The Long Game 115: 27 Lessons for 27 Years, Hard Work, Bad Week for Science, Booktubers
👔 A Day In the Life of Brunello Cucinelli, Dating, Did People Used to Look Older, IQ & Intelligence, Vinted, and Much More!
Hi there, it’s Mehdi Yacoubi, co-founder at Vital, and this is The Long Game Newsletter. To receive it in your inbox each week, subscribe here:
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I turned 27 yesterday and took some time to reflect on what I have learned in my life so far. I don’t claim these principles to be the “truth,” but simply where my mind is right now. I change my mind frequently, so some of these might change as I continue to age.
27 Lessons for 27 Years
Find a life partner with whom you'll have fun spending the mundane Wednesdays. This is the most important decision you’ll make.
Drink more water.
Work hard and give 100% to everything you do. Thinking you’re “working smart” is not the way - you aren’t smarter than others, and even if you are, it won’t benefit you to think so.
Aggressively curate your inputs. Always give a premium to time-tested content. You don’t need to read the latest books, news, etc.
Don’t try to overoptimize things, you’ll achieve the opposite. Stay away from productivity porn and routines that look good in a blog post/Youtube video but don’t apply to you.
Energy management >> time management.
Get your baseline of energy to be high (experiment with sleep, nutrition, mindset, and exercise to get it as high as possible, this will serve you in every aspect of life.)
Anything worth doing will take you much more work & effort than you initially thought.
Call your parents, grandparents, and friends more often.
Leave space for the unexpected in your life.
A great way to stay physically active is to find a physical hobby that you love/obsess about. Additionally, get other hobbies that you don’t obsess about!
Whenever in doubt, go for an hour-long walk.
Read more. If you’re short on time, a perfect way to learn is to listen to an audiobook while walking.
Train first thing in the morning.
Find the food that works for you, and don’t overcomplicate nutrition. Get 2g of protein per kg of bodyweight. Fasting is a great way not to overeat if that’s a problem you have.
Play the long game. Strongly refrain from engaging in short-term games. The best way to lose in the long game is to compromise yourself and your relationships, pursuing short-term goals.
Dare to ask, follow up, and don’t take rejection personally.
Simultaneously be your biggest critic and the biggest believer in yourself.
Seek discomfort in your life. Whenever something that used to be hard becomes easy, find something else to keep you in check.
Delete Instagram. It contaminates your mind with useless stuff and makes you think people have perfect lives. They don’t.
Become disciplined. It’s a skill you can train. Read and re-read Can’t Hurt Me.
Do more of what you’re not good at: run if you’re a lifter, lift if you’re a runner.
Go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day, including during the weekends. Sleep enough, but not too much.
Commit. Optionality isn’t achieving what you think it is. It’s a trap.
Maintain the right consumption vs. creation balance.
Are you sure that this new business book isn’t procrastination? Most of the time, you already know what you have to do. You just don’t want to do it. Never lie to yourself.
Find your work-life blend. It doesn’t have to be the same for everyone.
On top of these lessons, my wish for the future is to get my mental age above my chronological age, while getting my biological age way below it: grow the mind, rejuvenate the body.
👎 Not a Good Week for Science: The Alzheimer’s & Depression Fiascos
We got two bad news recently, related to a lot of money wasted on things with close to zero impact on our health.
First: Depression is probably not caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain – new study (research paper)
For three decades, people have been deluged with information suggesting that depression is caused by a “chemical imbalance” in the brain – namely an imbalance of a brain chemical called serotonin. However, our latest research review shows that the evidence does not support it.
Although first proposed in the 1960s, the serotonin theory of depression started to be widely promoted by the pharmaceutical industry in the 1990s in association with its efforts to market a new range of antidepressants, known as selective serotonin-reuptake inhibitors or SSRIs. The idea was also endorsed by official institutions such as the American Psychiatric Association, which still tells the public that “differences in certain chemicals in the brain may contribute to symptoms of depression”.
Countless doctors have repeated the message all over the world, in their private surgeries and in the media. People accepted what they were told. And many started taking antidepressants because they believed they had something wrong with their brain that required an antidepressant to put right. In the period of this marketing push, antidepressant use climbed dramatically, and they are now prescribed to one in six of the adult population in England, for example.
