The Long Game 82: Diagnostic-Grade Wearables, Healthier Cities, What Not to Do, The Execution Mindset
Becoming a Hybrid Athlete, Earthquakes, Rize, Gentrification, AR, Squats, 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 have a new website at Vital. Let me know what you think! More updates are coming soon.
📣 We are hiring at Vital, help us build the “Strava for Health.” We are now looking for:
Senior Backend Engineer [Python, Django]
Senior Frontend Engineer [Flutter]
We are offering $1,000 in Bitcoin if you refer to us a candidate we hire.
In this episode, we explore:
Focusing on what not to do
The execution mindset
Squatting every day
Let’s dive in!
⌚ Diagnostic-Grade Wearables
A very important study was published recently. It shows that wearables could be a key component in diagnosing virus infections days before getting sick.
Here’s the abstract: Real-time alerting system for COVID-19 and other stress events using wearable data
Early detection of infectious diseases is crucial for reducing transmission and facilitating early intervention.
In this study, we built a real-time smartwatch-based alerting system that detects aberrant physiological and activity signals (heart rates and steps) associated with the onset of early infection and implemented this system in a prospective study.
In a cohort of 3,318 participants, of whom 84 were infected with severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), this system generated alerts for pre-symptomatic and asymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infection in 67 (80%) of the infected individuals. Pre-symptomatic signals were observed at a median of 3 days before symptom onset.
Examination of detailed survey responses provided by the participants revealed that other respiratory infections as well as events not associated with infection, such as stress, alcohol consumption and travel, could also trigger alerts, albeit at a much lower mean frequency (1.15 alert days per person compared to 3.42 alert days per person for coronavirus disease 2019 cases).
Thus, analysis of smartwatch signals by an online detection algorithm provides advance warning of SARS-CoV-2 infection in a high percentage of cases. This study shows that a real-time alerting system can be used for early detection of infection and other stressors and employed on an open-source platform that is scalable to millions of users.
At Vital, we believe that most people will be monitoring their health through multiple wearables in the near future. It’s already happening in the high-performance lifestyle niche, and it will soon become mainstream. We are building a verticalized social app to make the process of tracking and optimizing health easier, funnier, and less boring.
🌇 Healthier Cities
Fitt Insider published an excellent write-up on why creating new and healthier cities will be an essential part of the health stack of the future. This is also why I’m so interested in charter cities (part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4.)
Building for Behavior
Countless studies show that just 30 minutes of moderately intense activity, like walking and cycling, can reduce your risk of death by nearly 20%.
To achieve these goals, experts point to the power of our environment: healthy habits follow healthy design.
Looking at the world’s healthiest cities, urban planning incorporates simple designs nudging citizens towards healthier habits through pedestrian-designated streets, sprawling parks systems, and improved fresh food access.
As a result, their citizens have higher disease immunity, increased quality of life, and greater longevity.
To pair with: How one London suburb reduced its morning traffic by 53%
Our research shows that gamification—offering points, badges, prizes, or spots on a leaderboard in exchange for participating in specific, non-game-related activities—can encourage people to travel actively to school or work.
To test this, we set up a gamification initiative called Beat the Street to see whether it could encourage people in the London borough of Hounslow to travel actively.
During our game, which ran from September 18 to October 30, 2019, residents and visitors to Hounslow could earn points by tapping a card on physical boxes placed throughout the borough. Players were given 10 points each time they touched two boxes consecutively with a card, indicating they had actively traveled between them. And yes, we made sure to remove any obvious cheaters from the game.
At the end of the six-week game, the highest-scoring individuals and teams (schools, community groups, and workplaces) were rewarded with prizes, such as vouchers for sports equipment, craft materials, or books.
🧠 Better Thinking
⚠️ Focus on What Not to Do
Finding what to do to feel great is often more complicated than discovering what not to do to avoid feeling miserable.
This article explains the concept in more detail and gives a few examples:
The inability to deal with petty criticisms
“The inability to deal with criticism, even when it’s unwarranted, is a sure path to misery.”
