The Long Game 16: Living in a Simulation, the Golden Mean, Gamification, Back Pain, Risk Management
👫 Paying to date, Nonviolent Communication, Living in the Future, Poker, and Much More!
Hey there 👋🏼, and welcome to The Long Game — my take on health, wellness, and better living.
If you missed the past episodes, you could catch up here.
In this episode, we explore:
The golden mean
Knowing the risk
Gamification in tech products
Living in a simulation
Greetings from Bar, Montenegro ☀️
😖 Back Pain
Two years ago, I injured my back in my second week of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. The pain was very sharp, but I was far from imagining that it would be a turning point in my life.
Two years later, the pain is still here. It evolved through the months, but I still feel some pain most days. The journey hasn’t been easy, and it took me a long time before being able to draw a few learning from my experience.
I sat down last weekend and thought about the few things this unfortunate injury has taught me.
I’m planning to write a more detailed piece on my back pain journey, but here are the main points:
Accept what happens to you: at first, I looked for quick fixes, stretches, little hacks I could do to relieve the pain and move on. Unfortunately, none of that worked. The quicker you face the problem you have, the more chance you have to find a solution.
Play the long game: when you’re young, it can be tempting to think you’ll always be young. You won’t! Understand it quicky, and act accordingly. Take time to warm up, stretch daily, avoid overtraining, avoid situations where an injury is very likely.
Work all the aspects of physical fitness: stability, strength, aerobic efficiency, anaerobic performance. In other words, train for the Centenarian Olympics.
If you’re injured, track the pain with a lot of attention. Don’t expect physical therapists to fix your problem. The hard truth is that you’ll have to find what works for you. Take notes every day, and I found to grade my pain from 0 to 10 to be a useful habit.
Understand that back pain is one of the biggest risks for longevity. Taking a preventive approach is worth it. Experts estimate that 80% of the population will experience a back problem at some time in their lives.
One quote from Laird Hamilton resonates with me a lot:
All you flexible people should go bang some iron, and all you big weight lifters should go do some yoga. . . . We always gravitate toward our strengths because we want to be in our glory.
⚖️ The Golden Mean
We live in a society that worships efficiency. The whole point of technology and improvement is to do more with less.
We want to be more productive, achieve more things, visit more places, do more.
At the macro level, this system has obvious shortcomings. The 2008 financial crisis showed that increasing the efficiency of financial transactions without limits can have dramatic outcomes. More recently, before COVID-19, stockpiling medical supplies was seen as a loss of money.
On a personal level, this is also true. Searching for efficiency at all costs is the best way to end up with a bad outcome. This is especially true right now with the growing amount of productivity porn.
Sam Altman writes:
Don’t fall into the trap of productivity porn—chasing productivity for its own sake
isn’t helpful. Many people spend too much time thinking about how to perfectly
optimize their system, and not nearly enough asking if they’re working on the
In the uncertain world we live in, Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice, proposes an alternative way to live our life:
What should we do in the face of this radical uncertainty? When making decisions, instead of asking ourselves which option will give us the best results, we should be asking which option will give us good-enough results under the widest range of future states of the world.
With this idea in mind, the Golden Mean of Aristotle is very useful. It consists of the desirable middle between two extremes, one of excess and the other of deficiency.
The problem, however, is that as the English poet William Blake observed:
You never know what is enough unless you know what is more than enough.
One thing is sure, we can’t be seeking efficiency no matter what, and sometimes, taking a step back is the best way to keep playing the game.
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🧠 Better Thinking
⚠️ Know the Risk
As you may have noticed by now, I’m all about risk management, longevity, and especially making sure you’re doing everything to reduce your chances of premature death.
The problem with risk management is that you have to envision the worst-case scenario. For many people, this exercise is unbearable and anxiety-kicking. I understand that imagining a revolution in your country or a car accident is not the funniest thing to do. But as Shane Parrish remarks:
A great advantage can be found in accepting hard truths faster than others.
