Rumination #2

Time and Moments, Empathy or Solution, Burnout, Attribution Traps, Extrinsic and Intrinsic Motivation, Confidence is Overrated, Ackerman Bargaining Model, Kill your Darlings, Beer and Coffee Mode, etc

Cheng-Wei Hu | 胡程維
10 min readMay 16, 2022

This is a special version of Weekly I/O. In this Rumination #2, I will pick 10 inputs that I found worth reviewing from Weekly I/O#11 to Weekly I/O#20 and add my new thoughts on them. You can also revisit Rumination #1 if you want. I hope you enjoy it :)

Weekly I/O is a project where I share my learning Input/Output. Every Sunday, I write an email newsletter with five things I discovered and learned that week.

Sign up here and let me share a curated list of learning Input/Output with you 🎉

The below is extracted from the email sent on May 09, 2022

1. Make the distinction between Time and Moments. Remembering Time, that line connecting all the moments, can be rather painful.


In The Museum of Innocence in Çukurcuma, Istanbul, Orhan Pamuk, the author of the eponymous novel, display these words on the first floor on the wall.

As Aristotle makes the distinctions, Time can be deconstructed and viewed as single moments. When we look back on memories, remembering time can be pretty heavy and sometimes depressing. However, remembering single moments regardless of where and how they are located on the timeline can be a better way to cherish memories. If we view moments without the context named Time, there would be no such thing as “I spent too many years on him/her”.

Special thanks to Lisa Lin for sharing her thoughts and the photo she took in the museum with me when I mentioned a concept related to Time in Weekly I/O #14. There are other two ways to view Time that I found interesting: “Time can be viewed as the condition by which we have any experience” from Immanuel Kant, and Time can be viewed as tenseless series from Julian Barbour.

2. When we want to be helpful in response to other’s feeling bad, first figure out what they want is empathy or solution.

Podcast: Lisa Feldman Barrett: Balancing the Brain Budget [The Knowledge Project Ep. #92]

Lisa Feldman Barrett is a neuroscientist, psychologist, and author of How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain. In Weekly I/O #10, I noted the five intriguing things in this episode. Here’s another.

What can we do when our partner or friends are feeling something like anxiety or anger? Though it can be really hard, the first thing is to figure out what they want. Sometimes what someone wants is just empathy, and sometimes what they want is help.

Think about the time when we offer advice on how to solve a problem to someone who, at that moment, really just wants a pat on the back or a hug.

For Lisa, the first thing she does in her house is to say, do you want empathy, or do you want a solution? She said if she asks her daughter, her daughter will tell her almost 100% of the time: I want empathy. But if she asks her husband, he would almost always say I want a solution.

To be honest, I still don’t think it is always emotionally (or even culturally) appropriate to ask, “do you want empathy or do you want a solution” whenever we get into those situations. However, once we can be aware that someone might just need to be heard without any solution provided, we can better differentiate the two.

3. People get burnout not from working too hard but from things not working. Momentum is energizing. The lack of momentum is super draining.

Video: Sam Altman: How to Build the Future

Sam Altman said he was told and thought for a long time that you get burned out from working hard. However, in his experience, he found that burnout actually comes from the feeling of things not working.

He has infinite energy to work on interesting and working things and almost zero energy to work on something he doesn’t find interesting or isn’t working. Momentum is really energizing. The lack of momentum is super draining.

He said that many founders who tried something and failed would assume that they can’t work hard enough or they don’t have enough energy or passion. That’s not true. It is just that the thing didn’t work. What they should do is shut down the company, go on vacation, and try again. Many people then realize that they have a tremendous amount of energy when doing the thing they like, and the thing is working.

4. Why did they do that? Three Attribution Traps: Fundamental Attribution Error, Actor-Observer Bias, and Self-Serving Bias

Online Course: Learn Social Psychology

In social psychology, attribution is the process of inferring the causes of behaviors. We attribute the behaviors to some causes. For example, when we fail a quiz, we can attribute our failure to different reasons: we are just too stupid, or we might blame the teacher for not teaching well.

