Discover more from The Long Game by Mehdi Yacoubi
The Long Game 149: The Side Effects of Tracking, Workism, Coolness, Being Misunderstood, Why Dreams Matter
💄 The Class Politics of Instagram Face, The Status Trap, Becky is Depressed, Workout Drink and Much More!
In this episode, we explore:
The side effect of tracking
The strength of being misunderstood
Why dreams matter
Let’s dive in!
🤯 The Side Effects of Tracking
This week, I wanted to share something that I’ve noticed more and more lately.
A lot of people are starting to wake up to the fact that health tracking & "optimization" comes with a significant mental/psychological load.
I don't think the answer is no tracking at all, but a lot of the current ways have to change for tracking to be a net benefit.
Related to this topic, this paper explores some of the issues related to tracking:
The potential negative side effects of wearable devices... 3 trends:
Datatification - "feeling controlled by numbers"
Economisation - "stress and negative self-appraisal"
Individualisation - "externalised motivation"
Don’t get me wrong: tracking has helped me tremendously with health and fitness, but I think it wouldn’t be wise to ignore the growing trend of people fed up with this constant data about themselves.
Some people asked me how that impacts what we’re building at Vital. There are many ways to answer this, but first, I must say that the main reason we pivoted initially from a health & nutrition tracking tool to a social health app was precisely because we felt that data & tracking were getting boring and annoying after a while.
We are still enabling tracking on the app, but we’re more focused on the community & social side of things. This allows users to find accountability partners, motivate their friends & family and learn from other users.
There is still a small component where people can find themselves anxious about their data/performance and obsess over it, which we’re actively trying to fix. An example could be that some people can benefit from not constantly being presented with their live data and would instead benefit way more from a weekly breakdown removing a significant part of the variance.
💌 Let me know if you have some other suggestions!
I found this article important and worth sharing.
Workism is rooted in the belief that employment can provide everything we have historically expected from organized religion.
The story of how work became a new religion:
As the managerial revolution created a sense of professional progress, the decline of organized religion and social integration in the 20th century left many Americans bereft of any sense of spiritual progress. For some, work rose to fill the void. Many highly educated workers in the white-collar economy feel that their job cannot be “just a job” and that their career cannot be “just a career”: Their job must be their calling.
What’s wrong with that? Perhaps nothing. Some people simply love their job, and it would be ridiculous for me to tell them that actually, they are quietly suffering from some disease they cannot perceive. But many of them are also adherents to a cult of productivity and achievement, wherein anything short of finding one’s vocational soulmate amounts to a wasted life. They have founded a new kind of religion—one that valorizes work, career, and achievement above all else. And it’s making them a little bit crazy.
Here’s a comprehensive look at “workism”:
I call this new religion “workism.” Workism is not a simple evil or virtue; rather, it’s a complex phenomenon. It is rooted in the belief that work can provide everything we have historically expected from organized religion: community, meaning, self-actualization. And it is characterized by the irony that, in a time of declining trust in so many institutions, we expect more than ever from the companies that employ us—and that, in an age of declining community attachments, the workplace has, for many, become the last community standing. This might be why more companies today feel obligated to serve on the front lines in political debates and culture-war battles.
The credo that work should be the centerpiece of one’s identity quietly governs several stages of modern life. For many children and their parents, it has created an obsession with educational achievement that is igniting an anxiety crisis. For adults, it leads to overwork in the labor force and less time focused on family, friends, and personal pursuits.
In some cases, the worship of work squeezes out other values and relationships that are more conducive to a healthy life and community. In an era of diminishing attachments, career and work sometimes seem like the last truly universal virtues. In a 2019 Pew Research Center survey, roughly half of Americans said that the most important part of a fulfilling life is work that provides joy and meaning. Less than a third said the same about being in a committed relationship or having children. Well, one might say, that’s just one report. But this week, a widely circulated Wall Street Journal survey found that traditional values such as patriotism, marriage, and community seem to be falling out of favor. Although the headline and viral graphs almost certainly exaggerate the degree of decline, the underlying survey found that one virtue finished first, above tolerance, community, and even self-fulfillment: “hard work.”
🧠 Better Thinking
Here’s a great piece on coolness and its counterintuitive nature.
pursuing cool only confuses you
Sometimes we need to take the long way home on these life lessons—but let me spoil the end of this coolness journey for you. Conforming to what is in, or what you think people will think is cool, just makes you more confused about who you genuinely are. Self-acceptance is the natural source of coolness. It is a renewable resource. The more you accept yourself, the cooler you become. Trends are non-renewable—any coolness you source from them will expire—and you will be forever stuck looking for something new to imitate. When you learn that the coolest parts of you are the parts you are covering up with the stuff that you think makes you cool, you’ll shed everything and just be yourself.
