The Long Game 66: Feeling Great, Sacrifice, Cold Emails, How Asia Works

⏳ Every Hour Matters, Afghanistan, Geothermal Energy, Quantum Gravity, Russia, Khodorkovsky, Saturn, 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:

📣 We are hiring at Vital, help us build the “Strava for Health.”

In this episode, we explore:

  • Feeling Great

  • Sacrifice

  • Cold emails

  • Every hour matters

  • How Asia Works

  • Quantum gravity

Let’s dive in!

🥑 Health

🧘‍♀️ Mental Health & ‘Feeling Great’

Let’s talk about mental health this week. Even though I already talked and shared many mental health-related materials, I think the space needs to be discussed even more because it still suffers from stigma.

I came across this book review of Feeling Great, and it’s worth sharing. I haven’t read the book yet, but this review is a good introduction.

I've never had any "real" mental health problems, but sometimes I feel stressed or guilty or whatever, like everyone, and who doesn’t want to feel more good more often? So a couple months ago I read Feeling Great: The Revolutionary New Treatment for Depression and Anxiety by David Burns (published 2020) on audiobook. I was really glad I did!

If you’re interested in this topic, I’ll let you read the review. Here’s a summary of how the book changed the book review author’s framing of things (CBT stands for Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy):

My typical inner monologue before reading the book:

  1. Negative thought: I spend too much money.

  2. “Classic CBT”-ish self-talk: I don't spend too much money and/or shouldn't feel bad about it because of (long list of well-rehearsed perfectly-sensible reasons).

My typical inner monologue after reading the book:

  1. Negative thought: I spend too much money.

  2. Positive reframing: This thought has a lot of benefits for me, and it also illustrates beautiful and awesome aspects of me and my core values, for the following reasons: (1) It motivates me to remain aware about my finances, (2) and it protects me from making bad financial decisions, (3) and it demonstrates that I’m prudent, (4) and conscientious, (5) and humble, (6) and responsible, (7) and frugal, etc. etc.

  3. Magic dial: OK so it’s good that I feel that way, and I want to keep feeling that way, I just don’t want to feel that way quite so strongly and often, maybe I want to dial it down from 80% to 20%, and the 20% would still be plenty high enough to keep reaping those benefits.

  4. “Classic CBT”-ish self-talk: I don't spend too much money and/or shouldn't feel bad about it because of (long list of well-rehearsed perfectly-sensible reasons).

"It’s time for us to view mental health in that same light, something I call “Mental Wealth” rather than mental health… where it’s not a term synonymous with illness, but is an area in which even the mentally healthiest of us can still pay close attention."


🌱 Wellness

💥 Sacrifice

An idea that I keep coming back to is that happiness is not linked with the absence of problems but rather with being engaged in meaningful activities, even if those activities come with a lot of pain and discomfort.

This article is a good example:

My late father was a generous and kind man, but often morose. He was troubled about matters large and small, be they the fate of the world or the water in the basement.

I remember two times when he seemed genuinely happy. The first was when, unable to meet our family’s needs with his modest teaching salary, he took on a second job driving a bus. The other was a few years later, when he decided to advance his career—once again for the good of our family—by pursuing his Ph.D. During both periods, he was exhausted and overworked. But he smiled and laughed more than usual, and seemed untroubled by the small annoyances and big quandaries that normally brought him down. He looked back on those periods with real fondness.

This always seemed paradoxical to me: He was unhappiest when under the least pressure for money and time; he was happiest when under the most strain. But this paradox has an explanation—and in it, a happiness secret for fathers, potential fathers, and everyone else.

In modern life, we consider that more comfort = more happiness. This couldn’t be further from the truth. I don’t know precisely what led us to believe this, whether it’s from the advertising world, the consumption society with empty promises, or something else. Still, the result is problematic because people consistently chase the wrong things.

Related to this concept, this article explores why you feel at home in a crisis:

When disaster strikes, people come together. During the worst times of our lives, we can end up experiencing the best mental health and relationships with others. Here’s why that happens and how we can bring the lessons we learn with us once things get better.