There are two types of attributions: Dispositional Attributions (Internal) and Situational Attribution (External). Dispositional Attribution is when we explain a person’s behavior as being caused by internal characteristics. In other words, it is caused by something about the person. For example, when you see a guy bowling, you may think he’s a guy who likes bowling.

Conversely, Situational Attribution is when we explain a person’s behavior as being caused by external circumstances. That is, it is caused by something about the situation. For example, when you see a guy bowling, you may think his friends made him go bowling tonight.

In general, studies find out that people tend to overestimate the impact of dispositional attributions and underestimate the impact of situational attributions, which is called Fundamental Attribution Error (FAE) in social psychology. For example, when cut off in traffic by someone else, we might attribute that driver’s behavior to fundamental personality (they are selfish and jerk) instead of situational (they are going to miss their flight, their kids are in urgent need).

Another two biases that people tend to have are Actor-Observer Bias and Self-Serving Bias. Actor-Observer Bias refers to people’s tendency to make dispositional attributions for others and situational attributions for themselves. For instance, I’m late for work because my train was delayed, but others are late because they are lazy.

Self-Serving Bias refers to people’s tendency to make dispositional attributions to success and situational attributions for failure. For instance, I earned money from the stock market because I’m smart but lost money because the market was irrational. However, sometimes when people are depressed or have low self-esteem, their attribution style can be flipped.

5. Extrinsic motivation undermines intrinsic motivation. Focus on Game Design, not Gamification.

Podcast: Superhuman Part II — Designing Software to Feel like a Game (with Rahul Vohra)

“Game design” is making the product naturally fun. It involves the intentional emotional design and the psychological phenomenon of flow, making it inherently interesting and satisfying.

“Gamification” instead uses mechanisms like badges, levels, leaderboards, and points to make users interact with the product.

“Game design” nurtures intrinsic motivation in players, while “Gamification” creates extrinsic motivation for players. Extrinsic motivation will undermine intrinsic motivation in the long run. This is important in product design and all the fields that require motivation design.

For example, as a teacher, how can we make students more driven by intrinsic motivation than extrinsic motivation? And as a learner, can we first use extrinsic motivation to trick ourselves and develop intrinsic motivation later?

6. Confidence is overrated. Instead of waiting for the confidence to show up, take the first step in a moment of courage, even if it’s aberrant. Courage is much more important than confidence.

Book: Tribe of Mentors

If we’re waiting for something to feel right, like a sense of security or confidence, before we do it, it’s like being on a hedonistic treadmill.

We think we need enough before we do that. But when we get whatever we think we need, we then up the ante. Therefore, we never get satisfied with whatever we think we need before we actually do something.

Therefore, for anybody waiting for the confidence to show up, take the first step in a moment of courage, even if it’s aberrant courage. Confidence is highly overrated. Confidence really only comes from repeated attempts at doing something successfully.

Debbie Millman and Tim Ferriss also talked about this concept in the podcast How to Design a Life — Debbie Millman | The Tim Ferriss Show. I’ve also mentioned the treadmill concept before in This Is Water and Weekly I/O #8.

7. The Ackerman Bargaining Model: 65%, 85%, 95%, and 100%. Always increase the offer by decreasing increments.

Online Course: MasterClass | Chris Voss Teaches the Art of Negotiation

The Ackerman Model is a bargaining method that counters with decreasing incremental offers until your target offer price is reached. For example, if we have a target price of $100 for buying a bike using the Ackerman Model, we should initiate our first proposal at $65. Assuming no deal, we then raise our price by 20 percent to $85, then 10 percent to $95, and finally 5 percent to $100.

The key is continuously increasing by decreasing increments. This makes the other side feel that every price increase creates a real burden for us. The goal is to build as much rapport as possible with your counterpart.

You can find a more in-depth explanation and demonstration of the Ackerman Model in his book Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It. In the online course chapter Bargaining, Chriss Voss had a fascinating demonstration of bargaining using the Ackerman Model and all other negotiation maneuvers.

