The Long Game 87: Stress & Heart Health, Addiction to Pleasure, Demanding & Supportive
📱 The First 1,000 Users, Evil, Amazon, High Output, Covid, Less, Designing a House to Last for 1,000 Years, 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:
In this episode, we explore:
Stress and heart health
Our addiction to pleasure is destroying us
Demanding & supportive
The first 1,000 users
The curious story of Al Jazeera
Designing a house to last 1,000 years
Let’s dive in!
🫀 Stress May Be Your Heart’s Worst Enemy
I came across this article raising awareness about how stress can damage your heart. It resonated with me because on a personal level, I discovered that stress, more than diet, exercise, or alcohol consumption is what impacts most my resting heart rate and my heart rate variability.
You’re probably familiar with these major risk factors for heart disease: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, diabetes, obesity and physical inactivity. And chances are your doctor has checked you more than once for these risks and, I would hope, offered advice or treatment to help ward off a heart attack or stroke.
But has your doctor also asked about the level of stress in your life? Chronic psychological stress, recent studies indicate, may be as important — and possibly more important — to the health of your heart than the traditional cardiac risk factors. In fact, in people with less-than-healthy hearts, mental stress trumps physical stress as a potential precipitant of fatal and nonfatal heart attacks and other cardiovascular events, according to the latest report.
I don’t think all types of stress fit in the same bucket. As described in The Upside of Stress, some stress is inherently good for you, but there’s definitely a way to overdo it.
It’s not always easy to manage the external stress you’re subject to, but here are some elements that could help:
Defusing stress and its effects
Even without a formal program, Dr. Osborne said individuals could minimize their body’s heart-damaging reactions to stress. One of the best ways is through habitual physical exercise, which can help to tamp down stress and the body-wide inflammation it can cause.
Given that poor sleep increases stress and promotes arterial inflammation, developing good sleep habits can also reduce the risk of cardiovascular damage. Adopt a consistent pattern of bedtime and awakening, and avoid exposure at bedtime to screens that emit blue light, like smartphones and computers, or use blue-light filters for such devices.
Practice relaxing measures like mindfulness meditation, calming techniques that slow breathing, yoga and tai chi.
Several common medications can also help, Dr. Osborne said. Statins not only reduce cholesterol, they also counter arterial inflammation, resulting in a greater cardiovascular benefit than from their cholesterol-lowering effects alone. Antidepressants, including the anesthetic ketamine, may also help to minimize excessive amygdalar activity and ease stress in people with depression.
For me, walking almost always does the trick.
💊 Is Our Addiction to Pleasure Destroying Us?
The question is relatively simple: “Why, in a time of unprecedented wealth, freedom, technological progress, and medical advancement, do we appear to be unhappier and in more pain than ever?”
The answer seems to be that easier access to pleasure created the exact opposite of what we thought:
Even more dangerous, she notes, is that “our hedonic (pleasure) set point changes as our capacity to experience pleasure goes down and our vulnerability to pain goes up.” Those two things are more closely related than we think. She points to the effect of long-term opioid therapy for chronic pain as one example. She saw patients coming in who reported their pain had gotten worse over time as they were taking these drugs. “Exposure to opioids had caused their brain to reset its pleasure-pain balance to the side of pain,” she explains. “Now their original pain was worse, and they had new pain in parts of their body that used to be pain free.”
Contrary to modern life’s belief, it appears that getting easy and quick access to what we want and need doesn’t improve our lives for the most part (Tinder, for example.)
The solution? Going back to physical and emotional discomfort:
The Sweet Spot: The Pleasures of Suffering and the Search for Meaning
🧠 Better Thinking
🤝 Demanding and Supportive
Being supportive doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be demanding; quite the opposite. Ravi Gupta articulated this perfectly in this story from the early days of Instacart:
Most people think of demanding and supportive as opposite ends of a spectrum. You can either be tough or you can be nice. But the best leaders don’t choose. They are both highly demanding and highly supportive. They push you to new heights and they also have your back.
What I’ve come to realize over time is that, far from being contradictory, being demanding and supportive are inextricably linked. It’s the way you are when you believe in someone more than they believe in themselves.
All of the great leaders I’ve worked with are this way. Founders and board members. Coaches and teachers. My parents.
I aspire to be demanding and supportive.
⚡️ Startup Stuff
📱 The First 1000 Users
I recently discovered the First 1000 Users newsletter and found it very interesting to explore. I particularly enjoyed the deep-dives on Reddit, Tiktok, Notion, and Matter.
Contrary to the Reid Hoffman popular belief: It’s better not to launch too early with a shitty product (related: The New MVP)
Using fake users to generate activity
Make it super easy to create content.
Make all the elements ready for people to create content (music, editing, filters, etc...)
Come for the tool → stay for the network.
Focus on middle-class influencers of other platforms.
Get a lot of traffic for a small number of users.
Create Fake accounts to boost engagement.
Add a button “My ideas” → When users open it, it asks them to list three things they love about the app and three things they hate.”
Collaborative design: share design and mockups with a group of early users before engineering them.
“In the very early days, the unique selling point of Matter was its single feed of highly curated reading recommendations, which they bootstrapped off of the Twitter social graph of public thinkers. This very early Matter feature was, in fact, the productized version of their round-up newsletter.”
Find the right communities of people → if they are satisfied with the product; chances are the average person will also be.