Then: Two decades of Alzheimer's research may be based on deliberate fraud that has cost millions of lives
One of its biggest mysteries is also its most distinctive feature: the plaques and other protein deposits that German pathologist Alois Alzheimer first saw in 1906 in the brain of a deceased dementia patient. In 1984, Aβ was identified as the main component of the plaques. And in 1991, researchers traced family-linked Alzheimer’s to mutations in the gene for a precursor protein from which amyloid derives. To many scientists, it seemed clear that Aβ buildup sets off a cascade of damage and dysfunction in neurons, causing dementia. Stopping amyloid deposits became the most plausible therapeutic strategy.
Hundreds of clinical trials of amyloidtargeted therapies have yielded few glimmers of promise, however; only the underwhelming Aduhelm has gained FDA approval. Yet Aβ still dominates research and drug development. NIH spent about $1.6 billion on projects that mention amyloids in this fiscal year, about half its overall Alzheimer’s funding. Scientists who advance other potential Alzheimer’s causes, such as immune dysfunction or inflammation, complain they have been sidelined by the “amyloid mafia.” Forsayeth says the amyloid hypothesis became “the scientific equivalent of the Ptolemaic model of the Solar System,” in which the Sun and planets rotate around Earth.
All of this made me think about how detrimental dogma in science is.
This article is an excellent read to understand how dogma and identity-based thinking can ruin the progress of a field.
The brain, Alzheimer’s researchers patiently explain, is hard — harder than the heart, harder even than cancer. While that may be true, it is increasingly apparent that there is another, more disturbing reason for the tragic lack of progress: The most influential researchers have long believed so dogmatically in one theory of Alzheimer’s that they systematically thwarted alternative approaches. Several scientists described those who controlled the Alzheimer’s agenda as “a cabal.”
It’s concerning to think that science is becoming like religion, where it’s almost impossible to study specific hypotheses within a field.
In more than two dozen interviews, scientists whose ideas fell outside the dogma recounted how, for decades, believers in the dominant hypothesis suppressed research on alternative ideas: They influenced what studies got published in top journals, which scientists got funded, who got tenure, and who got speaking slots at reputation-buffing scientific conferences.
The number of people with Alzheimer’s is worrying, and a whole family is affected for each person with the condition.
Today, 5.8 million people in the U.S. have the disease, including 1 in 10 of those 65 and over, estimates the Alzheimer’s Association. It is the fifth leading cause of death in that age group. For many patients and their families, that’s a small mercy: Robbed of their memories, unable to recognize those they loved, often suffering from psychosis, they lose their mind and their identity long before their life.
It made me wonder what similar situations are happening in medicine right now, where we don’t explore all the possible hypotheses to cure a disease. As gerontologist David Sinclair explains, addressing aging directly as the meta-disease responsible for all the other conditions is the best strategy to ensure significant healthspan improvement.
If we could stop all cardiovascular disease—every single case, all at one—we wouldn’t add many years to the average lifespan; the gain would be just 1.5 years. The same is true for cancer; stopping all forms of that scourge would give us just 2.1 years of life on average, because all other causes of death still increase exponentially. We’re still aging, after all.
What can we do to prevent such situations where dogma prevents progress from happening? Unfortunately, there is no quick fix here; we’ll need better funding models and above all, remember that science is about skepticism. Recognizing that the half-life of facts is 45 years will be beneficial here.
The challenge is that there will always be a lot of noise in the contrarian opinions. For example, the Hereticon Conference from Founders Fund aims to invite all the outcasts of science and technology (including flat earthers and all kinds of crazy thinkers.) It’s easy to dismiss farfetched opinions immediately, but by doing so, we miss the 1% of genius hidden in this heterogeneous group.
Let’s not forget what the church did to Galileo and not reproduce the same mistakes today.
🏋️♀️ Make Your Fitness Journey Enjoyable
You want to exercise more. Eat better, sleep better. A crucial part of this is making the whole journey enjoyable. For example:
Stick to the forms of exercise you prefer.
Find the healthy recipes you see yourself eating again and again.
At first, you might be very motivated to achieve your new goals, but realistically speaking, you’ll be much more likely to stick to these if you actually enjoy them.
Additionally, you can also make sure you remove all the constraints that could be removed:
Prepare your exercise outfit before going to sleep to minimize the efforts upon waking up.
Find a gym that’s close to your home/office. Wasting 30 min to go to the gym can be the perfect excuse to skip it.
🧠 Better Thinking
The great Simon Sarris managed to put words on a feeling I’ve been having for a few months (since I stopped listening/reading new content.)
Just like it’s easy to get trapped in fashion/travel trends on Instagram, it’s as easy to get trapped in intellectual trends on Twitter/Youtube. I’m not saying all trends are bad, but it seems that apart from a few exceptions, most things that become too popular are not where you’ll find the most profound insights.
