Zeigarnik Effect, Aspect of Eternity, Quick Decisions Framework, Remember Life, Escape Discomfort, Quantity over Quality, Burn Out, REBT, etc
This is a special version of Weekly I/O. In this Rumination, I will pick some inputs that I found worth reviewing from Weekly I/O#21 to Weekly I/O#30 and add my new thoughts on them. 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.
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The below is extracted from the email sent on Nov 6, 2022
1. Zeigarnik Effect: People remember uncompleted tasks better than completed tasks
Article: The Zeigarnik Effect Explained
In 1927, psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik noticed that waiters in a cafe could recall the order they had not yet delivered than those they had. An experiment later suggested that a desire to complete a task can help the task be retained in one’s memory until it is completed. Also, the completion of the tasks enables the process of forgetting them to take place. Zeigarnik’s findings revealed that participants could recall details of interrupted tasks around 90% better than those they completed uninterruptedly.
We might all experience this while preparing for an exam. After an exam, we often find it hard to remember the things we were studying and understood well. This is because we no longer have an immediate use for the information.
This effect can also explain why when we start working on something but do not finish it, thoughts of the unfinished work will continue to pop into our minds even when we have moved on to other things. We can find such applications of the effect in the cliffhanger of a TV show or LinkedIn’s user profile completion process, where there’s a progress bar telling users how close they are to completing their profile.
Though much research supports the Zeigarnik effect, it is noteworthy that the result can also be undermined by things like people’s motivation to complete the task, how difficult that task is, and the timing of task interruption.
2. Goal Gradient Effect: The tendency to approach a goal increases with proximity to the goal.
A 10-space coffee card pre-stamped twice will motivate the customer to complete the card more than an 8 with no pre-stamps. As proposed by the American psychologist Clark Hull, the Goal Gradient Effect describes that people are motivated by how much is left to reach their target. In other words, as humans get closer to a goal, the motivation to make efforts toward that goal increases.
We can find the application of this effect in many loyalty programs (Starbucks’ loyalty cards) or the use of progress bars (LinkedIn’s profile completion process).
3. “The empiricist thinks he believes only what he sees, but he is much better at believing than at seeing.” — George Santayana
I learned this quote from a class I’m taking this semester. Professor J. Edward Russo (also the author of the book Winning Decisions) gave an example in the class.
A new product development team observes a consumer focus group to discuss a new product concept. After watching the consumer reaction, positively predisposed people were more favorable. And those who were negatively predisposed were more opposed.
Why? As the other quote by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, “A person hears only what they understand.” Seeking confirming evidence can turn a window into a mirror.
1. Sub specie aeternitatis: To inspect things under the aspect of eternity and participate in eternal totality.
Book: Great Thinkers
The Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza argued that there are two ways of looking at life: to see it egoistically from our limited point of view (Sub specie durationis in Latin or under the aspect of time) or to see it globally and eternally (Sub specie aeternitatis in Latin or under the aspect of eternity).
Sensual life pulls us towards a time-bound view in egotistical terms. However, Spinoza tries to teach us to look at things, especially our suffering and anxiety, under the aspect of eternity. That is, as though we were gazing down our body at earth from a very far away planet. From this lofty view, anything that disappoints us no longer has to be so severe. What is a failure in a job interview when contemplated from the lunar surface? What is a rejection from the crush under the earth’s four billion-year history?
Our nature always limits our views. But our reasoned intelligence can give us access to another perspective. As Spinoza put that, it can allow us to participate in eternal totality.
2. “Space and time are the framework within which the mind is constrained to construct its experience of reality.” — Immanuel Kant
3. “Life can only be understood backwards, but must be lived forwards.” — Søren Kierkegaard
This line is so simple but profound, especially when we know a little bit more about Kierkegaard’s thinking.
4. “To have faith is to lose your mind and to win God” — Søren Kierkegaard
Not trying to justify his faith in Christianity through rational means, Kierkegaard explained with “the leap” for attachment. It reminds me of how Thomas Aquinas explains the compatibility of religious belief and rational thoughts. He used natural law (things that could be explained from our own experience of the world) and eternal law (things that reason could not arrive at on their own) to classify what operates the universe and all its dynamics.
It is also worth noting that the phrase “leap of faith” does not occur in Kierkegaard’s work. He referred it to “the leap” or “a qualitative leap” as he asked rhetorically: “Can there be a transition from quantitative qualification to a qualitative one without a leap?”
