The Long Game 126: The Obesity Epidemic, Friendship, Being Curious, Asking for Help is a Superpower
🏛 The Ivy League, Mental Illness, and the Meaning of Life, The Overblown Implication Effect, Creatine, The Abundance Agenda, 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:
The obesity epidemic
Being curious, not judgemental
Asking for help is a superpower
The Overblown Implication Effect
Let’s dive in!
🍩 The Obesity Epidemic
The topic of obesity recently came back on Twitter, not that it ever goes away, but a few interesting resources were shared that I think are worth discussing.
First, the idea is that obesity could be an epidemic.
The speed at which obesity rose could suggest that it’s not only a question of lifestyle factors.
This very well-researched series of articles make the case that the origin of this rapid increase could be environmental contaminants:
Only one theory can account for all of the available evidence: the obesity epidemic is caused by one or more environmental contaminants, compounds in our water, food, air, at our jobs and in our homes, that change how our bodies regulate weight.
These contaminants are the only cause of the obesity epidemic, and the worldwide increase in obesity rates since 1980 is entirely attributable to their effects. For any two people in a group, the difference between their weights is largely genetic, because everyone is exposed to similar levels of contamination. But the difference between the average weight in 1980 and the average weight today is the result of environmental contaminants.
The correlation with altitude is very interesting:
If you’re looking for solutions, the last part of the series gives some:
First off, there are a few things that won’t change how many contaminants you’re exposed to, but that may have an impact on your weight anyways.
1. — The first is that you can put on more muscle mass. This won’t affect your weight as it appears on the scale, but it does often seem to affect people’s body composition. The lipostat pays attention to how much fat you have, but it also seems to pay some attention to how much you literally weigh (see these studies in mice, and this recent extension in humans). So if you gain muscle mass, you may lose fat mass. For advice on how to gain muscle mass, please see the internet.
2. — The second is that you could consider getting gastric bypass or a similar, related surgery. Our understanding is that these procedures are very effective at causing weight loss in many cases. However, they are pretty dangerous — this is still a surgical procedure, and so inherently comes with a risk of death and other serious complications. If you consider this option please take it very seriously, consult with your doctor, etc.
Many of you, however, are not just interested in weight loss, or are interested in weight loss along with reducing how many mystery chemicals you’re exposed to — “You stupid kids I don’t want to lose weight I want to get these contaminants out of my body!!!” So here’s a list of steps you could take to reduce your exposure and possibly lose weight, again approximately in order from least extreme to most extreme.
1. — The first thing you should consider is eating more whole foods and/or avoiding highly processed foods. This is pretty standard health advice — we think it’s relevant because it seems pretty clear that food products tend to pick up more contaminants with every step of transportation, packaging, and processing, so eating local, unpackaged, and unprocessed foods should reduce your exposure to most contaminants.
Pair with: Obesity rate in the United States (1985–2021)
Also pair with: The neuroscience of obesity | Stephan Guyenet, Ph.D.
I found this part of this episode with David Brooks on friendship interesting:
Now, that doesn’t mean that if you’re married you don’t need close personal lifelong friends
Men are horrible at real friendships
They’ve got lots of deal friends, but no real friends, especially if they’re really successful in business
So you got to work on these things for sure, for a lot of reasons besides the fact that it’s just healthy and good
What differentiates deal friends from real friends?
Aristotle wrote a lot about friendships and the escalating levels of friendship in terms of the satisfaction and virtue they bring to our lives
At the lowest level are friendships of transaction
These are friendships where people work together
For example, you’re a shirt manufacturer and you’ve got a guy who sells you cloth
You’re probably really friends; you like him, he likes you
You take care not to offend each other
But if you stop making shirts, you’re probably not going to continue that relationship
Above that are relationships of admiration or beauty, where you admire each other
That’s a really good thing too, but that’s dependent on a particular quality
The perfect friendship is the friendship of virtue
It’s just inherently satisfying
You like being together
Frequently, it’ll revolve around a third kind of useless thing, like baseball or building birdhouses or whatever
These real friendships are intrinsically satisfying and they’re frequently focused on the cosmic third thing
What is it about men that makes it harder for us to have those really deep friendships?