Part of the problem is their choices: Modern non-fiction is itself simply a roundup of facts, as if some author is rehashing Wikipedia articles, peppered with a few anecdotes that are squeezed through a Malcom Gladwell-shaped mold.
The individualistic strokes taken with these works are rarely the author offering their own theories or musings or asking the right questions (which is what makes podcasts work well by comparison), but simply the author bending the wiki style facts until they like them better.
The most damning result of these kinds of reading lists is observational: Despite reading copious amounts people like Bill Gates never actually seem to have anything insightful to say. He seems to remain uninspired, his only thought is to pass on the books. Is that really *all?*
Instead of going for books like the ones below, let your curiosity be your guide. If you’re a long-time reader of The Long Game, you’ll know this message is first and foremost directed to me. I’ve been reading most of these books (and still believe some of them to be great), but I think it’s time for a change.
Pair with: is self-help bad?
⚡️ Startup Stuff
🔨🔨🔨 Hard Work
You might have seen it elsewhere, but this article on hard work at Stripe is a must-read. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
I have encountered many people who talk, write, and tweet about that kind of all-consuming culture from a place of dissatisfaction, mistrust, skepticism, exhaustion, and restlessness. I know some people are working hard. I know others aren’t. I know people aren’t feeling seen or recognized or like they’re doing work that matters. Maybe you’re one of them. I get it. I feel that way too sometimes. And I don’t think people should cry or feel like impostors or skip their vacations regularly.
But I do think work can be a source of real meaning in life. But, we’ll only ever get out what we put in. And in the case of work life, it is kind of a collective decision. Once your neighbor starts signing off Slack at 3:30 consistently, it’s hard not to do the same. If your closest collaborators don’t turn stuff around quickly, why would you? If there’s no one in the room agitating for doing that extra copy pass to punch up that blog post, why not just ship the meh version and use the extra time for a jog or a drink with friends? The path of least resistance is right in front of us, and we are taking it.
I’m all for creating healthy boundaries that keep us satisfied and emotionally healthy—inside and outside of work. And of course I believe you can love something without it having to hurt. But I’ve never truly loved anything that didn’t move me to my core. I can’t help but wonder if all this effort we’re putting into keeping work at arm’s length is actually holding us back from being our best selves.
Because what I’ve learned from having the privilege of working in a place that asks for my best and helps me get there is how much it can unlock in a life. The benefits extend far beyond the skills required to get great work done. The really, really good stuff comes from looking back on something you created and thinking, “I had no idea I could do that.” It comes from looking around and thinking “wow these people helped me, really helped me, get there.” It comes from looking inside and seeing how deep and enduring those feelings of pride, satisfaction, and gratitude really are. And what happens when you have so much it gets to spill over to the other aspects of and people in your life.
📚 What I Read
🏰 The Fall of History as a Major and as a Part of the Humanities
Over on the Scholar’s Stage forum, one forum member asks why the number of American university students selecting history as their chosen four year degree has been on the decline since the 1970s. He offers three hypotheses:
1) College students themselves valuing degrees with more defined career paths. As Schmidt notes, this is more complex than “I want a lot of money after graduation.” Psychology and “Arts Management” don’t hold a candle to Chemical Engineering in terms of money, but interest in them is increasing, probably because [they] have more defined career paths than history.
2) A variation of Bryan Caplan’s “signaling” hypothesis. This thesis argues that the value of education is in proving that “Jim is intelligent and conscientious,” not that “Jim acquired XYZ skills/knowledge.” In the supposed past, all college degrees had a strong signal of intelligence and conscientiousness, because fewer people went to college. In the present, history has less signaling value than more rigorous subjects that weed out students. I don’t think history SHOULD purposely weed out students…not only is it a cruel practice, but at this point it really can’t afford to lose more students! But the point stands.
3) The ideological polarization of the college-going populace. This is a more complex point than you might think. The rise of X Studies degrees means that the ardent Lefties who would have entered history are now entering X studies. The History professoriate tilting hard to the Left, and regularly engaging in Left-wing polemics on social media, probably alienates conservatives would have chosen history. I think this is a much smaller consideration than 1) and 2), but it’s probably not nothing
👫 First base is hooking up, second base is talking, third base is going on a date and fourth base is dating
Dating apps, sexual deception, and dark triad personality traits:
The situation has changed for everyone on the dating market. Even those who don’t use these apps. This is because even for the people who don’t use the apps, they still live in an environment where others use them. Over time, those who don’t use apps must adapt to the preferences and behavior of those who use them. Not the other way around.
