The Long Game 68: Zone 2 Training, the Efficiency Trap, Mimetic Desire, Optimism, Tote Bags

🥛 Whole Milk, Maybe, the Streetlight Effect, How Afghanistan Became a Failed State, Anti-Doping, 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.” We are currently looking for:

  • Senior Backend Engineer

  • Junior Frontend Engineer (Flutter)

  • Senior Designer

  • Growth Associate

Find all our openings here.

We are offering $1,000 in Bitcoin if you refer to us a candidate we end up hiring.


📰 In this episode, we explore:

  • Zone 2 training

  • The efficiency trap

  • Mimetic desire in everyday life

  • Culture resources

  • The case for optimism

  • Tote bags

Let’s dive in!


🥑 Health

🏃‍♀️ Zone 2 Training

A few months ago, after publishing the Centenarian Olympics and finding out my metabolism was far from optimal, I realized I wasn’t doing nearly enough cardio.

Especially, I wasn’t doing zone 2 training, which is arguably the best type of training for health and longevity. A good approximation for zone 2 training is to exercise at Heart Rate = 180 - age. To measure it perfectly, you’d need to monitor your lactate levels, but it’s more complicated and much more costly.

The exact definition of zone 2 training gets a bit complicated:

Zone 2 is defined as your highest metabolic output/work that you can sustain while keeping your lactate level below two millimole per liter (mmol/L)

The idea of practicing zone 2 training is to improve your mitochondrial health and your metabolic health.

180+ minutes per week of zone 2 training would be ideal if you can, with sessions of more than 45 minutes (it will leave you with plenty of time for long podcast episodes 😁). Using a controlled environment like an indoor bike or a treadmill is great because it makes it easy to target the appropriate heart rate and stay there for your sessions.

A few things important to note about zone 2:

  • Targeting the right zone is very important, and you don’t want to jump from zone 2 to zone 3 (some exceptions exists to the 180-age formula)

  • Doing zone 2 training in a fasted state is even better.

  • The best machines to train zone 2 are Bicycle, Treadmill, Rowing machine, Elliptical, Stairmaster, etc.

For a deep-dive into zone 2 training, I recommend these two podcast episodes:


🌱 Wellness

🏃 Escaping the Efficiency Trap

I already covered a few times the efficiency vs. resiliency tradeoff. Today we’re talking efficiency again because I think it’s a crucial problem in today’s society. I don’t know when the shift happened, but we started to believe that more efficiency and comfort would necessarily lead to more happiness and life satisfaction. Up to a certain point, this is true. But it also stops being true at some point, and more efficiency and comfort do not lead to a better outcome for us.

This idea is hard to reconcile with how our economy and society works. This article explains perfectly the problem:

Convenience, in other words, makes things easy, but without regard to whether easiness is truly what’s most valuable in any given context. Take those services—on which I’ve relied too much in recent years—that let you design and then remotely mail a birthday card, so you never see or touch the physical item yourself. Better than nothing, perhaps. But sender and recipient both know that it’s a poor substitute for purchasing a card in a shop, writing on it by hand and then walking to a mailbox to mail it, because contrary to the cliché, it isn’t really the thought that counts but the effort—which is to say, the inconvenience. When you render the process more convenient, you drain it of its meaning.

Modern society duped us all with the wrong idea that more convenience & comfort will necessarily lead to more happiness:

It’s true that everything runs more smoothly this way. But smoothness, it turns out, is a dubious virtue, since it’s often the unsmoothed textures of life that make it livable, helping to nurture the relationships that are crucial for mental and physical health, and for the resilience of our communities. Your loyalty to your local taxi firm is one of those delicate social threads that, multiplied thousands of times, bind a neighborhood together. Your interactions with the woman who runs the nearby Chinese takeout might feel insignificant, but they help make yours the kind of area where people still talk to one another, where tech-induced loneliness doesn’t yet reign supreme. As for Apple Pay, I like a little friction when I buy something, since it marginally increases the chance that I’ll resist a pointless purchase.


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🧠 Better Thinking

👀 The Power of Mimetic Desire in Everyday Life

I came across the book Wanting by Luke Burgis. I found it to be a great explanation and interpretation of mimesis and a powerful exploration of why we want what we want and how to stop chasing unfulfilling desires.

A framing that I found interesting and important is that you should live as if you have responsibility for what other people want. For example, you can influence people to get involved in projects that will improve our future and life on Earth through your life and actions.

“Tactic 15

LIVE AS IF YOU HAVE A RESPONSIBILITY FOR WHAT OTHER PEOPLE WANT

Through our relationships, we help other people with their wants in one of three ways: we help them want more, we help them want less, or we help them want differently.

There is no person we encounter—not even in the most uninteresting interaction of our day—whom we do not help desire in one of these three ways. The changes are usually imperceptible. But like a giant flywheel, we are gently nudging other people’s desires in one or another direction.

Living with an awareness of mimetic desire brings with it the responsibility to defuse rivalry and to model positive desires in small ways daily.”


⚡️ Startup Stuff

📕 Culture Resources

As I was writing the Vital Culture Deck recently, I found some great resources to get inspiration from. After reading No Rules Rules, I particularly liked Netflix’s culture, especially the idea of “Freedom & Responsibility.”