There’s some generational differences between men and women, and there are probably some intrinsic differences as well
The generational differences largely have to do with the fact that in conventional family setups, the dad was super hard working
Meanwhile, the mom was making sure that you kids were properly brought up and you had friends, and she knew your friend’s mothers, and the result was that she was reinforcing friendship relationships and therefore getting better at them
The distressing thing is that friendship is a skill that requires practice
It’s like a muscle and it will atrophy
You can get worse and worse at friendships
Arthur will meet these 60 year old guys (just a little older than he is), and they’ll be like, “What do you want me to do, call up some other dude and ask for a play date?”
They don’t know how to do this
They haven’t had a real friend since college
And ever since then, they got married and had a family and worked really, really hard, and now they’re lonely
The answer is, you have to actually learn how to make and maintain friends, real friendships
And that’s a skill that a lot of men lose because of our traditional social circumstances
Then I found this article, the perfect follow-up: How to Make, and Keep, Friends in Adulthood
Much of your work centers on changing our scripts around friendship. What are some misconceptions you’d like to see disappear?
One is that platonic love is somehow less important or meaningful than romantic love. We have this idea that people who have friendship at the center of their relationships are unhappy or unfulfilled. It’s something I used to believe myself: I thought romantic love was the only love that would make me whole. I wrote “Platonic” because I wanted to level that hierarchy a little bit.
Another misconception is that friendship happens organically. But research has shown that people who think friendship happens organically — based on luck — are lonelier. You really have to try and put yourself out there.
Is that why you believe that assuming people like you is so important?
According to the “risk regulation theory,” we decide how much to invest in a relationship based on how likely we think we are to get rejected. So one of the big tips I share is that if you try to connect with someone, you are much less likely to be rejected than you think.
And, yes, you should assume people like you. That is based on research into the “liking gap” — the idea that when strangers interact, they’re more liked by the other person than they assume.
There is also something called the “acceptance prophecy.” When people assume that others like them, they become warmer, friendlier and more open. So it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. I never used to be much of a mind-set person until I got into the research. But your mind-set really matters!
Pair with: If You Want Success, Pursue Happiness
🧠 Better Thinking
🤔 Be curious, not judgemental
I really liked this piece as it summed up perfectly the idea that building stuff is hard and criticizing is easy. Yes, we do need good critics, but there is a growing tendency and almost celebration of dunking on people who try.
I’m not saying the procedure depicted in the video is the best solution. I’m saying that we don’t know enough about the constraints to say there’s a better solution.
Product development is a challenging exercise in constraint optimization and managing tradeoffs. There’s a common misconception that requirements should be made by product managers or designers in isolation– that good design is the result of someone walking alone into a room, thinking really hard, and walking out with a product requirements document.
The reality is that product managers, designers, engineers, and other stakeholders need to collaborate to optimize myriad constraints originating from their respective disciplines to derive the best solution– however they define “best” to be.
It’s a messy process. There’s more to the design of everyday things than meets the eye.
By being curious, not judgmental, we can start to understand these peculiar things around us. Only by understanding, we might even find a way to make them better.
On a personal level, trying to build a product taught me many things, and among those things is that it’s way harder than it seems.
I still expect the products I use to be excellent, and I didn’t lower my expectation because I know how hard it is to build something great. Still, when I have a worst-than-expected experience with a product, I refrain from dunking on them and instead try to understand why this happened or provide any feedback I have.
Building software is hard.
Building user-friendly software is 10x harder.
Building delightful software is 100x harder.
⚡️ Startup Stuff
❓ Asking for Help is a Superpower
The great David Senra shared this idea of Steve Jobs about asking for help. This is definitely something I’m trying to get better at. As always, the lesson is “you have to act.”
