Tag Archive | Mental Models

Beautiful Models: High-Density Experiences

Train to live on the other side of pain. (Josh Waitzkin)

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“I had a beautiful experience watching a mosquito drink my blood. I’d never seen it happen.”

“Wasn’t it painful?”

“An essential aspect of my training is exposing myself to discomfort and pain. That’s what it started as, but ended up as a contemplation on the beautiful miracle that is Life.

This is what I call a high-density [<link; short length] experience. It lasted but a few moments, but it felt like so much happened in that brief time-span. I often get the same feeling during my 5-minute meditation sessions.”


On Models and Reductionism

Belief formation process:
– We hear something.
– We believe it to be true.
– We MAY think about it and vet it, determining whether it is, in fact, true or false.

(Annie Duke,
Thinking in Bets)

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“When you hear something about someone, you’re essentially building a simplified mental model of that person. This is an instance of reductionism.”

“Are all models reductionistic?”

“All models are approximations. We can think of models in terms of fidelity. Based on how well they approximate, they can range from high to low fidelity. Low-fidelity models are reductionistic – too much information is lost.

Forming a model of someone based on hearsay is highly reductionistic. The model is nothing more than a caricature. Yet it’s a tendency we all have.”

“To me it’s fascinating how certain we are of our caricature models.”

“I’ve identified two mechanisms at work here: reification and synecdoche.

Reification: mistaking the model for reality.

Synecdoche: identifying the whole with one of its parts.

Whatever you know of the person is just a tiny piece of the whole.”

“How do you counter this tendency?”

“I’m working on building a model specifically to counter this. I call it Wholeness. The model is meant to evoke the whole of something, even though I do not see it. To remind me of the limits of my knowledge, and the limits of our models.”

Lover of Meaning

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“I love Meaning.”

“What do you mean?”

“I’m fascinated by language. 

Language is the tool of tools, the most powerful technology we possess. It makes collective learning and all other technologies possible. 

Language is our interface with reality, which profoundly shapes perception. It’s also a social-interface, which creates a shared-reality.

Language encodes reality. Our model of reality – what I call subjective reality – is to a large extent linguistic.

Language shapes reality, it profoundly influences behavior. In a profound sense, human history was shaped by ideas.

In a sense, language is like water to the fish. And just like water to the fish, for most of my life, it was invisible. I was blind to its magic and beauty. It took me a while to discover it, and when I finally did, it became the central focus of my life.

When we think of language, we normally think of words and symbols. The implicit metaphoric-model is words as containers for meaning. I found that model limiting, so I’ve come to use a different model: words as labels, which point to something beyond themselves. I call that something the Universe of Meaning. Words differ from language to language, but they reference the same universe of meaning, which, on a fundamental level, is modeled after our shared collective experience. 

My interest in language is purely practical. I use language as a tool for exploring and shaping the universe of meaning, with the ultimate end of bettering myself and understanding reality, and for the pure joy of creating.”

“What are your most important tools in this process?”

“Questions and models, principles, and metaphors.

Beautiful Models: Skill-Stacking

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“What is skill-stacking?”

“It’s an idea I know from Scott Adams.

Scarcity creates value. 

In order to be successful in life, you need to make yourself scarce. You can achieve that in two ways:

Become the best at one skill. (very hard)
Become very good at a combination of skills.

The more unique (and useful) the combination, the better off you will be.

We can expand the idea by thinking of it in terms of synergy.

The more synergistic the combination of skills, the more powerful their combined effect. We might call this synergistic skill-stacking, or skill-combo.

I’ve read a book about polymaths [<link] recently, and the author makes the interesting observation that synergistic skill-stacking is one of the defining characteristics of polymaths.”

“So the idea is not just to combine skills, but to artfully combine them.”


I find it useful to create a map for the process – a skill-stacking map.

Something like this:

My skill-stacking map

“Thinking of it as a system, what is its function?”



Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“I’m currently reading a beautiful book about game design called The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses [<link] by Jesse Schell.”

“How come you’re reading about game design?”

I think of my life as a Game [<link; medium length]. I approach it from the perspective of both a Player and a Designer. I want to get better at both.

I love Jesse’s approach to game design. He has distilled the essence of the art to a number of principles (100+). He introduces them one by one, gradually painting a map that ties them all together by the end of the book.