A typical pattern I see a lot is that people have a terrible sense of guestimating the risk they’re taking in their life.
Whether it’s related to safety, finances, geopolitical, or health-related, a clear understanding of your risks is the basis to ensure the best risk management.
For example, we consistently conflate the frequency of certain types of accidents (plane crashes) and often forget the much more significant risks related to driving a car. This misinterpretation of the data can be dramatic, as this article points out:
Between 2000 and 2018 there were 778 fatalities from US scheduled air travel. Over the same time span, there were 723,530 automotive fatalities—almost 1,000 times greater than the number of fatalities from scheduled air travel.
The most probable cause of premature deaths is car accidents. It’s worth understanding which strategies could help you reduce your risks of having an accident.
Here’s an excellent piece on the topic of reducing your risk of automotive death.
Whenever you’re taking a measure to reduce risk, it’s worth remembering about the concept of “Risk Homeostasis” that we covered in The Long Game #9.
We all internally have a desired level of risk that varies depending on who we are and the context we are in. Our risk tolerance is like a thermostat—we take more risks if we feel too safe, and vice versa, in order to remain at our desired “temperature.”
For example, in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, this preprint showed that people wearing masks engaged in riskier behaviors:
Consistent with risk compensation, we found that participants indicated they would stand, sit or walk closer to the stranger when either of them was wearing a mask. This form of risk compensation was stronger for those who believed masks were effective at preventing catching or spreading Covid-19, and for younger (18-40 years) compared to older (over 65 years) participants.
⚡️ Startup Stuff
🎮 Gamification in Tech Products
I’ve been reading and thinking about gamification over the past days. After asking for recommendations on what to read and watch on this topic, I came across multiple great articles explaining how to use gamification and game design the right way.
I especially liked the work of Robert Haisfield:
In Most Gamification Sucks, he writes:
It astounds me that gamification is in the state that it is in. It's as though gamification designers said to themselves, "Points, badges, and leaderboards, those are the only things worth learning from!"
So instead of going for these classic tools of gamification, Roberts adds:
We should instead be asking ourselves "What can we take away from game design and behavioral science to influence user behavior so that we co-create an intended experience with the user?"
Gamification is rooted in behavioral psychology. That’s why rewarding the users isn’t always a good idea. Products should strive to have intrinsically motivated users.
Behavioral economics research shows that adding external rewards often backfire if you’re already intrinsically motivated.
Finally, in his case study of Headspace, Robert notes:
Games aren’t just about points and achievements. They’re about being fun and playful.
Among the recommendations that I had, I loved this video of Rahul Vohra (explaining how they used game design to build Superhuman), and I might get into Actionable Gamification: Beyond Points, Badges, and Leaderboards by Yu-kai Chou soon.
📚 What I Read
👫 Paying to Date
How does paying to date young women work? Well, you can learn and understand how men (sugar daddies) spend thousands of dollars to be in the company of beautiful women in this article.
I tell them I’m looking for someone who is going to be open to potentially giving monetary funds, whether it’s doing trips or not being stingy with gifts. In return, I can give you companionship. We can travel together. I’m a listener. I tell them I don’t do dates in public for the first month, but I’ll do FaceTime, Skype calls, and from there we can schedule a date and go out to eat dinner and all that jazz.
And now the question that you might be asking yourself: how much money are we talking about here. Well, it’s serious money!
Money-wise, I always ask what their budget is. I ask what they’re willing to give me for my time, because I’ve realised my value in that strategy. A lot of them will say $2,500 (£2,000) for a dinner date, which is more than my $1,200 (£960) rent, so why not? I also resell a lot of what they gift me because I don’t need 1,000 pairs of shoes and bags. Everyone has a different price value.
I find the psychology behind dating practices in society to be very interesting. In The Long Game #8, we saw how unequal the dating economy is:
“The bottom 80% of men (in terms of attractiveness) are competing for the bottom 22% of women and the top 78% of women are competing for the top 20% of men.”