5. “A man who fears suffering is already suffering from what he fears.” — Michel de Montaigne
Every time before taking a cold shower for absolutely no reason, I think about “The man who fears suffering suffers from fear.”
6. The world makes progress by lurching from one extreme to another while overcompensating for previous mistakes.
Book: Great Thinkers
This belief is from Georg Hegel, the 18th-century German philosopher. Nowadays, this is a pretty obvious phenomenon like what we can see in Politics. However, it’s still interesting to know that an observation from 200 years ago stated the same thing. Maybe that’s why Hegel declared that “every era can be looked at as a repository of a particular kind of wisdom.”
Hegel proposed that, in general, it takes three moves before the right balance, a process that he named the ‘dialectic’.
In his time, the example he pointed out is the improvement of governance, from the inherited traditional monarchy to the emergence of Napoleon, and finally to the modern ‘balanced constitution’ where popular representation balanced up with the rights of minorities and proper centralized authority.
In our times, the example in the books is our sensible attitude to sex. People in the Victorian era might impose too much repression, whereas the 1960s may have turned out to be too liberal. Between these decades, we are finding the right balance between the extremes.
7. For ideas to be active and effective, much more (like art) is needed than their correctness.
Book: Great Thinkers
This is also from Georg Hegel, who rejected the idea of “art for art’s sake”. He stated that arts like painting, music, and literature all have a major job in making important insights more powerful and effective in our lives. In other words, “Art is the sensuous presentation of ideas.”
Just knowing the fact leaves us cold. In principle, we know we should care more about the environment. However, in reality, we are still too lazy to carrying own sustainable cutlery set.
This also reminds me how technology like VR can be used as a medium to produce the sensuous presentation of ideas. In theory, we all know the conflict in Syria is important. Yet, in practice, we get numb by the news and can’t feel the pain of the refugees. Therefore, virtual reality experiences like The Key may achieve what Hegel wants art to do by making people experience the feeling in an immersive way and get the idea more effectively.
8. “Virtual” is not opposed to “real” but opposed to “actual”.
I first learned about this notion in this video(in Traditional Chinese) discussing the philosophy of Virtual Reality and VR movies.
The French philosopher Gilles Deleuze stated that both actual and virtual are fully real. While the former has a concrete existence, the latter does not. But the lack of substantial presence doesn’t make it less real. Like some conceptual inventions people pursue, such as freedom, equality, and justice, we won’t say these aren’t real just because they are virtual or they haven’t been realized.
This distinction is initially treated as an esoteric interest only to specialists in the field of ontology. However, this distinction has become essential since the advent of computer games, especially now we have Virtual Reality technology. It reminds us that what is seen or experienced on screen is still real, even if it is not actual.
1. When to make quick decisions? Happiness Test, Only-Option Test, Two-Way Door Test.
Annie Duke is a poker champion and the author of another interesting book Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don’t Have All the Facts. In How to Decide, she talks about when people should decide quickly and when they should slow down to gather more information. She introduces three tests that, if a decision passes any of these three tests, we should make a quick decision.
The first is the Happiness Test. When we are stuck on a decision like what to eat for dinner or which movie to watch, we should ask ourselves: “Will my happiness depend on this decision a week from now?”. If not, we can decide quickly.
The second is the Only-Option Test. Most decisions are determined by threshold. In other words, we collect options and decide which one meets our satisfaction threshold. However, when we have two or more options that meet our standards, spending hours determining which option is the best is often a waste of time. If going to company A has an 85% chance of being a good opportunity and going to company B has an 84% chance, just flip a coin and stop worrying and wasting time. The faster we pick, the more time we have to prepare for the opportunity. Therefore, when stuck on a decision between multiple great options, isolate one and ask ourselves: “Would I be happy to take it if this were my only option?” If yes, we can decide quickly.
The third is the Two-Way Door Test. In Jeff Bezos’s words: “Some decisions are one‐way doors. If you walk through and don’t like what you see on the other side, you can’t get back to where you were before. But most decisions aren’t like that. They are changeable and reversible, like two‐way doors. If you’ve made a sub‐optimal two‐way door decision, you don’t have to live with the consequences for that long. You can reopen the door and go back through”. Therefore, when stuck on a decision that might be a two‐way door decision, ask ourselves: “Is the decision easily reversible?” If yes, we can decide quickly.
