The Long Game 38: The Oxygen Advantage, Efficiency, Writing, Truth Over Ego, Existential Risks

📈 r/WallStreetBets, Fluent Forever, Beauty, Forest App, and Much More!

Hi there, it’s Mehdi Yacoubi, co-founder at lifetizr, and this is The Long Game Newsletter.

If you missed the past episodes, you could catch up here.

In this episode, we explore:

  • The Oxygen Advantage

  • Is Efficiency Dangerous?

  • Thinking in Bets

  • Writing like the great entrepreneurs

  • Learning a new language

  • Existential risks

Let’s dive in!

🥑 Health

🔗 Assorted Links

I currently have two ongoing projects related to my health:

  • Fix my back pain

  • Improve my breathing

These two projects aren’t finished yet (I’m happy to say that the back pain is 95% fixed—I’m preparing a detailed article to share how I did it) but I thought I’d share some resources about breathing today.

After reading Breath by James Nestor, I got really interested in improving my breathing because let’s be honest, what activity is more important than breathing? None. So it seems like a great idea to get good at it. I picked up The Oxygen Advantage by Patrick McKeown, and it’s a great follow up reading after Breath. It gives exercises you can practice to improve your breathing efficiency. I’m at the beginning of the journey, so I won’t say more for now, but I already tried to go for runs breathing only from the nose (as recommended in the book), and it’s very hard!

The purpose of the book is to return you to how you were meant to live and breathe. The author will teach you simple methods that will counteract bad breathing habits, unearthing a new well of cardiovascular fitness that will improve your overall health and well-being. Serious athletes will achieve new performance levels, fitness enthusiasts will unleash untapped potential, and those still trying to manage their health will overcome barriers to a more healthful lifestyle.

Modern living gradually increases the amount of air we breathe, and while getting more oxygen into our lungs might seem like a good idea, it is in fact light breathing that is a testament to good health and fitness. Think of an overweight tourist and an Olympian both arriving for the Summer Games. As they picked up their luggage and carried it up a flight of stairs, whom would you expect to be huffing and puffing? Certainly not the Olympian.

🌱 Wellness

🏎 Is Efficiency Dangerous?

As a society, we worship efficiency. Being more productive, doing more with less, multitasking, same-day delivery, everything around us seems to be geared towards efficiency and tries to remove inefficiency.

This pursuit comes from economics:

Economists teach us that increased efficiency is the major way to improve our standard of living. If your company gives you a pay rise without becoming more efficient, it will also have to raise its prices to make up the shortfall.

We already saw the limits of efficiency at all costs in financial markets:

If the financial crisis taught us that we had become too efficient with our transactions, what of the COVID-19 pandemic? Why hadn’t we stockpiled key supplies and machines, built up hospital capacity, or ensured the robustness of our supply chains? The reason, of course, is that it would have been seen as inefficient and profit-robbing.

Now the question is: what about the individual level? Is all this frenzy around productivity leaving us feeling worse than ever?

This question is one of the rare occasions where I hold two seemingly contradictory beliefs simultaneously. As you might know by now, I like productivity, and I dream of things like life extension and space exploration, which will require an insane amount of work and productivity to reach meaningful results. At the same time, I see some beauty in taking things easy, slowing down, and accepting the necessary frictions in our lives and the system.

I don’t know exactly how to reconcile these life philosophies yet.

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🧠 Better Thinking

🏇 Thinking in Bets

Recently, I read Thinking in Bets by Annie Duke, and I loved it. It’s a great book to help you improve your decision-making process and avoid bad decisions. I already mentioned the book last week, but it deserves more than that.

Here are some notes about ideas I found particularly interesting and important:

  • Distinguish the quality of a decision and the result of it.

  • Information that disagrees with us is an assault on our self-narrative. We are wired to protect our beliefs. The smarter you are, the worst it is.

  • The more we consider decisions as a bet, the closer we can get to the truth. We make things explicit.

  • By thinking in terms of % of certainty, it helps consider the information that contradicts our beliefs because we don’t have to go from right to wrong, but only from 55 to 48, for example.

  • Be careful not to assess the process depending on your results.

  • A great tip to improve our decisions: Instead of feeling bad when we made a mistake, what if the bad feeling came from the thought that we might be missing a learning opportunity just to avoid blame.

  • When you’re after the truth, it can be complicated to be around people that aren’t seeking the truth. Not everyone around you needs to take the red pill— truth-seeking is not a cult. Some people in your life can play a balancing role.

  • In the echo chamber era, truth-seeking is hard work.

  • Use backcasting: imagine you reach your goal, how did you do it? Then, walk backward from there.

  • Use premortems: imagine you didn’t achieve your goal, what went wrong? Plan for these setbacks to improve your odds of success.

Many of these ideas are similar to what we already covered in the “Better Thinking” section of this newsletter over the last months. The reason is that the ingredients are not complicated. The application is.

  • It’s very hard not to dismiss immediately something coming from a person you have a very low opinion of.

  • It’s very hard not to take full credit when something turns out particularly well.

  • It’s very hard not to blame a bad outcome on others or on a “black swan event.”

My biggest takeaway is that if you want to make better decisions, you need to leave your ego at the door and retrain yourself to be obsessed with the truth. For example, in a debate with friends, look for the opportunity to change your mind on some ideas instead of looking to “win the debate.”

Enjoy being wrong, and quickly update your views once proven wrong.

⚡️ Startup Stuff

✍️ How to Write Life the Great Entrepreneurs

When teams are more global and distributed, and in-person meetings almost non-existent, writing is more important than ever. It helps communicate clearly, and perhaps above all, think clearly. Chances are, if you can’t write it well, you can’t think it well.