Let your life reflect your true self. Lean into the quirks in your style. Let your interests roam free. Be passionate about what you love, about who you love. Lean into your weird. Say what you want to say. Do what you want to do. Feed your curiosity. Befriend the people you actually align with, instead of “cool” people that hold social signal value.
coolness is your inner truth, expressed
Coolness comes from within. It starts with self-acceptance > which leads to individuality > which leads to the development of taste > which leads to self-expression > which is the essence of coolness. We cultivate coolness by going inwards. When you’re being your true self, cool radiates off of you in waves. People sense it immediately and ask you how you do it. You shrug and say you’re just being yourself. Because there are no shortcuts to coolness. There is just the process of becoming who you truly are. Your existence is the essence of your coolness. So, try less. Be more. Your coolness will come naturally :).
"Anybody who cares less about wanting to be cool, I think, is more interesting."
– Aimee Mann
⚡️ Startup Stuff
This is a great article to re-read frequently for anyone building something hard.
A founder recently asked me how to stop caring what other people think. I didn’t have an answer, and after reflecting on it more, I think it's the wrong question.
Almost everyone cares what someone thinks (though caring what everyone thinks is definitely a mistake), and it's probably important. Caring too much makes you a sheep. But you need to be at least a little in tune with others to do something useful for them.
It seems like there are two degrees of freedom: you can choose the people whose opinions you care about (and on what subjects), and you can choose the timescale you care about them on. Most people figure out the former  but the latter doesn’t seem to get much attention.
The most impressive people I know care a lot about what people think, even people whose opinions they really shouldn’t value (a surprising numbers of them do something like keeping a folder of screenshots of tweets from haters). But what makes them unusual is that they generally care about other people’s opinions on a very long time horizon—as long as the history books get it right, they take some pride in letting the newspapers get it wrong.
You should trade being short-term low-status for being long-term high-status, which most people seem unwilling to do. A common way this happens is by eventually being right about an important but deeply non-consensus bet. But there are lots of other ways–the key observation is that as long as you are right, being misunderstood by most people is a strength not a weakness. You and a small group of rebels get the space to solve an important problem that might otherwise not get solved.
 In the memorable words of Coco Chanel, “I don’t care what you think about me. I don’t think about you at all.”
📚 What I Read
Waking up from a dream is like gazing at a strange polaroid that’s still developing. Perhaps there’s a fuzzy cat, a supernatural gas station, a lost wallet, or fresh tracks from an adventure across worlds unbound by convention. When I come across papers by neuroscientists that describe the activity of dreaming as random, I laugh. Such opinions are amusing, but also concerning. Dreams reveal our relationship with ourselves—conflicted as that may be—and to outright dismiss our mental landscape as mere randomness is bleak. It smacks of that delightful stage of research in the ‘70s, when only 2% of human DNA appeared to have an obvious function, and the geneticist Susumu Ohno declared the remainder to be “junk DNA,” as if it were entirely plausible that our trillions of cells wasted 98% of their energy to carefully preserve and transcribe a code of mostly space-hogging junk. How did that hold up? Well, it’s since been demonstrated that “junk DNA” does indeed play a critical, indispensible evolutionary role in mammalian development. Nature must lol at our explanatory hubris.
When our status is challenged, our body reacts like it's in physical danger. If you don't learn how to manage that reaction, you may find yourself in the status trap—endlessly chasing status as a way to try to feel safe and whole.
I experienced this myself when running my first company. We had been bootstrapping for a year when a competitor entered the space and raised $10 million.
This brought up a lot of insecurity. I was in my early 20s, with no real connections to mainstream investors. Our competitor was run by an ex-VC. Comparing myself to them, I felt like an outsider—like we were missing something or approaching the business wrong.
Years later, when I exited the company, this feeling stayed with me. I threw my energy into coming up with product ideas, hoping to start something new and get into YC. If I could do that, it felt like I’d finally be in the inner circle of tech and could call myself a Legit Founder™.
Pair with: Luxury Beliefs are Status Symbols
Jonathan Haidt and his team say teenage girls are depressed because they use social media too much. It could also be that girls are depressed because the outlooks for girls have deteriorated
No more roses for Becky
In fact, almost every statistic Haidt and his associates present point to the fact that the most depressed teenagers are those that incels would call Beckies (or future Beckies). In incel terminology, a Stacy is a highly attractive, higher status woman. A Becky is an only moderately attractive woman of only moderate social status. Incels accuse Beckies of striving for the highest status men while ignoring men on their own level.