8. Kill your darlings. Fall in love with the problem, not the solution.

Article: Kill Your Darlings

Kill your darlings usually means a writer decides to remove unnecessary sentences, paragraphs, or characters in their work. They get rid of the elements they have worked hard to create but must be removed for the overall story. What we set out to write is not always what we actually write. In these circumstances, we must have the courage to “kill the darlings” we have worked hard on.

This can be generalized to things like building software, making products, or even solving problems. What we set out to do is not always what we do. Sometimes, what we set out to do is not even what we should do. When we fall in love with the things we build, it’s hard to see the flaws. The more time we worked on our solution, the harder it became for us to change our minds when other people challenged our solutions.

Therefore, we should fall in love with the problem we aim to solve in the first place instead of the solution we have spent time building.

9. Best ideas emerge when we balance the inhale of beer mode with the exhale of coffee mode. On any given day, coffee mode lets us be more productive. But over the long arc of time, beer mode rewards serendipity and intellectual breakthrough.

Article: Beer Mode and Coffee Mode

David Perell is an excellent writer. In this post, he talked about two modes of working: beer mode and coffee mode.

Beer mode is a state of unfocused where we try to discover new ideas, while coffee mode is a state of focus where we try to get things done.

He argues that traditional productivity advice doesn’t take beer mode seriously. Turning off the Internet, tuning out distractions, following todos are all coffee mode thinking. The world is oriented around coffee mode because it’s easier to measure and follow.

We feel like wasting time on most days in beer mode since the breakthrough is unpredictable, and we can’t see measurable progress every day. However, David Perell thinks “the fruits of genius are sown with the seeds of beer mode wanderings”.

This reminds me of what Richard Hamming said in the talk You and Your Research: at Bell Labs, some scientists worked with door open (beer mode) while others worked with the door closed (coffee mode). On any given day, the scientists in closed mode were more productive. But over the long arc of time, the scientists who embraced the interruptions of open mode did more important work.

Highly recommend reading the original post since David Perell’s writing is beautiful. Below is an extract of the post:

“The see-saw of beer and coffee mode is like breathing. Your best ideas emerge when you balance the inhale of beer mode with the exhale of coffee mode. Coffee mode rewards action, while beer mode rewards laughter. Coffee mode rewards focus, while beer mode rewards conversation. And while coffee mode rewards clarity, beer mode rewards serendipity.”

10. The But and Therefore Rule for Storytelling

Article: Storytelling Advice from the Creators of South Park: The But & Therefore Rule

This article is about the creators of South Park, Matt Stone, and Trey Parker, sharing their storytelling advice: The But and Therefore Rule. We should write our stories with words like “but” and “therefore” rather than “and then”.

If we can put the words “and then” in-between each plot or description of the story we want to tell, “We’re fucked” as Trey Parker would say. Stories without cause-and-effect tend to be boring.

In contrast, if we put “but” and “therefore” in-between scenes, we create a chain of events that reacts to each other and links the story together. Therefore, as Nathan Weller explained in the article, “the story/plot builds momentum and tension based on everything else that has happened previously, not because of the arbitrary whims of the writer.”

You can also find an example of swapping the “and then” with “but & therefore” here.

Besides the 10 inputs, there are another 7 quotes I found worth revisiting:

1. “I will never feel bad for things I said, but I feel bad that people get upset.” — Dave Chappelle (?)

2. “First delight, then instruct.” — Karl Friedrich Schinkel

3. “It’s so hard to forget pain, but it’s even harder to remember sweetness. We have no scar to show for happiness. We learn so little from peace.” — Chuck Palahniuk

4. “Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is an absurd one.” — Voltaire

5. “Knowledge is discovered collectively, wisdom is rediscovered individually.” — Naval

6. “A mistake repeated more than once is a decision.” — Paulo Coelho

7. “Most events in life can be categorized in one of two ways: a good time, or a good story” — Margot Leitman



Cheng-Wei Hu | 胡程維

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