If you can’t write, you can’t raise money. Or recruit. Or sell.

Nivi gives great writing advice in this article, inspired by the writings of Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, and Warren Buffet:

  1. Writing is a customer service problem.

  2. Pretend you’re sending an email.

  3. Sum it up in a tweet.

  4. Read it on your phone.

  5. Don’t write your thought process.

  6. Start with a summary.

  7. Writing is rewriting.

  8. Delete half the words.

  9. Avoid adjectives.

  10. Scrutinize every word for bias.

  11. Kill your darlings.

  12. Don’t apologize.

  13. Use persuasion checklists.

  14. Skim Strunk & White.

  15. Break the rules once you learn the rules.

  16. Writing is a design problem.

My favorites from this list are “Avoid adjectives” and “Scrutinize every word for bias and rhetoric.” Instead here’s what you can do:

  • Use numbers. An adjective is an admission that you don’t know the number.

  • Are they an ‘unruly mob’ or ‘patriots’? Perhaps neither—just call them by their name. Argue the other side of every word, at least to yourself.

Here are other great writing tips from Amazon.

📚 What I Read

🌍 Learning a New Language: Fluent Forever

One of my goals for this year is to learn Serbian. As I started laying out a learning plan, I asked for recommendations on Twitter, and the book Fluent Forever by Gabriel Wyner was recommended to me. It gives a great method to learn a new language and avoid wasting time on useless learning techniques.

A good method to quickly master a language is:

  • iTalki Classes — for pronunciation and conversation.

  • Anki Flashcards with ~ 3000 words — to have enough vocabulary. Frequency dictionaries are handy to find the most important words to learn.

  • A textbook — for grammar.

On the same topic of language learning, I went down the rabbit hole and found other great resources:

Let me know if you successfully learned a new language recently!

📈 /r/WallStreetBets is trying something unprecedented in history

Most of us followed the crazy events around r/WallStreetBets and Game Stock this week. This is a great write up by Eliezer Yudkowsky explaining what happened and why it’s very important for the future of finance.

The last I heard, Gamestop had 130% short interest outstanding. That is, short-sellers have collectively borrowed, and now collectively owe, 130% as much Gamestop stock as exists anywhere.

🎙 Podcast Episode of the Week

Here are some episodes I enjoyed lately:

🍭 Brain Food

🌞 The Greatest Privilege We Never Talk About: Beauty

There have been a lot of discussions around privilege and inequalities lately, mostly about race, gender, or sexuality. One dimension that’s very rarely mentioned is beauty. This article does a great job at showing that beauty might be the single most important privilege there is.

Of course, beauty has a lot of importance in dating—that won’t surprise you—but it goes far beyond that:

Attractive people are more likely to be seen as competent and be hired for a job (Busetta, 2013). They are perceived as smarter and having more social grace (Kanasawa, 2010). They are perceived to have better personality qualities like trustworthiness (Dewolf 2014). They are perceived as kinder (Snyder, Tanke and Berscheid 1977). They are more persuasive. They are more likely to benefit from acts of kindness from a stranger. They have greater self esteem (Thornton, 1991).

This bias for beauty can cause real harm. For example, a meta-analysis of the role of attractiveness in criminal sentencing showed that unattractive people received 120—320 % longer sentences than attractive people.

Why aren’t we talking more about this? The first reason is a generalized denial when it comes to physical beauty.

Another explanation is that our biases towards attractive people are so ingrained in our animal brains that we can’t actually change them. Things like racism, sexism, homophobia are mostly socially constructed, and social mores can evolve. Prejudices of the past can become celebrated points of pride. Gen Z children are more sensitive to transphobia in a way that millennial children were not. Millennial children were more sensitive to homophobia in a way that Gen X were not. And so on. But when it comes to physical beauty, has much changed?

🎥 What I’m Watching

☢️ Existential Risks

Since I read The Precipice by Toby Ord, I can’t stop thinking about existential risks. He estimates that nuclear war and climate change each pose more risk than all the natural risks combined and that risks from emerging technologies are higher. Altogether, Ord believes humanity faces a 1 in 6 chance of existential catastrophe by the end of the century.

Most people I know don’t like to think about this, and I totally get it—imagining a doomsday scenario isn’t the most appealing activity—but if no one does anything, how can we avoid the potential large-scale catastrophes resulting from our increasing technological power?

One thing I find concerning is that most people don’t think long term and at the civilization level as this paper suggests:

We conclude that an important reason why people do not find extinction uniquely bad is that they focus on the immediate death and suffering that the catastrophes cause for fellow humans, rather than on the long-term consequences. Finally, we find that (d) laypeople—in line with prominent philosophical arguments—think that the quality of the future is relevant: they do find extinction uniquely bad when this means forgoing a utopian future.

Why are existential risks more important now than ever before, you might ask. Well, that’s because our destructive capacity grew exponentially since the industrial revolution, but our wisdom didn’t.

This video is a great way to understand the risks, both natural and, human-made we’re facing.

🔧 The tool of the Week

🌳 Forest — Stay Focused Be Present

I started using Forest this week. It’s a simple app that gamifies the process of not using your phone. All I can say is that it works for me. My screen time is down 50%. Each time that I’d automatically check my phone, I see a tree growing, and I just put my phone back where it was! Simple and powerful.

🪐 Quote I'm Pondering

Ignorance and arrogance are the artist and entrepreneur's indispensable allies. She must be clueless enough to have no idea how difficult her enterprise is going to be-and cocky enough to believe she can pull it off anyway.

— Steven Pressfield

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👋 EndNote

Thanks for reading!

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Until next week,

Mehdi Yacoubi

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