He calls the principles lenses (which are essentially models). 
The lenses are tools. Once activated (which is essentially priming), they allow the designer to see the game with different eyes.

The lenses have a certain structure: the lens’s title, followed by a short description, followed by a number of questions. He has even created physical cards for each. They look like this:

I think this is brilliant. It inspired me to create something similar for my Beautiful Game.

I’ve also included lenses in the classification of models that I’m working on. Lenses are perceptual models, models that influence one’s perception of reality. I also like to call them reality filters.”

Project Questions & Models

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“I LOVE mental models. 

When you think that, until a few years ago, I hadn’t even heard of the concept. Now, if I am to be remembered for anything in this life, I think it will have something to do with mental models.”

“Where did you learn it from?”

“Shane Parrish, from Farnam Street, in an article about Charlie Munger [<link]. 

We encounter a lot of ideas throughout our lives; but only a handful of those profoundly change us.” 

“One might argue that the very point of reading wide is discovering those treasures.”

“That article planted a beautiful seed in my mind which has been growing ever since.

I hadn’t heard of Charlie Munger before that article either, and he’s now one of my Heroes, one of the people I look up to most.”

“What stage is the seedling at now?”

“It’s turned into an actual tree – a mind-map. 

An important (maybe lifelong) project of mine is collecting, organizing and creating models. Just like the Questions-Templates project [<link; medium length] I told you about, I add them to an ever growing mind-map.”

“What if you combined the two mind-maps into one?

You can have a single project called Questions & Models.” 

“That’s a brilliant idea!

I’ll do just that.”

Project Questions & Models

“Glad to be of assistance.

How are you managing all those models. Aren’t there too many of them?”

“I’m focusing mostly on those that have practical application. The tools I can play with, and make me a better Thinker.”

Questions & Models

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“What is your most important practice as a Thinker?”

“An essential question you can ask about any practice is:

What are the fundamentals of the practice?

Which is to say:

What are the most important subs-skills?

Each of those sub-skills is itself a practice.

For me, the most important Thinking practice is Questions & [Mental] Models.


“I see them as an interconnected unit – what I call a functional-monad. This is an instance of Integration. We’ll talk more about it some other time.

I call the individual components of the practice Questioning and Modelling.

I love questions, and I love models. I have a special notebook for each. I start every single day by playing with them.”

“How do you play with them?”

“The guidelines are:
thinking something different – which essentially means creating new connections
the Practical – one of the macro-filters of my life.”

“So it’s a creative endeavor.”


Whenever I come up with a useful question, I write it down.
As for models, it’s in the form of models-mapping [link; short length] – mind-mapping with models.”

Life Optimization 2

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“Should I keep or eliminate x from my life?”

“Brian Johnson identifies the most important areas of one’s life as three in number. He calls them the ‘Big Three‘:


I love the elegance and simplicity of this model. I’ve played with quite a few variations of it, but I always tend to over-complicate it and end up coming back to the original.

Returning to your question, the way I approach questions is by asking more questions.

I like to start by getting perspective. [Mental Models: Macro, Big-Picture, Perspectives]

What’s the Most Important Thing (MIT)? [Model: One Thing]

An even better question is:

What’s the MIT in the most important areas of your life?

This is where Brian’s model comes into the scene. You can answer this question (and many others) through the lens of the Big Three model:

Energy: …
Work: …

How is x in relation to those things? [Models: Alignment, Relativity, Contrasting]
Does it add, subtract, or neither add nor subtract? [Model: Addition/Subtraction]

Another question you can ask is:

What’s your highest aspiration? [Model: Direction]

Energy: …
Work: …
Love: …

How is x in relation to those things?
Does it move you toward, away from, or neither toward nor away from them? [Model: Toward/Away from]

ELIMINATE everything that subtracts from your MIT, and that moves you away from your highest aspiration.

Heroic Level: Also eliminate everything that neither adds nor subtracts from your MIT, and neither moves you toward nor away from your highest aspiration.

You can also think of x in terms of what you’re gaining from it and what you’re losing. [Models: Opportunity Cost, Cost/Benefit]

There’s an opportunity cost to anything we do. Time and energy are limited. By choosing to do something, you’re choosing not to do something else. 

