The Long Game 142: Focusing on Physical Performance, Teen Mental Health Epidemic, Risk & Regret, Consumer Products
🛸 UFOs, My 8 Best Techniques for Evaluating Character, Why aren't smart people happier, Competition, Aeropress, and Much More!
In this episode, we explore:
Focusing on physical performance
The teen mental health epidemic
Risk and regret
Let’s dive in!
🚴♀️ Focusing on Physical Performance
As a follow-up to the last two editions on over-optimization and fragility, I really liked this tweet that’s perfectly aligned with what I’ve been focused on lately: physical performance.
I’m all for optimization and taking care of health in a preventive way, but it quickly gets gimmicky, extreme, and so on. I find that focusing on physical performance provides almost all the benefits of extreme tracking while minimizing the obsession and feeling of having this whole “health burden.”
Time and time again, if you listen to health podcasts, you’ll hear that athletes are doing extremely well on most measures of health.
It’s also interesting to me that more and more normal people (read people that aren’t making a living being athletes) are getting really serious about their sports and are genuine athletes. Think about all the triathletes, powerlifters, crossfitters, marathon runners, etc. These people devote a lot of time and effort to their passion, and it’s understandable because, on top of making you healthier and fitter, these pursuits are fulfilling and usually the source of a community around you.
I’m not saying that focusing solely on your sport will make you the healthiest (there are issues of overuse injuries, imbalance from your sport, etc.). Still, it seems to me that it’s a time that’s better invested rather than spending hours reading dozens of forums, taking 50 supplements, and being obsessed with your diet & other protocols.
Add on top of that an early diagnostic approach and a soft but powerful tracking and monitoring of health data in the background, alerting you if needed, and that would be a great recipe: the real optimization of a person, taking into account the mental burden of too radical alternative approaches.
Ps: if you’re looking for a health & fitness community to hold you accountable in your journey, join us on Vital!
😰 The Teen Mental Illness Epidemic Began Around 2012
Jon Haidt has a great piece on the origins of the teen mental health epidemic that began around 2012.
The piece first covers common objections to Haidt’s hypothesis. Mainly the idea that it was always like that and that this idea is part of a larger moral panic that arises in response to any new consumer product.
But if you take that as your null hypothesis, then you should be open to evidence that the null hypothesis is false and this time is different. Anecdotes about kids who began cutting themselves the week after going on Instagram won’t do. You’ll want to see peer-reviewed studies and high-quality surveys showing 1) that there is in fact an epidemic of mental illness and 2) that phones and social media are substantial contributing causes. I am currently writing a book that makes both of these arguments: Kids In Space: Why Teen Mental Health is Collapsing.
If you read only one section, make it this one:
Increases in Self-Reported Depression and Anxiety
Section 1 of the Collaborative Review summarizes self-report surveys that have been conducted at regular time intervals since 2010 or earlier. Do members of Gen Z say that their mental health is declining? Yes, in every study we can find. We cannot find any studies on the other side. I will focus today’s post on data from the United States. I’ll have a future post on what’s happening internationally, showing that the same patterns are happening in largely the same way at roughly the same time in Canada, the UK, Australia, and New Zealand, and I’ll share with you what Zach and I are learning about other countries beyond the Anglosphere.
Here are two of the graphs you’ll find in section 1 of the Collaborative Review document:
Figure 2. NSDUH data, graphed in 1.1.2 Twenge, Cooper, Joiner, Duffy, & Binau (2019), and re-graphed with more recent data by Haidt. Currently on p. 12 of the Collaborative Review doc.
As you can see in Figure 2, and in most of the Figures in the review doc, there was no sign of a problem before 2010, and the epidemic is well underway by 2015. You can also see that the rate of depression is much higher in girls, as is the absolute increase (since 2010 an additional 18% of girls suffered from depression in 2021, compared to an additional 6% of boys), however, the relative increase is similar in both sexes: around 150%. The rate had more than doubled before the covid epidemic. The 2020 data were collected in early 2020, just before covid restrictions, and the 2021 data were collected a year later before vaccines were widely available. You can see that covid accelerated the rise in depression in that last year, but it was already rising really fast.
Figure 3. American College Health Association (2019), National College Health Assessment. Study 1.1.17, currently on p. 36 of the Collaborative Review doc.
Figure 3 comes from a very different source: the mental health clinics on hundreds of college campuses. You can see once again that there’s not much to see before 2010, but the epidemic is in full gear by 2015. You can also see that while rates of all disorders have increased, the increases are largest, in both relative and absolute terms, for mood disorders, a class of mental illness that is made up primarily of depression and anxiety disorders (which includes anorexia). In 2019, just before covid, one in four American college students suffered from an anxiety disorder, compared to just one in ten back in 2010. The rate may be higher today.
Section 1 of the collaborative review shows that according to the kids themselves, the kids are not alright. What happens when we ignore what they say and look at what they do?
I asked on Twitter what people thought was causing this, and it got a lot of responses. Mainly: Instagram, Tinder, and social media at large.
🧠 Better Thinking
Some thoughts on risk and regret:
Jeff Bezos once described his decision to start an online bookstore in the mid-1990s:
The framework I found which made the decision incredibly easy was what I called the regret minimization framework.