🧠 Better Thinking

💌 Cold Emails

You can only get what you ask for. I enjoyed this reminder from Nik Sharma to send more cold emails. Getting a daily dose of discomfort through well-thought-out cold emails is a great way to multiply your luck.

⚡️ Startup Stuff

⏳ Every Hour Matters

Flo Crivello recently tweeted:

As often, I fully agree with Flo. As an early-stage founder, you should always have a bias toward speed. A good proxy is: how uncomfortable it feels. If the speed is comfortable, it’s going too slow.

This made me think of what must be my all-time favorite startup article: Amp It Up! by Snowflake CEO Frank Slootman. I already shared this article here, but I read it almost every week. It’s worth re-exploring often.

Somebody would ask me if he could get back to me about something next week, and I would reply ‘how about tomorrow morning? Might be completely unreasonable, did not matter. The point was to change people’s sense of urgency. We were always compressing cycle time on everything. Did we sometimes take it too far? Of course we did. You don't know what's possible until you try. Same thing applies in interactions with other stakeholders, especially customers who all have expectations about reasonable response times. It is easy to differentiate yourself by changing cycle times because few bother to do it.

Stepping up the pace doesn’t just cause people to do things faster. They start doing things differently. They become more demanding of others. This is precisely what we want in an organization. ServiceNow had a relentless ‘get shit done’ culture and they were proud of it. The culture enthusiastically embraced those who got things done, and it repelled those who did not.

📚 What I Read

🧠 If Einstein Had The Internet: An Interview With Balaji Srinivasan

If you had to follow, listen and read one person to understand how the future will look like, it should be Balaji. I enjoyed this written interview of him:

The Network is the next Leviathan

By the Network I mean the computer network, the social network, the internet, and now the crypto network. In the 1800s you wouldn’t steal because God would smite you, in the 1900s you didn’t steal because the State would punish you, but in the 2000s you can’t steal because the Network won’t let you. Either the social network will mob you, or the cryptocurrency network won’t let you steal because you lack the private key, or both.

Put another way, what’s the most powerful force on earth? In the 1800s, God. In the 1900s, the US military. And by the mid-2000s, encryption. Because as Assange put it, no amount of violence can solve certain kinds of math problems. So it doesn’t matter how many nuclear weapons you have; if property or information is secured by cryptography, the state can’t seize it without getting the solution to an equation.

🌏 How Asia Works

I’m currently at home in Morocco, and I had an interesting conversation with some friends over the weekend. The case of Thailand’s GDP per capita came. Mistakingly, some people believed that Thailand’s and Morocco’s GDP per capita was comparable. The truth is that they are not: $7,800 vs. $3,200. This made me think of one of my favorite books: How Asia Works.

This book review is a great place to start:

What was the best thing that ever happened? From a very zoomed-out, by-the-numbers perspective, it has to be China's sudden lurch from Third World basketcase to dynamic modern economy. A billion people went from starving peasants to the middle class. In the 1960s, sixty million people died of famine in the Chinese countryside; by the 2010s, that same countryside was criss-crossed with the world's most advanced high-speed rail network, and dotted with high-tech factories.

And the best thing that ever happened kept happening, again and again. First it was Japan during the Meiji Restoration. Then it was Korea and Taiwan in the 1960s. Then China in the 90s. Now Vietnam and others seem poised to follow.

There was nothing predetermined about this. These countries started with nothing. In 1950, South Korea and Taiwan were poorer than Honduras or the Congo. But they managed to break into the ranks of the First World even while dozens of similar countries stayed poor. Why?

As a follow-up, you can read this: What Studwell got wrong

In fact, How Asia Works may have made a more general mistake by focusing only on failures when it came to Southeast Asian countries and contrasting these with successes in Northeast Asian countries. This opened the book to one big criticism — the hypothesis that Northeast Asia simply has advantages that Southeast Asia lacks, and that these advantages, not better policy, explain the differing growth outcomes.