If you wonder whether this practice is going to end soon, the answer might be a big no, as men increasingly outnumber women:
In China and India, men outnumber women by 70 million. Both nations are belatedly trying to come to grips with the policies that created this male-heavy generation
✌️ Nonviolent Communication
I liked this summary of the book Nonviolent Communication by Erik Torenberg.
Nonviolent Communication — NVC — is a framework of communication for speaking and listening that helps us get what we want in ways we are proud of and meet everyone’s needs.
Communication is a crucial skill because everything requires communication. Getting good at it will have incredible returns.
The framework of NVC is:
Observation — specific facts/data, no evaluation/judgment
Feeling — state how we feel
Need — the need underlying this feeling
Request — must be specific action to address need
One of the biggest mistakes people do is mixing observation with judgment.
🍭 Brain Food
👽 Are You Living in a Computer Simulation?
Some articles are good, great, and even excellent, and some articles change how you view the world.
This article by Nick Bostrom is part of the latter category.
Did you like The Matrix and the concept behind it? Wait until you read this article explaining that we might be living in a simulation.
A technologically mature “posthuman” civilization would have enormous computing power. Based on this empirical fact, the simulation argument shows that at least one of the following propositions is true:
(1) The fraction of human-level civilizations that reach a posthuman stage is very close to zero;
(2) The fraction of posthuman civilizations that are interested in running ancestor‐ simulations is very close to zero;
(3) The fraction of all people with our kind of experiences that are living in a simulation is very close to one.
If you had to read only one thing this week and you want to understand why it’s very likely that we’re living in a simulation, I would highly recommend this mind-shattering article.
Here’s what a correspondent replied after reading the piece:
"Thank you so much, Dr. Bostrom. You have proved that my psychiatrist was wrong all along."
For more on the simulation argument, watch this conversation between Nick Bostrom and Lex Fridman on the Artificial Intelligence Podcast, or this short clip on why Elon Musk is very interested in the simulation argument. For a funnier perspective, check out Neil deGrasse Tyson’s short clip about it.
So what do you think now, science fiction or reality?
🎙 Podcast Episodes of the Week
📡 Balaji Srinivasan: Living in the Future on North Star Podcast
This one was so good; I had to take a lot of notes to remember everything. I made my notes public, so you can also benefit from them.
My favorite parts were Balaji’s ideas on how to create social media around learning and earning, why the purpose of technology is life extension, and how to build a digital country through writing.
♠️ Maria Konnikova: Less Certainty, More Inquiry on The Knowledge Project
Professional poker player, psychologist, and author of two New York Times best-sellers, Maria Konnikova, discusses her mentors, making decisions in environments of uncertainty, the importance of reflection, cooling down your emotions, and Sherlock Holmes.
I loved listening to how Maria became a world-class Poker player in less than three years by seeking the advice of a top Poker player. By going back through her decision process and ask the questions, “Okay, am I making the right decisions? Is my decision process solid regardless of the outcome?” she managed to progress at a fast rate.
🔧 The tool of the Week
🧠 My Mind, an Extension for Your Mind
When you browse the internet, and you want to save something, you have multiple options, but organizing your files is always a problem. Either you have to create tags like in Evernote or Pocket, or you have to save the content in the appropriate file.
My Mind solves this problem by automatically tagging what you save with their algorithm.
Watch Youtuber Shu Omi explain how he uses My Mind.
🪐 Quote I’m Pondering
All I seem to have discovered, of importance, is that with every expansion of consciousness... a radical change in moral ensues. Or, to put it in more accurately, every innovator, every individual with a fresh vision or a larger vision of life, automatically destroys the existent moral code—in favor of spirit. But his disciples soon establish a new moral code, one just as rigid as the preceding one, forgetting that the spirit will again break the vessel which contains it.
— Henry Miller
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👋 Thank you for reading!
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💬 Reach Out
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Hi Mehdi, I must say I really enjoy your weekly post <3