I wanted to project myself forward to age 80 and look back on my life and I want to have minimized the number of regrets I have.
And I knew that when I was 80 I was not going to regret having tried this. I was not going to regret trying to participate in this thing called the internet that I thought was going to be a really big deal.
But I knew the one thing I might regret is not ever having tried.
And I knew that that would haunt me every day. So when I thought about it that way it was an incredibly easy decision.
This is great. Most people don’t have the personality that can quickly move on from a failed project you’ve devoted your life to, but maybe he does. The important thing is that he knew it. Or maybe he would have been devastated if Amazon failed, but by age 80 he would laugh about it with no regrets. That’s equally important to know about yourself.
The other side of this is that most ordinary people can afford to not be a great investor, but they can’t afford to be a terrible one. Warren Buffett once remarked on the failed hedge fund Long Term Capital Management and said, “If you risk what you need in order to gain what you don’t need, that is foolish. It’s just plain foolish.” I also like the saying, “‘YOLO’ is just as good a reason to not do something.”
We spend so much time trying to quantify risk when the answer is just figuring out what you will or won’t regret. The anonymous Twitter account FedSpeak wrote, “The purpose of life is to experience things for which you will later experience nostalgia.” The opposite of regret.
⚡️ Startup Stuff
🔮 Consumer Products
I liked this tweet about building a consumer product. It’s very hard to measure things at the earliest stages, and it’s really more about vision, instinct, and taste. The hardest part is that it’s often non-linear, meaning you can’t tell if it’s trending in the right direction before it actually hits.
📚 What I Read
Rivalry can be healthy, actually:
I want to explore the light side of competition—how to integrate competitiveness healthily into your life without sacrificing the edge it gives you. The reframe, though, is that your competitiveness only gives you an edge against yourself—which is the only person you should (and ultimately can) concern yourself with beating. The point of competing is not to beat anyone in particular, but to perform at the highest level you can. This is why competitive sports are broken up by age/level/weight class/whatever the clustering mechanism is—you’re meant to compete against the people most like you.
Competitors are just slightly augmented versions of ourselves that fall within the same band of talent as us. The people we envy the most are not the people that are 10x better than us, but the people that are 10% better than us: those performing near our level, just a few steps ahead. They are suggestions of what we could be if we just tried a little bit harder.
“These methods have helped me enormously—and can save you much heartache and anxiety”
Forget what they say—instead look at who they marry.
This is a sure-fire technique, and it tells you important things about people you can’t learn any other way. A person’s choice of a spouse—or if they aren’t married, their closest lifelong partner—is much more revealing than anything they say or do in public.
This choice tells you about their own innermost longings, expectations, and needs. It tells you what they think of themselves, and what they think they deserve in life (or will settle for). It is, I believe, the clearest indicator of priorities and values you will ever find.
So the next time you’re introduced to strangers at the party, and they start talking business, spend at least a little time sizing up their partners. If you don’t pay attention to this, you will have lost an important source of insights, and may pay a high price as a result.
A new way to think about brainpower.
Here’s one last advantage of dividing intelligence into well-defined problem-solving and poorly defined problem-solving: it reminds us to give some respect where respect is due.
We’ve got no problem fawning over people who are good at solving well-defined problems. They get to be called “professor” and “doctor.” We pay them lots of money to teach us stuff. They get to join exclusive clubs like Mensa and the Prometheus Society. (By the way, Mensa’s page explaining IQ doesn’t mention anything about the dark history of using intelligence tests to hurt people, and you might expect a bunch of smarty-pantses to, you know, use their brains to discuss things with a bit more nuance. But what do I know, I’m just a big dummy.)
People who are good at solving poorly defined problems don't get the same kind of kudos. They don’t get any special titles or clubs. There is no test they can take that will spit out a big, honking number that will make everybody respect them.
And that’s a shame. My grandma does not know how to use the “input” button on her TV’s remote control, but she does know how to raise a family full of good people who love each other, how to carry on through a tragedy, and how to make the perfect pumpkin pie. We sometimes condescendingly refer to this kind of wisdom as “folksy” or “homespun,” as if answering multiple-choice questions is real intelligence, and living a good, full life is just some down-home, gee-whiz, cutesy thing that little old ladies do.
🍭 Brain Food
Over the last few weeks, there were some interesting/troubling events related to unidentified flying objects shot by the US/Canada and, later, China.
Of course, these might not be from an alien civilization. Nevertheless, it’s a good moment to resurface these conversations:
Enjoy the listening 🛸
Pair with: Fire in the Sky
🎥 What I’m Watching
🤫 Body Transformations Exposed
How good pictures can be “faked.”
🌐 Vitalik on Starting New Countries and Improving Yourself | The Network State Podcast with Balaji #1
🔧 The Tool of the Week
I bought an Aeropress years ago and had it sitting in a drawer at home. I restarted using it, and it’s still a fantastic tool for preparing great coffee.
🪐 Quote I’m Pondering
Wise people step on big and growing troubles early.
Thanks for reading!
If you like The Long Game, please share it on social media or forward this email to someone who might enjoy it. You can also “like” this newsletter by clicking the ❤️ just below, which helps me get visibility on Substack.
Until next week,