One example of how the scene has changed. I have a friend from college. A good-looking guy. He showed me how many women he has matched with: More than 21,000. Twenty-one thousand. Tinder actually identified him as a valuable user early on, and gave him free perks and upgrades. They lifted his radius restrictions. This allowed him to match with even more women. I have another friend. Doesn’t have the best pictures on his profile. But not a bad looking guy. Over roughly the same period of time as my other friend, he has matched with seven women.
Some findings on dating apps:
18 to 25 percent of Tinder users are in a committed relationship.
Women aged 23 to 27 are twice as likely to swipe right ("liked") on a man with a master's degree compared with a bachelor's degree.
Men swipe right (“liked”) on 62 percent of the women’s profiles they see; women swipe right (“liked”) on only 4.5 percent of the men’s profiles they see.
Half of men who use dating apps while in a committed relationship reported having sex with another person they met on a dating app. All women who used dating apps while in a committed relationship reported having sex with another person they met on a dating app.
30 percent of men who use Tinder are married.
In terms of attractiveness, the bottom 80% of men are competing for the bottom 22% of women and the top 78% of women are competing for the top 20% of men.
👔 A Day In the Life of Brunello Cucinelli
A day in the life of the legend Brunello Cucinelli:
6:15 A.M. Before I turned 45, I would spend half an hour a day working out. Then, between 45 and, let's say, 50, I started working out for an hour and a half a day. Now that I'm 63, I've gone up to two hours because I want to stay fit. I start with an hour of swimming every morning; I'm lucky enough to have my own pool. After swimming I do about 20 minutes of a series of exercises called the Five Tibetan Rites, which is an ancient form of yoga, and at the end of the day I'll play football or tennis or go running to get up to my two hours. I believe that there are three things in life that you must absolutely do yourself because nobody can do it in your place: keeping fit, following a diet, and accumulating culture.
7:45 A.M. Getting dressed is both an easy and a complicated process. For example, this morning it somehow took me four times to tie my tie. While I get dressed, I tend to talk to myself. I think a little bit on how to organize the day, or maybe I take a look in the mirror and think, Oh, my God, I've put on weight!, or notice some extra white hair that was not there the day before. Afterward I have a very Italian breakfast of milk, coffee, and toasted bread with jam. Sometimes if I don't have breakfast at home, I might stroll down to the village bar, where I get a cappuccino and a brioche or a croissant. That's the best breakfast.
🍭 Brain Food
💰 How Effective Is (More) Money? Randomizing Unconditional Cash Transfer Amounts in the US
Many people have been talking about Universal Basic Income and other forms of direct cash transfers as a critical measure to help people and make society more equal. This paper shows that it’s more complicated than that.
We randomized over 5,000 US individuals in poverty to one of three conditions during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic: receiving a one-time $500 unconditional cash transfer (UCT; half a month’s worth of total household income for the median participant; N=1,374), a $2,000 UCT (two months’ income; N=699), or nothing (N=3,170).
We measured the effects of the UCTs on participants’ financial well-being, psychological well-being, cognitive capacity, and physical health through surveys administered one week, six weeks, and 15 weeks after cash receipt. For 43% of our sample, we also observe bank account balances and financial transactions.
While the cash transfers increased expenditures for a few weeks, we find no evidence that they had positive impacts on our pre-specified survey outcomes at any time point. We further find no significant differences between the $500 and $2,000 groups.
These findings stand in stark contrast to the (incentivized) predictions of both experts and a nationally representative sample of laypeople, who---depending on the treatment group, outcome, and time period---estimated treatment effect sizes of +0.16 to +0.65 SDs.
We test several explanations for these unexpected results, including via two survey experiments embedded in our trial. The data are most consistent with the notion that receiving some but not enough money made participants’ needs---and the gap between their resources and needs---more salient, which in turn generated feelings of distress.
🎥 What I’m Watching
🧠 IQ Tests, Human Intelligence and Group Differences
This was the best conversation I’ve watched in a long time. Exceptionally good and interesting.
👵 Did People Used To Look Older?
🔧 The Tool of the Week
If you’re into second-hand clothing, Vinted is a great app. I also explored it as it’s a form of a vertical social network. I was surprised at the level of activity!
Pair with: What are people wearing in Paris?
🪐 Quote I’m Pondering
“Self-education is, I firmly believe, the only type of education there is.”
— Isaac Asimov
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