Archive | Mental Models RSS for this section


Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“A word is a label that points to something other than itself. That something is called the referent.

For communication to occur, the word must point to the same thing. It’s like having a visible landmark in the distance that helps everyone find their way.”

“Let’s take an example. 

Parkour is a phenomenon in the world. If you’ve been exposed to the phenomenon and see a practitioner training, you may recognize what he/she is doing as Parkour. When talking about Parkour-as-a-phenomenon, this recognition is the referent.

Parkour however is also an idea. When talking about Parkour-as-an-idea, the referent is different. In this case, the referent is your own understanding – your internal model – of it.

The referent can be an outer pattern. – Process: Recognition
The referent can be an inner pattern. – Process: Understanding

We might call the former outer referent, and the latter inner referent.

All words have an inner referent.
Some words don’t have an outer referent.

In case of the outer referent, the landmark is clear and unambiguous.
In case of the inner referent however, it is not.

In the latter case, different people can have vastly different internal models of the same thing. For each of them, the inner referent is different. If they assume they’re talking about the same thing, they talk past one another.

How often do people define the words they use?”

“Not that often, I imagine. That carries the risk of revealing your lack of understanding.”

“The consequence is that much of what passes for communication in the world is actually non-communication.”

Quotes as Resource: Quote Combos

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“What are quote combos?”

“In Magic the Gathering, cards can be combined to achieve an emergent effect more powerful than the individual cards. I call the underlying principle, Synergy. In the game’s terminology, a synergistic combination of cards is called a combo.

By default, people think of quotes as single entities. However, just like in Magic, quotes can be combined to amplify their effect. This is what I call a quote combo.”

“Can you give an example?”


Less but better. (Greg McKeown, Essentialism)

The small things are the big things. (Josh Waitzkin)

How you do anything is how you do everything. (Josh Waitzkin)

This is a powerful quote combo that expresses an essential aspect of my life philosophy. I have it pinned on the desktop of my computer to see it at all times.”


Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“I noticed a use pattern [<link; short read]. The duration of my work cycles is 30 minutes – 30 minutes of deep work, followed by a 10-minute break. I set the timer to 30 minutes, but I always exceed the time by around 5 minutes.”

“Then set the timer to 25 minutes. In exceeding the time by 5 minutes you will get where you want to be. I call this process, under-adjustment.

The opposite process is over-adjustment.”

“As in Ralph Waldo Emerson’s quote:

We aim above the mark to hit the mark.



Set big goals – goals way beyond your current ability level. This forces you to push yourself more than you normally would, thus grow at an accelerated pace. You ‘hit the mark’ regardless of whether you achieve them or not.”

On Models and Possibility

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“It’s impossible.”

“I like to think of everything that is possible as the universe of possibility. The universe of possibility is what’s possible regardless of what we think is possible.

Each of us has an internal model of reality – a reality model – which we develop throughout our lives. Our reality model paints an image of what’s possible. I call this component of the reality model, the possibility model.

This can be extended to the collective level. We have collective reality models, and by extension, collective possibility models.

Impossible can mean something outside the universe of possibility.
Impossible can mean something outside a collective possibility model.
Impossible can mean something outside your current possibility model.”

Creative Oscillation

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“What is creative oscillation?”

“The creative process is an oscillation. 


Creative insights happen during the Off, not the On.

This can be used strategically.”


“By alternating Creative Thinking with Creative Pauses.

During the On, choose a Creative Focus, and follow it by Creative Exploration. Viewed as a mind-map, the Creative Focus is the center of the map, and Creative Exploration is the process of branching out in all directions, seeing where it takes you. You’re thus opening a mental process [<link; short read].

During the Off, let go. Focus your attention elsewhere, and let the unconscious mind do its magic.” 

“What’s the optimal oscillation pattern?”

“Play around with it. Experiment. 

What’s important is to remember that the Off is an integral part of the process.”

