The Long Game 117: A Benchmark of Fitness, Authenticity, Reality Catches Up, Consistent Hard Work
🛸 Down the UFO Rabbit Hole, Useless Supplements, Milk, Sneakers, Designing for Trust, 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:
In this episode, we explore:
A benchmark of fitness
Reality catches up
Consistent hard work
Down the UFO rabbit hole
Let’s dive in!
⚖️ A Benchmark of Fitness
Patrick O’Shaughnessy came up with a good question: is there a single benchmark of fitness?
As I read this, I thought: “no, there isn’t.” The reason is that fitness encompasses multiple things, and no indicator truly takes all of that into account. You can be very good at cardio but lack muscle strength, for example. You can have both of these but lack flexibility, and so on.
So it made me think: what would be the few indicators of great fitness, without having to focus on only one benchmark?
I came up with:
Fat-Free Mass Index (It describes the amount of your muscle mass in relation to height and weight, calculate yours here.)
Squat, deadlift, bench press, OHP, pull-up numbers (can be 1 Rep Max or more, but a strength indicator.) Find some strength standards you can aspire to here.
Eventually, also: max pushups.
A flexibility indicator? This one seems harder to quantify to me.
The point of having multiple indicators is that they conflict with each other. For example, if you build a lot of muscle, your mile time will be more challenging, if you’ve been focused on marathon training, your VO2 max might be great, but your squat might not. You get the idea.
This brings us to the concept of training to be a hybrid athlete. Both strong, with good cardio, and flexible. I think this type of training will only get more popular. Crossfit is somewhat an example of this, although I’m not particularly a fan of it.
Some interesting hybrid athletes you can check out:
Fergus Crawley (a good podcast episode)
What other indicators would you include? Let me know!
I have been thinking about authenticity for the last few days. It seems to be a value that’s more and more appreciated and celebrated in our society. As we’re broadcasting an ever-increasing part of our lives online, it seems logical that the second-order effect of this is a greater appreciation for authentic people.
That was the idea initially, but this quickly led to people curating every single part of their lives and still trying to portray all of this as 100% genuine and authentic. Welcome to Instagram. As a backlash, other, more recent social networks came up with a counter-positioning focused on “bringing back” said authenticity. BeReal comes to mind here. Although the product is built in a way that tries to promote authenticity, and I salute them for that, it seems that we humans are too good and addicted to faking authenticity.
Rex Woodbury writes:
Envy feeds engagement. Younger social media users, who grew up online, are rejecting that premise. Rodrigo, for example, posted the following Instagram caption in April 2020:
today I took the classic Instagram dive, comparing myself to girls incessantly and wishing I had what they looked like they had. it’s so silly how we/i define ourselves by the most arbitrary things and idolize ppl who are humans just like us. anyway, i wrote this song today about the tendency I have to go down this self sabotaging hole and now I’m posting it on Instagram because I love irony. if ur reading this pls know that ur value is so inherent. it’s not something that could ever be defined by something as contrived and manipulative as social media. you are so loved!
Instagram disruptors like BeReal, Poparazzi, Dispo, and Locket have promised a more authentic, less curated reality. But even authenticity, over time, becomes performative; “photo dumps” become carefully-crafted compilations of artsy images that show us in a good light (“Look how this blurry photo implies I’m too busy having fun to take non-blurry pictures!”)
As I went down the “authenticity rabbit hole,” I came across this excellent piece by Rohit from Strange Loop Canon:
So: we have a desperate need for more authenticity these days. At the same time as performative measures are increasing in number.
And I think they’re related.
As we’ve gotten more and more interconnected, we’re all ever present in front of each other. Everything we do has become performative. And even as this reality has seeped into the public consciousness, we perhaps overreacted by focusing so heavily on authenticity as the way out. In a nice twist of irony, authenticity has turned into a brand.
In a world where everyone’s acting, what wouldn’t we give for someone who’s seen to be true!