2. Whenever we want to buy something, we first ask ourselves: would I buy this if I were the only person on Earth?
We buy things for all kinds of reasons. I think buying everything (or even doing everything) due to extrinsic motivation is not an optimal behavior in the long term.
We are Status-Seeking Monkeys. We might buy things to increase our social capital, impress others, or seek status. These are all not intrinsic motivations. If we mainly rely on extrinsic motivation, we are handing over our control of evaluating the value of things to other people. In other words, we give up full control of our feelings.
A heuristic for this is that whenever we want to buy something, we first ask ourselves: would I buy this if I were the only person on Earth? Apparently, there are some exceptions. For example, I won’t buy a ping pong paddle if no one can play with me. However, this heuristic is an excellent filter for me in buying stuff.
3. To have a more immersive memory and relive the experience, have some camera-free time and document the experience with your brain only.
Video: How to Remember Your Life
When we pull out our camera to take a photo, our brain will start recording less of the non-visual sensations around us. We will capture less of the sound, the smell, the breeze, and the immersive experience of being in a place.
After taking pictures of a place or an experience we want to remember, we can put our camera away and let our brain do the document. We have the visual information saved in the photos. Then it’s time for our brain to capture other sensory details.
4. How to remember life? Delete photos.
Video: How to Remember Your Life
How to remember life? The solution is more than just taking a lot of photos. We should make revisiting the photo a routine and delete photos often. To better remember our life, delete most photos we take and only keep the one that sparks the memory and joy for us.
5. “No price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself” — Rudyard Kipling
“The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.”
6. “You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have.” — Bob Marley
This quote reminds me of the classic way to form habits: creating a new identity. To develop a lasting habit, we have to be in an identity that all our behaviors are just a reflection of our identity. When identifying myself as a voracious learner, learning new stuff will naturally be my only choice. For The No Phone On Bed Rule I mentioned in Weekly I/O #20, telling my roommate that I will be a person who doesn’t use my phone on bed also make “not using my phone on bed” my only choice.
You can also find this habit-forming method in Atomic Habits.
7. Writing down one thing you are grateful for each day is the cheapest possible therapy ever.
Adding on this, I think that writing a diary is the easiest way to experience each day again.
8. A simple way to teach and practice the awareness of gratitude: Rose, Rose, Thorn, Bud.
When talking about teaching and practicing the awareness of gratitude with his kids, Neil Pasricha talks about a simple practice: Rose, Rose, Thorn, Bud.
Every night at the dinner table with your family, each family member says two Roses of their day, which are the highlights for our gratitude, a Thorn, which is something that didn’t go well, and a Bud, which is something we look forward to.
9. If you can’t tell what you desperately need, it’s probably sleep.
1. “People may forget what you said, people may forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” — Maya Angelou
2. When someone tells you something is wrong, they’re usually right. When someone tells you how to fix it, they’re usually wrong.
Also in the 99 additional bits of unsolicited advice, Kevin Kelly mentioned,
“Your best response to an insult is “You’re probably right.” Often they are”.
3. Don’t treat people as bad as they are. Treat them as good as you are.
This line suggests that you should treat people regardless of who they are. This is similar to what Immanuel Kant said: “Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.” We also meet this idea within most religions: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”.
Another interesting question that isn’t directly related is: “Should you treat others as how you want to be treated? Or because everyone is different, you should treat others as how they want to be treated ?”
4. Rule of 3 in conversation. To get to the real reason, ask a person to go deeper than what they just said. Then again, and once more. The third time’s answer is close to the truth.
Article: 68 Bits of Unsolicited Advice
5. It’s not an apology if it comes with an excuse. It is not a compliment if it comes with a request.
6. “When you counsel someone, you should appear to be reminding him of something he had forgotten, not of the light he was unable to see.” — Baltasar Gracián
7. A coach is someone who can give correction without causing resentment.
1. All human behavior is only driven by the desire to escape discomfort.
Most people believe that human motivation is all about carrots and sticks (pain and pleasure), like what Freud called “the pleasure principle”. However, the book’s author, Nir Eyal, stated, “When we look at the research, neurologically speaking, the root of all human motivation is about the desire to escape discomfort, the avoidance of pain.”
Epicurus, the ancient Greek philosopher, also said, “By pleasure, we mean the absence of pain in the body and of trouble in the soul.” Simply put, the drive to relieve discomfort is the root cause of all our behavior. Everything else is a proximate cause. Even when we think we’re seeking pleasure, we’re actually driven by the desire to free ourselves from the pain of wanting.