Envy of others’ success without having a complete picture of their lives
Before you start envying someone, make sure you’re aware of the whole picture. You can’t pick what you want from someone’s life. Things come with compromises. The great aspect that’s being advertised comes with something you are not aware of (and that’s usually unsexy and not being advertised.)
The inability to deal with the hassle, delay, setback, and nonsense, caused by a desire to squeeze maximum efficiency out of everything we do
This pandemic taught us that there is a minimal amount of hassle we should accept. Trying to create perfectly optimized systems makes them too fragile. Learning to accept small inefficiencies is a huge plus.
Being persuaded by the advice of those who need or want something you don’t
This is a crucial one. A boxer doesn’t train like a golfer. Why shouldn’t that be the same for building companies and investing? Wanting to build a public company is not the same as building a lifestyle business. The advice you listen to and follow must be aligned with your long-term goals.
⚡️ Startup Stuff
🚂 The Execution Mindset
This is an excellent course on startup engineering that I’d recommend anyone who’s building something to pay careful attention to.
The different parts may resonate more or less with you, depending on where you are on your entrepreneurial journey. For me, this part resonated the most:
The Execution Mindset
We’ve spoken about what good ideas are. What does good execution involve, in concrete terms? Briefly speaking, the execution mindset means doing the next thing on the todo list at all times and rewriting the list every day and week in response to progress. This is easy to say, extremely hard to do. It means saying no to other people, saying no to distractions, saying no to fun, and exerting all your waking hours on the task at hand. The execution mindset is thus about running the maze rapidly. Think of each task on the list as akin to exploring a turn of the maze. The most important tasks are those that get you to the maze exit, or at least a treasure chest with some powerups.
In terms of execution heuristics, perhaps the best is Thiel’s one thing, which means that everyone in the company should at all times know what their one thing is, and others should know that as well. Marc Andreessen’s anti-todo list is also worthy of mention: periodically writing down what you just did and then crossing it off. Even if you get off track, this gives you a sense of what you are working on and your progress to date.
This is related to what Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom explained in the episode I shared last week: early-stage startups are about learning, iterating, and potentially pivoting as fast as possible on the quest to product-market fit.
The current funding environment is dangerous because pre-product market fit startups routinely raise significant financing rounds that enable them to start the scaling journey way too early (hiring a lot, spending a lot, etc.) This is the opposite of what you should do before finding product-market fit.
📚 What I Read
1️⃣9️⃣4️⃣5️⃣ As We May Think
Written in 1945. Prescient.
“Consider a future device … in which an individual stores all his books, records, and communications, and which is mechanized so that it may be consulted with exceeding speed and flexibility. It is an enlarged intimate supplement to his memory.”
Some more past predictions that came true 👇
🚲 The Look of Gentrification
If you think of gentrification as coffee shops and bike lanes, then you don’t understand gentrification at all. It’s about what’s inside, not outside.
My grandparents’ house was located in a nice neighborhood in Berkeley, California filled with bungalows, Victorians and a few dingbat apartments. I practically grew up there and I have a lot of memories of the neighborhood, but I don’t walk there anymore because it’s been totally gentrified. The Black community I once knew vacated this district largely during the foreclosure crisis. At its peak in 1970 there was 1,000 Black residents there and today that number has dwindled to 285. When my family left the district around 2015 the average house sold for $600,000 - $700,000. Then in just three years those same exact houses—with few or zero improvements—were selling for $1.2 million.
✨ The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership
To read and re-read continuously. This week I’ve been meditating on the 8th commitment, “Genius.”
I commit to expressing my full magnificence, and to supporting and inspiring others to fully express their creativity and live in their zone of genius.
🎙 Podcast Episodes of the Week
This week in podcasts:
Dr. David Buss: How Humans Select & Keep Romantic Partners in Short & Long Term
This is a fascinating conversation on a topic I find very underrated and not often discussed: human mating psychology.
To pair with: a review of Buss’ latest book, When Men Behave Badly by Rob Henderson.
Derek from More Plates More Dates
I’ve been watching a lot of content from More Plates More Dates lately. Derek is very instructive on many fitness topics, especially everything related to doping in sports.
