madison
Swedish Defense University
us army war college
USMA West Point
Santa Fe Institute
Outward Bound
Smithsonian Institution
London Children's Museum
Fairfax County Public Schools
Lincoln Financial
UW Cooperative Extension
Florida International University
Cornell Cooperative Extension
University of Hull
University of Arizona
Edgewood College
Seoul National University
Cornell Plantations
Cornell Policy Review
National Cancer Institute
Johnson Business School
Net Impact
American Evaluation Association
Agro Soyuz Ukraine
New Mexico Evaluators
W.W. Norton
Photosynthesis Productions
MindLife Success
Monroe Clinic
The science

Not convinced? No problem!

Our approach to systems thinking has been empirically validated by over 250 scientific studies.

Frequently asked questions.

Who is it for? Is this for me?

Systems thinking and mental fitness is for everyone. So, yes, it is for you. We train all kinds of people… We train scientists and engineers at the cutting edge of their fields, business executives in the Silicon Valley at the cutting edge of innovation, policy makers dealing with the most wicked problems society faces, professional athletes, and special forces operators. But, we also train preschoolers, K-12 teachers and homeschoolers, and parents. If you are human, then you live and work in systems that require you to be mentally fit to survive and to thrive.

What is DSRP Theory?

DSRP Theory, which stands for Distinctions, Systems, Relationships, and Perspectives,  describes four patterns of systems thinking and their underlying elements. It is a theory that explains how information is organized, arranged, and interconnected, both in cognitive complexity (mind) and material complexity (nature). DSRP Theory provides a basis for understanding systems thinking and cognitive complexity, as well as material complexity in systems science. It is important to understand that while DSRP Theory makes many predictions about the world (numerous of which have been shown empirically), it is very simple and based on just 4 patterns and 8 elements shown in the table below:


Pattern = Element1 ↔︎ Element2
Distinctions (D)   identity (i)   other (o)
Systems (S)   part (p)   whole (w)
Relationships (R)   action (a)   reaction (r)
Perspectives (P)   point (p)   view (v)


The nice thing about DSRP is that these 4 patterns and 8 elements, while surprisingly simple, are the basis by which you make all of your mental models of the world (cognition) and also the way the world is structured to begin with (physical reality). In other words, it is the way information is organized. The goal in practicing DSRP is simply to align/fit the structure of your mental models with the structure of the real world. This practice, much like physical fitness, is the practice of mental fitness. 

What is Mental Fitness?

Mental fitness refers to the overall state of one's mental well-being and cognitive abilities. It encompasses various aspects such as emotional resilience, cognitive flexibility, problem-solving skills, and the ability to manage stress and adapt to challenges. Just as physical fitness is important for maintaining a healthy body, mental fitness is crucial for maintaining a healthy mind. It involves practicing specific moves to avoid biases. By prioritizing mental fitness, individuals can enhance their cognitive functioning, emotional well-being, and overall quality of life.

How does DSRP Theory apply to mental fitness?

DSRP Theory is related to mental fitness in the sense that it provides a framework for understanding and improving cognitive complexity and metacognition, which is a key aspect of mental fitness (getting your mental models to fit to reality). By developing an awareness of the Distinctions, Systems, Relationships, and Perspectives within our thinking, we can enhance our ability to analyze and understand complex systems, solve problems, navigate emotions and bias, and think critically. This increased cognitive complexity can contribute to mental fitness by improving our cognitive flexibility, problem-solving skills, and overall mental agility. By incorporating DSRP principles, the 4 patterns, and 8 elements into our thinking processes, we can enhance our mental fitness and improve our ability to navigate and understand the complexities of the world around us.

How can I develop my practice of systems thinking and mental fitness?

The science behind DSRP–the principles, the 4 patterns, and 8 elements–provide the basis for the practice of mental fitness through cognitive movements or “moves.” By learning and practicing these moves, just like you would practice yoga moves or push ups, pull ups and squats, you will develop your mental strength and agility. People report (and research supports) that the benefits of this practice are immediate. You will see changes in your thinking in minutes and you’ll typically feel significant changes in your mental fitness within a week or two of practice.

What is a cognitive exercise or "move"?

A cognitive exercise or "move" is very similar to a physical exercise or movement in both structure and effect. Much like any physical exercise, a cognitive exercise has a starting point and an ending point and it focuses on developing a particular ability that has functional correlate in real life (e.g., a push up helps you get up off the floor, a shoulder raise helps you pick up a bag of groceries, etc.). 

Neutral Fashion Grid Inspiring Instagram Post (1)

Like physical movements, there are many cognitive movements and variations. And, like all physical movements are based on the basic laws of biomechanics, all cognitive movements are based on the laws of cognitive mechanics (DSRP). You can build a practice of mental fitness by learning and doing the moves so that when a real-life scenario presents itself, your brain's muscle memory, strength, and agility is there for you.

Where can I learn more?

There are many ways to learn. If you want to do-it-yourself, read our books or papers or ask our AI-powered chatbot (who has been trained on our corpus) a question. If you want some structure and guidance, complete one of our online courses and join the community hub.