When I was a teenager, I often noticed the ordinariness of the girls who made it and became the girlfriends of boys with high social status. There was no way I could predict who would become a high status girlfriend, once I had sorted out the very uncool, the freaks (like myself) and the least attractive third or so. Misogyny definitely existed 20 years ago. But I think no one would have gotten the idea to invent slurs for entirely ordinary young women. Girls could be looked down on for being unusually ugly, unusually fat or unusually freakish. But not for being averagely attractive. Everyone agreed that young women were attractive in themselves. People still believed in love a bit, so there was an expectation that every reasonably attractive girl would sooner or later catch the attention of a young man, who would appreciate her particular qualities.
It could be that the moderately attractive girls, with moderate outlooks for social status, get depressed because they spend too much time glued to their phones. It could also be that those girls are staring at their screens out of malaise, because ordinary girls aren't much appreciated anymore. Those girls know they are ordinary and have few realistic hopes of becoming something else. So they are killing their time through watching screen media.
Pair with: why is modern dating so hard?
If you’ve been lucky enough to have had a deep relationship with another human being, you know what pure attention and witness feel like. The poet David Whyte said that "the ultimate touchstone of friendship is not improvement, neither of the other nor of the self. The ultimate touchstone is witness, the privilege of having been seen by someone, and the equal privilege of being granted the sight of the essence of another, to have walked with them, and to have believed in them, and sometimes, just to have accompanied them, for however brief a span, on a journey impossible to accomplish alone". I can play all the iterated vulnerability games I want with someone, but I only truly feel well with them if we’ve reached the plateau state where both parties feel intrinsically worthy of the other’s attention. Weil said that “absolutely unmixed attention is prayer”. To attend to something properly is to resacralize it.
I’m partly fascinated by attention because my own is awful. I flit between thought to thought, a moth thirsty for light. Like many others, my attention has been challenged by the pandemic. Most of the discourse on attention is framed in terms of productivity. Someone told me anxiously over dinner last week that she isn’t able to focus on her work like she used to be able to. I reassure her, and think to myself that attention is important for all sorts of other reasons. When I walked through the subway to meet her at this restaurant, I felt the skin of my scalp tightening under the hum of the bright fluorescent lights, and my shoulder muscles squeeze in response to an especially dirty stairwell. Now that I am sitting here in a warmly lit space with a new friend, my body is looser, and more porous in some ways. I take on the lilt of her speech. Trying to articulate a novel thought, I feel my way towards the right handle with the entirety of my body, imagine how words would taste in my mouth, how they fit the shape of this new uncharted luminosity. Sometimes, the precise phrase comes easily. Other times, I bumble, throw words around, see what sticks. In these awkward moments when the right words do not arise, if I’m comfortable with who I’m with, I simply hold my tongue.
🍭 Brain Food
Plastic surgery is changing, and for an obvious reason: When in history have rich women ever wanted to look like regular ones?
This is a fascinating article about cosmetic surgery in the age of Instagram.
At a restaurant in Miami last month, dining beside my husband, I examined the women around me for what people refer to as Instagram Face. The chiseled nose, the overfilled lips, the cheeks scooped of buccal fat, eyes and brows thread-lifted high as the frescoed ceiling. Many of the women had it, and thus resembled each other. But not all of them. Not, for example, me.
Critics call this trend just another sign of our long march toward a doomed, globalized sameness. A uniform suite of cosmetic procedures, popularized by social media, apps and filters, accelerated by both natural insecurity and injectables’ dropping costs. One by one, they hint, women will give in and undergo them. Until we all look identical, just like our restaurants do, and our hotels, and our airports, in our creep toward homogenization which we’ve somehow mistaken for a worthwhile life.
They’re wrong, because in their focus on uniformity, they’ve forgotten the premise of cosmetic work in the first place. Distinction. Good face, like good taste, has a direction: downward. The success of Instagram Face, its ubiquity, isn’t the start of cyborg aesthetics. It’s the end of it. Because what might save us from such apocalyptic beauty is something almost too ugly to say out loud: When in history have rich women ever wanted to look like regular ones?
Pair with: Ashley Mears on Status and Beauty
🎥 What I’m Watching
🇺🇸 Why California Has So Many Problems
🏋️♀️ 7 “STUPID” Lessons I Learned To GAIN 25+ Lbs of MASS (So Can You Bro)
Bald Omni-Man is an excellent follow for legit fitness advice.
🔧 The Tool of the Week
Here’s an intra-workout drink I started using: water, honey & salt. The original electrolyte/carbs drink.
It’ll be very useful if you’re working out fasted or for a longer duration (90+ min).
🪐 Quote I’m Pondering
You have to believe that you can achieve the impossible. You have to believe that you can defy the odds.
— David Goggins
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