Finally, I remembered the great Seth Godin on why authenticity isn’t what you should focus on:
Well, so the other one which is as big as that one is I think authenticity is a crock, and I think authenticity is overrated and talked about far too much. The problem with authenticity is it’s selfish. Authenticity enables us to say whatever we want and if people don’t like it, well I was just being authentic. It is a ticket to self-absorbed inconsistency, and I don’t think anybody we serve wants that. I think what they want is consistency. I think they want us to make a promise and keep it, and the reason it’s called work, not my hobby is because I made a promise.
I decided a really long time ago that I was going to be consistent, and it didn’t matter if in a moment, I felt like yelling at a customer service person, or going up on stage when I’m supposed to be adding energy and just taking energy instead. What I learned from that is the way we act determines how we feel way more often than the way we feel determines how we act.
Maybe instead of authenticity, we should focus more on consistency.
🧠 Better Thinking
↪️ Reality Catches Up
You can be a con artist for a while, but reality will catch up at some point! This is, in short, the idea perfectly explained in this piece.
Maybe your portfolio surged during a bubble, your company hit a monster valuation, or you negotiated a salary that exceeds your ability. It feels great at the time. But reality eventually catches up, and demands repayment in equal proportion to your delusions – plus interest.
These debts are easy to ignore because they are often repaid in the form of self-doubt and crushed morale. But they are very real, and when you understand their power you become careful what you wish for.
Companies should want the valuation they deserve, and not a penny more.
Workers should want a salary that matches their skill, and nothing more.
Families should want a lifestyle they can sustain, and nothing higher.
None of those are about settling or giving up. It’s about avoiding a certain kind of psychological debt that comes due when reality catches up.
⚡️ Startup Stuff
🛠🔂 Consistent Hard Work
No new article or book this week, I just liked this tweet:
It’s another great reminder that great things are very hard to build and that the current trend promoting “smart work” instead of hard work is bound to prevent a lot of teams from building something truly extraordinary.
Overall, from what I read and what I see, I think that Replit has an excellent company culture. Something to learn from, I especially like the “seek pain” mantra.
📚 What I Read
🥛 How we adapted to milk, and how we adapted it to us
An interesting piece on the evolution of milk digestion:
If you’re like me, you might have thought that digesting milk was a binary: either you were able to do it or you weren’t.
But that’s not true, and I only realised it when I discovered four years ago that I have partial lactose intolerance!
And after reading much more into the topic, I found out about lots of interesting things about how humans adapted to digest milk, and how we adapted it to be digestible to us.
How we’ve adapted to milk
Milk is a great source of calories and nutrition, but it can be a major pain. Its sugar – lactose – is indigestible for many people around the world.
Newborns and infants produce an enzyme called lactase that can break down this sugar. But as they age, only some children and adults (who are called ‘lactase-persistent’) continue to produce it.
For others, the lack of lactase can mean drinking milk becomes intolerable, causing symptoms like constipation, bloating and diarrhoea.
Pair with: GOMAD to pack on weight (for lifters) - funny 😄
➗ He Dropped Out to Become a Poet. Now He’s Won a Fields Medal.
The fascinating story of June Huh:
Huh’s entire life is built on routine. “Almost all of my days are exactly the same,” he said. “I have a very high tolerance for repetition.” He has trouble staying asleep and usually wakes up at around 3 a.m. He then goes to the gym, has breakfast with his wife and two sons (one is 8 years old, the other just turned 1), and walks his eldest to school before heading to his Princeton office.
The office is spare, practically empty. There’s a large desk, a couch for sleeping — Huh typically takes a nap later in the morning — and a yoga mat rolled out on the floor (just for lying down, he said; he doesn’t actually know how to do yoga). No books, just a few stacks of papers neatly arranged on a shelf against one wall. In the corner is a vacuum cleaner. Huh likes repetitive, mindless activities like cleaning, dishwashing and the physical act of transcribing what he reads into a notebook.
He often works in the public library, in the children’s section, where it’s pretty noisy. “I don’t like quiet places,” he said. “It makes me sleepy.” Huh says this about many things.
He goes for a long walk after lunch each day, then returns to his office to do some more work (unless he’s already hit his three-hour quota) before heading home. He spends the rest of the evening with his family; they all go to sleep, together in one large bed, at around 9 p.m.