How much time does x take? Projected into the future, that time can add up to quite a lot. [Models: Time, Compounding, Marginal gains, Projection]

Is x energizing or draining? How energy-intensive is it? [Model: Energy]

How does x interfere with your thinking? By thinking about less important things you’re not thinking about the truly important ones. [Models: Interference, Mental-Space, Distraction]

How does x interfere with other systems of your life? [Model: Ecology]

For instance, one of the most important life-systems is what Brian Johnson calls the Fundamentals



Energy is the most important thing in one’s life, because it allows the full expression of EVERYTHING else. The first three Fundamentals are the essential pillars of Energy, especially the first one. Hence, they should be prioritized over anything else and non-negotiable.

To live an extraordinary life, eliminate anything that interferes with the Fundamentals.

Reality Painting

Fragment from imaginary dialogues

“What do you mean by Reality Painting?”

“I mean altering the landscape of your inner-reality through Meaning and Feeling.

In slightly more technical terms, I mean the process of artfully creating and/or enriching mental representations through the use of representational-models[<link; medium length].”

“Can you unpack this a little?”

“I like to use a visual-model to illustrate it:


The object in the foreground draws meaning from its background. Change the background, and the meaning of the foreground-object changes.

As a side note, there’s an abstract-model that expresses the same underlying principle:


The word draws meaning from its context. Change the context, and the meaning of the word changes.

One way to enrich the meaning of something, is by focusing on the foreground. 

I call this process signification

Taking Meditation as an example, you can think of it in various ways:

Meditation as training 
Meditation as connection 
Meditation as self-care
Meditation as celebration
Meditation as sacred-ritual
Meditation as inner-journey
Meditation as homecoming 

“So you’re representing something as something else.”

“Yes. In practical terms, that means coming up with (idiosyncratically) meaningful representations (Ideation), selecting the most powerful ones (Evaluation), and enriching each of them individually. You can do that in two ways:

– connecting them with feelings – accessing specific emotions, evoking past experiences, involving all your senses. 
– connecting them with identity-blocks[<link; medium] – accessing various facets of your identity.”

“So if I thought of Meditation as training, I might connect it with my Athlete identity-block (physical-training) and my Thinker identity-block (mental-training).”

“Indeed. You’re painting with meaning and feeling to create inner works of art.

Another way to enrich the meaning of something, is by focusing on the foreground and the background.

I call this process contextualization

This means looking at the foreground against the Macro background of your life. The more vivid the background, the clearer you are on your values and your purpose, the more meaningful the foreground.”

“Can’t you just focus on the background? On contextualization over signification?”

“You can. But you get a more powerful effect by focusing on both.”


Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“What are amplifier-models?”

“I read a lot of self-improvement books, and I noticed a certain linguistic pattern. Certain words that do not convey any information, but affect the way I feel.”

“Can you give an example?”

“Let’s take ‘Unlimited Power’ for instance, the title of one of Tony Robbins’s books. 

‘Power‘ is a metaphoric-model which refers to the level of control you have over yourself, and, by extension, your own life. 
Unlimited‘ is also a model, which amplifies the emotional impact of the other. It’s an instance of Big-Thinking [<link; medium length].

Feel the difference between these two statements:

I have Power.
I have
Unlimited Power.

I later called the latter amplifier-models.

Viewed as a template [<link; medium], they look like this:

amplifier-model + model

I realized this has beautiful practical application, so I started collecting amplifier-models.”

“What are the most powerful you’ve collected so far?”

“What’s important to realize is that different people have different models of the same thing. Just pick and choose the ones that resonate with you most. You can make them even more powerful by expressing them as identity.

Boundless – I am Boundless Creativity.

Burning – Burning Desire, Burning Passion

Endless – I am an Endlessly Evolving Process.
Eternal – I am the Eternal Child. I am the Eternal Spring.
Perpetual – I am a Perpetual Motion Machine.

Immune – Obstacle Immunity

Infinite – Infinite Possibility, Infinite Potentiality, Infinite Optionality

Irresistible – Irresistible Force, Irresistible Will

Radiant – Radiant Enthusiasm, Radiant Joy

Relentless – I am Relentless Forward Motion.

Sacred – Sacred Time, Sacred Moment, Sacred Play, Sacred Ritual

Unlimited – Unlimited Power

Ultimate – Ultimate Potential, Ultimate Purpose


“Reading all of these one after another has an emotional-flooding [<link; short] effect.”

“Think of them as building-blocks to play with.”