🍭 Brain Food
👓 ‘AR Is Where the Real Metaverse Is Going to Happen’
Niantic CEO John Hanke has been vocal lately about his warnings against an immersive metaverse. He writes:
A lot of people are talking about “the metaverse” these days. Coming off eighteen months of Zoom, Netflix, and Doordash, you can count me out — at least in the form that most folks are imagining. I’m not denying that the metaverse is a cool concept from a technology point of view; it comes from one of my favorite sci-fi writers, Neal Stephenson, who coined the term in his 1992 novel, Snow Crash. Along with the works of William Gibson, that book created the cyberpunk genre, in which characters spend time wired into a digital universe where they explore, socialize, fight, and (at least in the novels) save the world from villainous plots. The concept reached one of its most complete expressions in Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, where virtually everyone has abandoned reality for an elaborate VR massively multiplayer video game.
A lot of people these days seem very interested in bringing this near-future vision of a virtual world to life, including some of the biggest names in technology and gaming. But in fact these novels served as warnings about a dystopian future of technology gone wrong.
As a society, we can hope that the world doesn’t devolve into the kind of place that drives sci-fi heroes to escape into a virtual one — or we can work to make sure that doesn’t happen. At Niantic, we choose the latter. We believe we can use technology to lean into the ‘reality’ of augmented reality — encouraging everyone, ourselves included, to stand up, walk outside, and connect with people and the world around us. This is what we humans are born to do, the result of two million years of human evolution, and as a result those are the things that make us the happiest. Technology should be used to make these core human experiences better — not to replace them.
Instead, John Hanke is a proponent of virtual reality:
WIRED: Why do you call the metaverse dystopian?
John Hanke: It takes us away from what fundamentally makes us happy as human beings. We’re biologically evolved to be present in our bodies and to be out in the world. The tech world that we’ve been living in, as exacerbated by Covid, is not healthy. We’ve picked up bad habits—kids spending all day playing Roblox or whatever. And we’re extrapolating that, saying, “Hey, this is great. Let’s do this times 10.” That scares the daylights out of me.
Whereas you want people to actually experience daylight, albeit with a phone in their hands.
I really got into this idea of using digital tech to reinvigorate the idea of a public square, to bring people off the couch and out into an environment they can enjoy. There’s a lot of research that supports the positive psychological impact of walking through a park, walking through a forest—just walking. But now we live in a world where we have all this anxiety, amplified by Covid. There’s a lot of unhappiness. There’s a lot of anger. Some of it comes from not doing what our bodies want us to do—to be active and mobile. In our early experiments, we got a lot of feedback from people who were kind of couch potatoes that the game was causing them to walk more. They were saying, “Wow, this is amazing, I feel so much better. I’m physically better, but mentally I’m way more better. I broke out of my depression or met new people in the community.” We said, “Wow, like, this is good we can do in the world.”
🎥 What I’m Watching
🌎 Why Earthquakes in the East Are so Much More Dangerous
A great (a bit stressful 😅) video to understand earthquake risk on the East coast.
🏋️♀️ Squat Every Day 730: Two Years
I’ve been following Ivan’s journey of squatting every day for a while, and I find it impressive and inspirational.
To pair with: Becoming a hybrid athlete (related—although not to this level of intensity—to the concept of the Centenarian Olympics I shared multiple times here.)
I’ve been fascinated by coupling multiple feats of athleticism lately. Nick Bare is the perfect example.
🔧 The Tool of the Week
⏳ Rize — Maximize Your Productivity
I’ve been talking about Rize many times here. It’s the best time-tracking app I’ve ever tried. It will help you understand how you spend your time and improve. I learned a lot while using Rize, and it helped me reduce my non-productive time and step up in terms of intensity and productivity at work.
My friends at Rize were very generous and created a promo code (MEHDI) for the readers of The Long Game to get 25% off for three months.
🎁 Christmas before Christmas — The Rize team also gave me five lifetime free subscriptions that I want to give to readers of TLG. To earn one, you just need to share this episode on your favorite social media, and I’ll give a free subscription to the first five readers who share it. To let me know you shared it, you can either tag me on Twitter (@mehdiyac) or share a screenshot by replying to this email.
🪐 Quote I’m Pondering
This is the real secret of life -- to be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now. And instead of calling it work, realize it is play.
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