This preference for routine — and the tendency to get exhausted by anything that strays from it — can sometimes manifest in extreme ways. When he was completing his doctorate in Michigan, for instance, “I would cut off almost everything else,” Huh said. When he first moved to Ann Arbor, he found himself unequipped for the brutal winter. He had few belongings, and he needed a blanket. But when he looked up how to get to the local mall, he found it too logistically difficult. “It was just beyond my level of tolerance,” he said. “I did not want to waste my mental energy on figuring out how to go from here to there.” Instead, he walked to a nearby CVS drugstore, bought 10 squares of fabric and a giant stapler, and stapled the squares together to make a blanket.
📉 Slightly Against Underpopulation Worries
Astral Codex Ten on the underpopulation worries. Consider this as your daily dose of bad news, as the author believes the singularity is coming before 2050 and that it will lead to the end of humanity 😅
9. In The Short-To-Medium Run, We’re All Dead
Maybe all these arguments sound half-hearted? Like I’m conceding too much ground? Like I should still be worrying about underpopulation more than I do? Or that even if I’m right that things won’t degenerate too far by 2100, we should be thinking forward to 2200 or 2300?
Fine. My real argument is that 2100 is not a real year. You make a mistake by thinking about it at all.
The term “technological singularity” gets overused, but the original definition is “a point where things change so profoundly that it’s not worth speculating about what happens afterwards”.
If we don’t die of something else first, there will probably be a technological singularity before 2100. The way things are looking now, it will probably involve AI somehow. If by some miracle that doesn’t happen, we’ll get one involving human genetic engineering for intelligence. I think there’s maybe a 5-10% chance we somehow manage to miss both of those entirely, but I’m not spending too many of my brain cycles worrying about this weird sliver of probability space.
🍭 Brain Food
🛸 Down the UFO Rabbit Hole
I admit it: there’s no better month than August to go down the UFO rabbit hole (again.)
It started with this episode with former Navy fighter pilot Ryan Graves, which is a perfect follow-up to the older episode with commander David Frevor.
What always strikes me is the “barrier belief”:
So many people seem unable to simply explore the possibility that we might be wrong about so many of our current beliefs.
It’s a sense of truth we have about the world comprised of what we’ve previously seen, experienced, and learned from people we trust. New knowledge is added to the barrier in increments, and while we change our opinions all the time, anything sufficiently distant from our core sense of the world is instinctively, and almost immediately abandoned. This isn’t necessarily because wild new information about the nature of our reality is untrue, though it often is, but because “wild” new information tends to challenge in some fundamental way our core beliefs, and reconception of core beliefs is exhausting. So, while the particular character and intensity of any given barrier belief is mostly personal, its purpose, in all of us, is universal: it exists to stop us from thinking. In my case, I once believed that people mostly understood the world. I was a total materialist in my early twenties, or so I’d convinced myself, and this was an important aspect of my identity. Fairies and spirits and raining blood were unserious topics, and so to entertain them seriously would have required submission in myself to the notion I was, in some fundamental respect, an idiot. But back at the publishing house, in that quiet closet library, I was all alone. No one was watching. What was really the harm in reading on? I arrived at Fort’s accounting of “strange lights” in the sky. Aliens, he speculated, nearly five decades before the term “UFO” was coined.
I couldn’t stop here, so I continued with the classic (that I hadn’t watched yet) Bob Lazar & Jeremy Corbell on JRE. Think about it what you want, this episode will blow your mind! 🤯
🎥 What I’m Watching
🎨 How Airbnb Designs for Trust
💊 The Worst Supplements Everyone Takes for Muscle Growth
🔧 The Tool of the Week
👟 Sneak in Peace
A great, well-designed place to discover & collect the latest sneakers.
🪐 Quote I’m Pondering
To rise to the level of mastery requires many hours of dedicated focus and practice. You cannot get there if your work brings you no joy and you are constantly struggling to overcome your own weaknesses.
— Robert Greene
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Until next week,