I've never found anybody that didn't want to help me if I asked them for help. I called up Bill Hewlett (founder of HP) when I was 12 years old. He answered the phone himself. I told him I wanted to build a frequency counter. I asked if he had any spare parts / could have.
He gave me the parts. And he gave me a summer job at HP working on the assembly line putting together frequency counters.
I have never found anyone who said no, or hung up the phone. I just ask. Most people never pick up the phone and call. And that is what separates the people who do things, versus the people who just dream about them.
You have to act.
📚 What I Read
📈 Unblocking Abundance
The Abundance Agenda.
People need stuff.
People need housing, food, medical care, transportation, and physical manufactured objects. People need energy and shipping and trucking.
And all stuff comes from somewhere. Food comes from farms and factories and eateries. Manufactured goods are made in factories and transported on ships, trains, and trucks. Energy comes from power plants and gas lines.
Damage to the means of production — the sources of stuff people need — means material deprivation for humans. Invariably, more vulnerable humans (poorer, sicker, less privileged) suffer the most from this.
By contrast, expanding supply is good for humans. More stuff (and stuff getting where it needs to go) means fewer shortages. More stuff means lower prices and expanded access. More stuff means better lives.
🚨 Breaking: Elon Musk is Not Stupid
Aside from the fact that it is, of course, very reasonable to do a little less due diligence on one of the most successful entrepreneurs of our time, I would like to point out something else. Many of the people Elon is raising money from are venture capitalists, whose job has little to do with numbers. As Paul Graham, one of the most successful people in the space, put it:
I have never read a business plan or a balance sheet.
It is not that these metrics are completely irrelevant, it is just that other variables are way more important. Judging which variables really matter at the different stages of different companies is an art. Paul Graham, and most of the people in Elon’s chats, are the finest practitioners of this craft. They have, as far as that is possible, mastered it. Through years of experience and practice, they have achieved something I touched on in my essay The Death of Intellectual Curiosity: the simplicity on the other side of complexity.
🏛 The Ivy League, Mental Illness, and the Meaning of Life
William Deresiewicz explains how an elite education can lead to a cycle of grandiosity and depression.
Lauren Cassani Davis: How does the phrase “excellent sheep” describe the typical student at an elite college today?
William Deresiewicz: The most interesting thing about that phrase is that I didn’t write it myself. It came out of the mouth of a student of mine, and just seemed perfect. They’re “excellent” because they have fulfilled all the requirements for getting into an elite college, but it’s very narrow excellence. These are kids who will perform to the specifications you define, and they will do that without particularly thinking about why they’re doing it. They just know that they will jump the next hoop.
Davis: Do you see a connection between this “hoop-jumping” mindset and other trends, like mental-health issues, on college campuses?
Deresiewicz: The mental-health issues, absolutely. People have written books about this—adolescent therapists like Madeline Levine, who wrote The Price of Privilege. These students are made to understand that they have to be perfect, that they have to do everything perfectly, but they haven’t turned to themselves to ask why they’re doing it. It’s almost like a cruel experiment with animals that we’re performing—every time the red light goes on, you have to push the bar. Of course they’re stressed.
🤔 Adults Today Care Too Much What Young People Think
Desperate not to be put in the “old” category, grown-ups are unwilling to impart wisdom or exert badly needed authority.
There may be a class element to this. Growing up, I don’t recall adults caring what kids thought. Not that this is always such a great thing because parents and guardians were often neglectful or totally checked out, not really caring what kids were into or up to. School bus drivers regularly told kids to shut the fuck up. Teachers had little time for kids’ interests. There was one teacher in one of my elementary schools in 2000 who knew what Pokémon was (he didn’t pronounce it as “Po-kee Man”) and by default that made him the “cool” teacher.
The educated class seems to have gone too far in the other direction. They care too much what kids think. Poor kids have neglectful parents; rich kids have helicopter parents. For better or worse, culture is largely dictated by this educated class.