I’m curious whether this statement is supported by scientific evidence and how robust it is. It will be a little tricky to understand how this can explain some human behavior, like the desire to have dessert when we are not hungry or even just the desire to get laid. Maybe it can be some sort of fear of missing out. Feel free to send me your thoughts.
2. Every science begins as philosophy and ends as art; it arises in hypothesis and flows into achievement.
Book: The Story of Philosophy
3. In a meritocratic society, those who land on top want to believe their success is morally justified. They think they get it on their own and want their kids can have the same belief with admission to elite colleges.
In an unequal society, those who land on top want to believe their success is morally justified. In a meritocratic society, this means the winners would like to think that they have earned their success through their own talent and hard work.
The belief in morally justified success is the gift most of these parents wanted to give their kids. They could have just given them trust funds if all they cared about was enabling their children to live in affluence. But they wanted something else. They want the meritocratic cachet that admission to elite colleges confers.
The consequence is that the more we think of ourselves as self-made and self-sufficient, the harder it is to learn gratitude and humility. And without these sentiments, it is hard to care for the common good.
4. Differentiation is survival, and the universe wants you to be typical.
In Jeff Bezos’ final annual letter to shareholders, he mentioned a passage from Richard Dawkins’ book The Blind Watchmaker:
“Staving off death is a thing that you have to work at. Left to itself — and that is what it is when it dies — the body tends to revert to a state of equilibrium with its environment. If you measure some quantity such as the temperature, the acidity, the water content or the electrical potential in a living body, you will typically find that it is markedly different from the corresponding measure in the surroundings. Our bodies, for instance, are usually hotter than our surroundings, and in cold climates they have to work hard to maintain the differential. When we die the work stops, the temperature differential starts to disappear, and we end up the same temperature as our surroundings. Not all animals work so hard to avoid coming into equilibrium with their surrounding temperature, but all animals do some comparable work. For instance, in a dry country, animals and plants work to maintain the fluid content of their cells, work against a natural tendency for water to flow from them into the dry outside world. If they fail they die. More generally, if living things didn’t work actively to prevent it, they would eventually merge into their surroundings, and cease to exist as autonomous beings. That is what happens when they die.”
If we were normal, things would often be a little bit easier. When the environment wants to bring us into its equilibrium, it takes energy and continuous effort for us to stay away from that. Maintaining distinctiveness isn’t easy or free, but it is the key to survival.
1. Regarding idea generation, quantity is the most predictable path to quality.
Adam Grant said it’s widely assumed that there’s a tradeoff between quantity and quality in the book. In other words, if you want to produce better work, you must make less of it. However, he thinks this is false since people who created masterpieces, like Shakespeare, Mozart, or Einstein, produced tons of work that didn’t have much impact.
The authors of the book Art & Fear also shared a story supporting this concept. In a film photography class at the University of Florida, the professor divided students into two groups: quantity group and quality group. The former group would be graded only on the number of photos submitted by each student, whereas the latter group would be graded solely on the excellence of the photos.
At the end of the term, the professor discovered that all the best photos were from the quantity groups. Since the quantity groups were busy taking pictures and testing and experimenting with various methods, they learned from their mistakes and honed their skills. Meanwhile, the quality group spent most of the time speculating about perfection. Ultimately, they tend to have only unverified theories and mediocre photos because of their perfectionism. You can also find the whole story of Why Trying to Be Perfect Won’t Help You Achieve Your Goals (And What Will) in Atomic Habits.
2. Writing is thinking. You can write first and then derive clear perspectives from your writing.
In the last episode of Daodu.tech’s podcast, Michael was asked about his suggestion on writing and how to be informative. He answered that when you have yet to have a clear thought to elaborate, you should start writing first, and the idea will get more concrete and clear through writing. Therefore, you just have to start writing. Writing itself is thinking.
This also resonated with what Mark Zuckerberg said in his 2017 Harvard Commencement Address. “Ideas don’t come out fully formed. They only become clear as you work on them. You just have to get started”.
3. Jesus, Superman, and Mother Teresa never made art. Only imperfect beings can make art because art begins in what is broken.
About When Things are not Working
1. Whenever you are completely fucked up, you celebrate rapturously. You know a little bit more about yourself. That’s the best thing.