Took enough time to create a great product before launching on ProductHunt.
Focused on bundling the easiest part of the bundle, to begin with.
“From a company's perspective, in our case, Notion, we established that the goal is to get as many users to the highest-value level ASAP. By doing so, the user would have invested just enough into being a master of this game that they would be a lot more likely to recruit their colleagues to play alongside them rather than attempt to master a whole new game themselves!”
Pre-sign up: a lot of demos to teach people how to use the product (for every piece of advice, you’ll find its exact opposite.)
Sometimes it is best not to communicate your value proposition! Start small and build it, especially if you build a product with a large surface area.
You can build a very defensible business in a low-barrier-to-enter industry. Position for the low-barrier, gain Awareness and move people along the product value curve to build defensibility.
📚 What I Read
📦 I took a job at Amazon, only to leave after 10 months
It’s crazy to witness the scale Amazon operates at:
When you operate at this type of scale, centralization is the enemy of efficiency. This is a paradox. Being efficient on a macro level requires being (very) inefficient at the micro level. For example, almost every organization will build their own tooling to effectively solve the same problems but tailored to their specific use cases. Every org (probably) has its own forecasting system, way of publishing content to the website, etc. A good example was when I joined, I wanted to see any design systems for internal tools. It turned out there were 56!
The most surprising thing I encountered when joining was how manual most processes are. It blew my mind how many business critical processes were managed with excel spreadsheets being shared via email chains. It is incredible how flexible and effective Excel is for such a wide variety of use-cases.
👹 Evil: Inside Human Violence and Cruelty—A Review
The great Rob Henderson on evil:
There is a widespread belief that evil acts come from evil people.
People often view the crimes of Nazi Germany, Maoist China, and the Soviet Union through the eyes of the victims.
But to understand evil, it would be wise to view it through the eyes of the perpetrators.
Had you or I been an ordinary German, Chinese or Russian person living under those regimes, we would in all likelihood not have resisted. We would have been supporters, either actively or passively. And the less you believe this to be the case, the more likely it is to be true.
🚶 I'm Not High Output: Why I’m Sunsetting My Brand & Betting On Myself
On retiring a part of you that’s no longer working:
But here’s what I think is crazy:
Keeping something going only because I’ve invested time, effort, and energy. Staying the course even though it doesn’t reflect my values or support who I want to become. Living with cognitive dissonance because my vision doesn’t align with what I’ve built in the world. Suppressing my emotions instead of facing a hard decision.
Here’s how I ended up with a brand that didn’t resonate with me, how I recognized that, and what I’m doing to move forward.
🎙 Podcast Episodes of the Week
This week in podcasts:
COVID-19: Current state of affairs, Omicron, and a search for the end game
I’ve stopped listening/reading covid-related content a while ago, but this episode was an excellent and necessary update.
It asks the right question and analyzes the situation in a non-biased way. I highly recommend listening to it.
It’s becoming so incredibly rare to find people not engaged in any form of tribalism right now, and this conversation might be the most rational covid conversation I listened to. Clarifying between facts, opinions and understanding the tradeoff with the policies we chose.Every school district not open tomorrow has failed it's kids and society Public schools will need total reform/ replacement in the future. Vouchers/ charter are coming Teachers unions destroyed a generation. As a life long liberal, it was sad to watch
Dan Carlin is a treasure.
🍭 Brain Food
🏡 How to Design a House to Last for 1000 Years
On The Long Game, we’re all about long-term thinking, even when it comes to architecture. I found this series about how to design a house to last for 1000 years fascinating (Part I, Part II, Part III).
One option to extend lifespan would be to just copy the design of a house that has already survived for centuries - in effect, we could build them like they used to. This seems to be what projects like Hope for Architecture are doing, by building with traditional load-bearing brick masonry. But there’s a few drawbacks to this approach.
For one, most older buildings didn’t survive - England’s 30,000 surviving pre- 1700 houses are perhaps 3 to 5% of the homes that existed in England in 1700 . Ironically, Hope for Architecture illustrates this, as building the project required tearing down an existing house.
And even traditional design is unlikely to be sufficient to get you to 1000 years - Historic England lists just 225 houses built prior to 1400 AD, just 26 built prior to 1200 AD, and none built prior to 1000 AD. So we’ll need a different approach.
🎥 What I’m Watching
🇶🇦 Why Does Conservative Qatar Broadcast Liberal TV?
Learn about the curious case of authoritarian Qatar broadcasting liberal television to the world.
🔒 How to Become Invisible Online
The online privacy steps, described for you!
🔧 The Tool of the Week
🚫 Less — Alcohol Tracker
What I found to be the sweet spot for me is to alternate between long periods of sobriety with short periods of allowing alcohol. In 2021 I did more than six months without alcohol, and I’m going now for 4—5 months alcohol-free. I don’t have a problem with alcohol; it’s just that I enjoy the increased mental focus and physical wellbeing that comes with not drinking (plus I have some HRV and RHR goals.)
However, although I understand people who quit entirely, I don’t want to do this because I still enjoy cold beers in summer and good wine here and there. It can perfectly be part of a healthy life if you know where to put the limit (which can be tricky, I agree!) The social upside of those moments might override the health downside of alcohol.
To pair with: The Impact of Dry January
🪐 Quote I’m Pondering
I can think. I can wait. I can fast.
— Siddharta by Hermann Hesse
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