Measuring Implementation

Wisdom is all about application. (Darius Foroux)

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“How can I maximize learning efficiency?”

“Maximize implementation efficiency.”

“How can I maximize implementation efficiency?”

Measure it.

I’m thinking of two variables in particular: implementation rate and implementation lag.

Implementation Rate

Of the actionable ideas you took notes on, how many did you implement?

implementation rate = implemented ideas/total ideas

The maximum rate is 1.
The closer you are to 1, the better.

To maximize implementation efficiency, maximize the implementation rate.

Implementation Lag

The time between when you read an idea and its implementation.

The minimum lag is 0 – Immediate Implementation.

To maximize implementation efficiency, minimize the implementation lag.”

Use Patterns

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“What are use patterns?”

“Our default mindset is additive.

The intention is always well-meaning.

‘I’ll add this. Maybe I’ll need it.’

What’s invisible in the moment is that all these well-meaning little things compound [<link; medium read]. In time, little by little adds up to a lot. What’s more, that which is easy to add is (psychologically) hard to remove.” 

“Ironically, most of them you don’t even end up using.”

“I wouldn’t be surprised if the Pareto Principle applies here as well. You use 20%, and 80% just take up space.

Use Patterns are a conceptual tool for revealing patterns of actual use.

Are you actually using x ?
When did you last use x ?”

“How do you overcome the difficulty of removing them once revealed?”

“Switch to the subtractive mindset.

The strategy is temporary removal. In being temporary, you overcome resistance. 

If at any point, you discover you need any of the removed items, you bring them back; That rarely happens. 

Most often, you discover you never needed them in the first place.”

Learning to Teach

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“I like to make a distinction between Learning by Teaching and Learning to Teach. I’ve identified these as two fundamental principles of learning.”

“What’s the difference between them?”

Learning by Teaching means learning by explaining to someone else, or to yourself as if to someone else. This is the principle that underlies the Feynman Technique [<link; medium read]. 

Learning to Teach means learning with the intention of actually teaching, either in person or in writing. This is the principle that underlies writing articles, creating a course, or writing a book. 

In the former, you’re creating value for yourself.
In the latter, you’re creating value for yourself and others – and you have something to show for it.

I’ve decided to expand the latter from articles to (free) practical handbooks on all the subjects/skills I’m interested in – Peak Performance, Thinking, Creativity, Meta-Learning (Learning to Learn), Design, Movement, Breathing, Stoicism, etc. –, and everything else I learn. I’ve been learning them rather chaotically, so now I want to experiment with focusing on one at a time.

I call it Project Enchiridion.

Enchiridion: A book containing essential information on a subject

The Non-Zero Progress Principle

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“What is the non-zero progress principle?”

“It’s a brilliant little principle I know from Darius Foroux [<link] – one of my favorite people. 

Do one thing every day that helps you move toward your most important goal.

It’s basically two principles into one:

Consistent Action – Consistent daily action compounds [<link; short read].

Efficient Action – Focus on the highest-leverage things, one at a time.”

“Weren’t you already doing that?”

“I was taking consistent action, but not efficient action. Darius’s principle helped me see the error of my ways.”

On scarcity and value

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“Scarcity creates value.”

“What if it’s a scarce thing that no one wants?”

“I guess no value is created.”

Value is perception.

value = perceived value

We can metaphorically think of scarcity as a value multiplier

desire = scarcity x perceived value

The fewer you have of something – the fewest being one –, the bigger the multiplier.

If the perceived value is zero, you get zero.

Perceived value creates desire.
Scarcity amplifies desire.”

“The inverse is also true:

Desire creates perceived value.

This is the infatuation pattern. Desiring someone makes you perceive them as more valuable. 

Scarcity – they being ‘one of a kind’, ‘irreplaceable’ – amplifies desire.

Only, in this case, the scarcity is an illusion.

scarcity = perceived scarcity”