I was fucked up at something this week. Whenever I know I mess up, I say this to myself. It is almost therapeutic to write down how and why you are fucked up and what you know more about yourself after being fucked up.
2. You don’t get burnt out from working hundred hours a week. You get burnt out from things that don’t work out.
This is originally from Weekly I/O #17, but it may be better to phrase it this way. Also, thanks to my friend Bharat Gandhi for adding that “The mind gets burnt out because it thinks that results are linear”.
3. When things aren’t working, be smarter, not louder.
Book: Your Music and People
It is an observation from Derek Sivers. When he was in New York City, a man was barking something loud at top of their lungs, and everyone was avoiding going near him.
When Derek Sivers got closer, he finally realized what the man was saying. The man shouted the line, “20% coupons for window shades! 20% off! Get your coupons here!”. But apparently, the barking was not working. A week later, similar barking happened again somewhere. The yelling wasn’t working as well despite the loudness. Everyone is avoiding the yelling guy.
How many of us do this? We weren’t getting the results we wanted, so we thought if we shouted louder, more people would hear. But people avoid those barking types like someone always pitches his business to friends at parties.
When promoting, make sure we are not barking. When things aren’t working, be smarter, not louder.
1. A rational-emotive explanation of personality is as easy as ABC, Activating events, Beliefs, Consequences.
Book: Systems of Psychotherapy
Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) is a form of cognitive behavior therapy developed by Dr. Albert Ellis. In Albert Ellis’ words, a rational-emotive explanation of personality is as easy as ABC.
A is the Activating event like failure to land a job or rejection by a lover. B is the Belief that people use to process the activating events. There are rational beliefs (rB), such as believing the failure was unpleasant and rejection was unfortunate. There are also irrational beliefs (iB) such as “I will never be loved again” or “The rejection will prevent me from ever being successful”. C is the emotional and behavioral Consequence of what has just occurred.
Most people assume that critical emotional consequences of personality development are a direct function of the activating events. In other words, A directly leads to C. However, as a cognitive theory, REBT points out that it is not activating events but the interpretation and perception of the events that are decisive. In other words, it is B that leads directly to C.
Therefore, according to REBT, our emotional disturbances are determined by how we think, not by the environment. The “in here” rather than the “out there” makes our feelings. Again, we can see some Stoicism and Buddhism in REBT.
Thanks to 江寧 for introducing me to REBT and Sharon Tai for recommending and lending me the book!
2. We have to learn to separate the fact from the story.
“I failed the biology class” differs from “I failed my parents.” The first one is a fact, and the second one is a story. “I’m an alcoholic” is different from “no one will trust me again.” The former is a fact, while the latter is a story.
Separating fact and story is exactly like the REBT’s ABC Model I learned in Weekly I/O #25. In the ABC model, our activating event (A) is the fact, and our belief (B) is the story.
3. Can we react to our reaction or even react to our reaction to our reaction?
Comedy Special: Bo Burnham: Inside
Inside is a comedy special written, directed, filmed, edited, and acted all by Bo Burnham. In one segment of the special, he is playing a song on the piano about how being an unpaid intern is like being illegal slave labor. After the song, he starts reacting to the music he just played as a reaction video. But after the song ends, the video doesn’t end there. The reaction video he just did then starts playing. Therefore, Burnham does another reaction video to the previous reaction video to the original video, and the loop continues over and over again.
While reacting to his reaction video for the first time, he is self-aware about his being a douchebag in that reaction video. However, as he responds to reaction video to another reaction video, he asserts that being self-aware about being a douchebag doesn’t make him less of a douchebag.
The idea of an infinite reaction video loop is fascinating. First, can we react to our reactions in our daily life? The answer is yes. It can be a type of self-reflection. We can also find similar ideas in Buddhism, like being aware of our emotions and observing them. We can also find similar ideas in the mental model, like what people call Second-order thinking (to think our own thinking). Therefore, like the infinite reaction video loop, we can dive even deeper to observe our observation of emotions or to think our thinking about our thinking.
Second, even after observing our emotions or thinking about our thinking, we might still behave exactly the same way. No matter how deep we react to our reaction, to react is still consistently the very first step and to change or to improve is another step that requires effort.
Thanks to Yen Chen Chiang for recommending the Special, and thanks to Everett Key and Jui-An (Ryan) Wang for helping organize the watching events.
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