My Mental Models

Here’s a list of the various mental models I use in my life. Some are rooted in psychology, and they help me understand others’ actions and override my worst tendencies. Others stem from my analytical perceptions of the world and help me in my decision-making. And others still come from sources like world cultures, economics, and personal life experience.


Bystander Effect: step up, because everyone thinks everyone else will.

Spotlight Effect: people are too preoccupied with their own thoughts to worry about your fuckup.

Metacognition: WHY am I thinking what I’m thinking? WHY am I learning this?

Sensory-specific Satiety: in a meal, you become “full” of a flavor even though your overall hunger is not satisfied. Your plate of life needs variety, my friend.

Delayed Gratification: resist your instinctive temptation—the late bird gets two worms.

Parkinson’s Law: work expands to fill the time available for its completion.

Premature Satisfaction: telling people about your goals makes you less likely to do them, because you are satisfied by the feeling of the “first step”

Hindsight Bias: looking back, it seems easier to you than it actually was. Remember this when teaching others.

Zeigarnik Effect: You remember the incomplete more than the complete.

Psychological Inertia: If presenting a stagnant user a task, make it as easy as possible for them to shift gears and complete it.


Disunification of Information: most information in the world is very disjointed relative to how YOU specifically might want it. Connect concepts across your classes — why would anyone do that for you?

Little Costs Add Up: Have you ever stuck a bunch of sweet discounts in your cart, only to rack up a giant total? Have you ever taken many “short breaks” and watched the day dwindle away?

Few Systems are Perfect: it’s important to approach decisions like optimization equations rather than end-all-be-alls.

Design Thinking: shape your product around a user’s needs. Ethos/Pathos/Logos in Rhetoric all focus on knowing how to make your message most receivable to your audience.

Thresholds: most qualities are spectral, and a “threshold” defines the inflection point on these spectrums. I usually can’t hate people if I fully understand them, but if a man beats his wife, he’s reached the threshold past which I will dislike him. * if it does operate in absolutes, either it’s a fundamental philosophical truth, or you’re wrong.

Pareto (80/20) Principle: 20% of resources produce 80% of output. 80% of a project is completed in just 20% of the time, so realize when you’re in the land of diminishing returns.

Karl Marx’s Theory of Economic Value: an item’s value directly correlates with the time invested in its production.

Campbell’s Law: “The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.” (See: college admissions and SAT scores)


Understanding vs. Justifying: Seek to understand someone’s situation, but don’t confuse sympathy with moral justification.

Small is OK: I don’t always need to go big. If I only want four carrots as my snack at work, I don’t have to feel weird about taking them in a Ziploc.

The Grass is Always Greener: Learn to balance striving for more à la American Dream with enjoying what you have.

Learn to Let Go: Time to implement all possibilities > Time you have. Can’t always hit every single point in a PowerPoint you might want to. Be imperfect, but never impolished.

Attack the Root Cause: Don’t address surface-level problems, fix their root problem. Understand WHY you want dessert, don’t just take it away.

Estimation: At what point does your guessed value reach the threshold of usability? (corollary of Pareto Principle)

6 Minutes is Long: I could accomplish a lot (chiefly, running a mile) in that time span.