Like all great companies, we strive to hire the best and we value integrity, excellence, respect, inclusion, and collaboration. What is special about Netflix, though, is how much we:

  1. encourage independent decision-making by employees

  2. share information openly, broadly, and deliberately

  3. are extraordinarily candid with each other

  4. keep only our highly effective people

  5. avoid rules

The idea of keeping only the highly effective people is also an important one. Creating a dream team will lead to exponentially better outcomes than an OK team. That’s why it’s essential to be deliberate about it.

A few other resources I found useful:


📚 What I Read

🚀 The Case for Optimism

A fantastic article by Kevin Kelly making the case for optimism.

Civilization requires optimism

Civilization depends on an implicit degree of general optimism. It is a collaborative exercise. Civilization amplifies and accumulates cooperation between strangers. If you expect that you can trust a stranger, that is optimism. If you expect to be cheated or hurt, that is pessimism. Societies that bring the most good to the most people, require that people be trusted more than they are distrusted; that they expect more good than harm; they require that people in general have more hope than fear. Societies that have more pessimism than optimism tend not to prosper. The default stance in any thriving civilization is optimistic: it operates on the assumption that in general, most people, most of the time, will cooperate. They can be trusted to be honest and this cooperation will produce positive results that add up to more than the sum. Civilization requires trust; trust requires optimism; civilization requires optimism.

🚫 The Streetlight Effect

Boz on the danger of doing things for the sake of doing things:

We have an outcome in mind that would be great for us. But we don’t know how to do what it takes to get there. In the meantime, there is another thing we do know how to do, so we do that instead. But it doesn’t get us closer to our goal. This is the equivalent of the political fallacy “something must be done, and this is something.”

To avoid finding myself in this position I work hard to separate a top down analysis of “what would be good?” from a bottom up analysis of “what is possible?” If those two things don’t overlap then we shouldn’t start work and just hope for the best. We have to figure out what other changes we need to make to either the product or the technology so that they connect.

🥛 Whole Milk is Cool Again

The 2010s were all about milk alternatives, and it seems we’ve come full circle. Whole milk is cool again:

With so many people claiming that alt milks are a path to dietary nirvana, Hesse posits that ordering “real” dairy milk has become an act of quiet rebellion. Hesse told me that she is picking up on a return to dairy via word of mouth. “One friend starts talking to another friend about how the luscious cream-top of full-fat Brown Cow yogurt has changed their mornings forever, and so the domino effect begins.” From there, the whisper network takes off: “I recently met someone who proudly told me that she never swapped out the whole milk that goes into her morning coffee, and I could see everyone’s ears perk up. After such a long time of nobody even considering milk, there is now something taboo and enticing about keeping it in your fridge.”

Follow-up reading: Oatly—The New Coke.


🎙 Podcast Episodes of the Week

This week in podcasts:

  • Understanding & Conquering Depression

    • An excellent episode to really understand the biology of depression and the mechanisms at play with the different therapies. A few things worth remembering:

      • Having many stressful events (lasting months) significantly increases your chances of having depression at some point in your life.

      • Taking preventive measures could help not getting depression in the first place (exercise, for example.)

      • There is a genetic susceptibility to depression, but it doesn’t mean there is a deterministic outcome because of your genetics.

  • Doug Conant - Leadership With Integrity

    • From this conversation, I particularly liked the idea of having very high expectations of performance from your team while still being kind and always putting your team members first.


🍭 Brain Food

👜 Cotton Tote Bags

I love cotton tote bags as much as anyone. I would lie if I said that I’m obsessed with eco-friendly consumption and recycling, but I know many people around me who are. I found this article about the environmental impact of tote bags very funny and also thought-provoking. More generally, a lot of so-called environmentalism starts from good intentions but ends up becoming an identity question (I use tote bags vs. you use plastic bags) and quickly forgets the purpose of all of this: fixing the climate and environmental crisis.

The same goes for diets and energy production systems (environmentalists are usually opposed to nuclear energy, while this makes absolutely no sense if you’re serious about climate change.)

An organic cotton tote needs to be used 20,000 times to offset its overall impact of production, according to a 2018 study by the Ministry of Environment and Food of Denmark. That equates to daily use for 54 years — for just one bag. According to that metric, if all 25 of her totes were organic, Ms. Berry would have to live for more than a thousand years to offset her current arsenal.


🎥 What I’m Watching

🇦🇫 How Afghanistan Became a Failed State

Everyone is talking about Afghanistan lately, especially about the fact that it has become a failed state. This is a good video to understand why. To pair with the come-back of the besties.

💉 Why I’m Against Anti-Doping

In this video, Clarence Kennedy makes a fair point about anti-doping and explains his thought-provoking stance. It’s an interesting discussion that’s not covered enough. If you enjoy this topic, you’ll love the documentary Icarus.


🔧 The Tool of the Week

🏦 Maybe — Modern Financial & Investment Planning

Maybe is a modern financial and investment planning tool. I haven’t tried yet, I’m on their waitlist, but I find the financial aggregation they’re trying to bring to market very compelling (and similar in some way to our vision at Vital!) Plus, their design is beautiful, and their culture page is worth checking also.


🪐 Quote I'm Pondering

It's easier to hold your principles 100 percent of the time than it is to hold them 98 percent of the time.

― Clayton M. Christensen


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👋 EndNote

Thanks for reading!

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Until next week,

Mehdi Yacoubi

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