Older people in this category are now reluctant to say that they have accrued some useful knowledge to share and wisdom to impart. But there is a massive hunger among young people for this. Part of the reason they behave so erratically is to test where the line is, and to see what knowledge older people can share to steady their anxieties.
Older adults are reluctant to exert authority. They want the prestige that comes with having power, but they don’t want the responsibility of exerting it when challenged by a bunch of naive and pampered kids who have faced zero percent of real life and its attendant hardships.
Pair with: I Don’t Want American Kids
No one knows what they’re running from. You can ask them but they won’t know. What’s fucked up is that you might know better than they do. Last Friday when I first got to New York (and was therefore still a bright-eyed 22-year-old), I had lunch with a friend who sometimes attends celebrity events. I asked her if she could recognize who’s chasing status and who’s at peace with themselves. She said yes, she can tell. Then she added:
“But everyone can tell. Everyone sees everything.”
I found this invigorating and also utterly chilling.
She said that maybe ten percent of people can’t see much because they’re just too blocked by their own distractions or fears or delusions. But everyone else can look at you and they know exactly how anxious or confused or calm or conflicted you are.
And I had to agree. The guy next to me on the plane who hated American, for example, was impatient but he wasn’t actually angry or malevolent. He had helped me put my obscenely overstuffed bag in the overhead compartment when he recognized that my power lifting stance was starting to fall apart. Then he helped someone else. Then he had a series of friendly conversations on the phone. I hated hearing these conversations, of course — it’s so much harder to ignore one side of a conversation than it is to tune out two people talking. You end up filling in the gaps, solving an excruciatingly mundane mystery for no reason whatsoever. But his conversations were amiable.
Pair with: Very Important People: Status and Beauty in the Global Party Circuit
🍭 Brain Food
😱 The Overblown Implications Effect
This paper shows that we think people judge us by a single success or failure, but they don’t. If you mess up one dish, no one thinks you are a bad chef (on the other hand, one success also doesn’t matter that much)
People frequently engage in behaviors that put their competencies on display. However, do such actors understand how others view them in light of these performances?
Eight studies support an overblown implications effect (OIE): Actors overestimate how much observers think an actor’s one-off success or failure offers clear insight about a relevant competency (Study 1).
Furthermore, actors overblow performances’ implications even in prospect, before there are experienced successes or failures on which to ruminate (Studies 2 and 3).
To explain the OIE, we introduce the construct of working trait definitions—accessible beliefs about what specific skills define a general trait or competency. When actors try to adopt observers’ perspective, the narrow performance domain seems disproportionately important in defining the general trait (Study 4).
By manipulating actors’ working trait definitions to include other (unobserved) trait-relevant behaviors, we eliminated the OIE (Study 5).
The final 3 studies (Studies 6a– 6c) more precisely localized the error. Although actors and observers agreed on what a single success or failure (e.g., the quality of a single batch of cookies) could reveal about actors’ narrow competence (e.g., skill at baking cookies), actors erred in thinking observers would feel this performance would reveal a considerable amount about the more general skill (e.g., cooking ability) and related specific competencies (e.g., skill at making omelets).
Discussion centers on how the present theoretical account differs from previous explanations why metaperceptions err and identifies important open questions for future research.
🎥 What I’m Watching
😅 I Became Everything I Ever Wanted
On the problems of working on your passion.
💉 Why Use Steroids?
A good video on the philosophy of lifting.
🔧 The Tool of the Week
💊 Creatine Monohydrate
I’m happy I stopped fasting and started taking protein after working out in the morning. Now I’ll add Creatine to that and see how it goes. I used to take Creatine 5 years ago and had success with it, so I’m looking forward to reintroducing it.
If you want to learn more about Creatine, its benefits, and best practices, you can do so here.
Ps: Many of you seemed to like the part on my 40 pieces of learning last week, so I’m preparing more of that. In the meantime, this is all you need for now!
🪐 Quote I’m Pondering
There’s no such thing as a bad creation. Sometimes the seemingly bad ones have to happen for a good one to come.
— Rick Rubin
Thanks for reading!
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Until next week,