But over the last decade, Southeast Asian countries have showed some signs of starting to catch up with their neighbors to the north:

🌋 ‘Drill, Baby, Drill’ Is the Future

Geothermal energy might be the clean source of energy we’re desperately looking for:

So why are so few talking about deep geothermal? Eco-warriors seem to pine only for solar panels, carbon sinks and bird-slicing wind turbines. Maybe because anything having to do with drilling is considered dirty, even if deep geothermal is carbon-free. The knock on enhanced geothermal systems is the same as for fracking: Critics go on about the risk of seismic activity. But according to Mr. Sharma, that’s a canard. He says seismic activity from fracking wells is “fairly uncommon” and would be even less so with deep geothermal, because the wells are much deeper and you’re merely “circulating fluids” after the initial drilling to create the underground hot reservoir.

It’s early but, like fracking, this technology could change the energy industry over the next 20 to 30 years. Those that can absorb the risk could see huge rewards. Mark Twain once said, “Go to Heaven for the climate, Hell for the company.” Maybe toward hell for both. Drill, baby, drill.

For more, check out Eli Dourado’s piece on the state of geothermal energy.

🇦🇫 State Collapse and Nation Building in Afghanistan

Peter Turchin on the collapse of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan:

In other words, the United States has been nation-building in Afghanistan for nearly 20 years, although not quite in the intended way. The new governing elites, especially the younger ones who fought in the field, rather than directed things from Pakistan, share great asabiya (Ibn Khaldun’s term for group solidarity). They are also consolidated by their religion (which is another important factor, according to Ibn Khaldun and modern social science). The previous regime, led by Karzai and Ghani, has been thoroughly discredited as corrupt and dysfunctional. Finally, don’t forget the war fatigue factor. After 20 years of social and political instability the overwhelming majority of the population just wants it to end, even though many may not like the harsh version of Islam that Taliban will impose. This, clearly, explains why the take-over by Taliban was so rapid and, to a large degree, with so little resistance. In short, I fully expect Taliban to be successful in building the new state in Afghanistan. We may not like it, but we will have to live with it.

🎙 Podcast Episode of the Week

This week in Podcast:

🍭 Brain Food

🌌 Was Einstein wrong? Why some astrophysicists are questioning the theory of space-time

The vast majority of the theories we base our science on will be proven wrong at some point. That’s how science works. I’m always surprised to hear scientists claim that some fundamental theories can’t be proven wrong or that we won’t find new elements in space, for example.

I liked this article explaining that scientists are looking for a theory of quantum gravity:

This may all sound incredibly esoteric, something only academics should care about, but it could have a more profound effect on our everyday lives. "We sit in space, we travel through time, and if something changes in our understanding of space-time this will impact not only on our understanding of gravity, but of quantum theory in general," said Hossenfelder. "All our present devices only work because of quantum theory. If we understand the quantum structure of space-time better that will have an impact on future technologies — maybe not in 50 or 100 years, but maybe in 200," she said.

The current monarch is getting long in tooth, and a new pretender is long overdue, but we can't decide which of the many options is the most likely to succeed. When we do, the resulting revolution could bear fruit not just for theoretical physics, but for all. 

🎥 What I’m Watching

🇷🇺 Citizen K

All about Russia this week: I remember watching Khodorkovsky in 2011, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I found the story of this man fascinating. There’s a new documentary on the man that I also enjoyed and recommend.

📉 What Would Happen if Russia Collapsed?

🔧 The Tool of the Week

📅 Saturn Calendar

I came across the social calendar Saturn this week. I found the product very interesting. It’s currently targeting students, so I didn’t try it yet, but I believe that, at some point, social will win every consumer vertical.

🪐 Quote I'm Pondering

"Your skill in decision-making is directly proportional to your quality of information acquisition. So, how good are you at making decisions? How good are you at acquiring information?"

Tobi Lütke

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👋 EndNote

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Until next week,

Mehdi Yacoubi

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