The Underspecified Normie
You’re well-aware of the benefits of a healthier lifestyle: less pain, more energy, more mobility and autonomy, a higher life expectancy, and so on and so forth ad nauseam.
Unfortunately, this knowledge doesn’t compel you to action. Your behavior mostly follows simple hyperbolic discounting - healthy actions pay off in the future, but the future is far away, and your TV / smartphone / snack is much closer.
But even if the knowledge that Health Is Good is uncompelling, maybe some other perspectives or frames might prove more fruitful for improving your health?
The Guilty Conscience
All your life you’ve been told what to do: “Go to bed already!” “Do your homework!” “Brush your teeth!”
At some point you internalized those voices: It’s 4 am. I should’ve gone to bed a long time ago. Why am I still awake? What’s wrong with me?
You’ve been thinking this way all your life. Surely this strategy will start working any day now.
If only there was an alternative...
Investment bankers aren’t exactly known for their healthy work-life balance. You were no exception to that rule. But at some point you realized that taking care of your health is just another way of investing, namely in your own human capital.
Not all such investments pay off. But if you know where to look, you should be able to find some with outsized returns in longevity and productivity. Time to crunch some numbers!
And in the hopefully distant future, when it’s time for the final accounting, your most profitable investment might just turn out to have been - yourself.
The Decision Theorist
You are in an iterated prisoner’s dilemma with future copies of yourself. You could stay up all night to read that ratfic, but that would be defecting against tomorrow!You. And that line of thinking doesn’t end well.
So you go to bed early, and expect tomorrow!You to do the same, for the same reason.
The Competitive Gamer
The abstraction of “hitpoints” in RTS and FPS games has taught you an unfortunate lesson. People can perform at their peak ability until they reach 0 hitpoints, at which point they die. Recovery is instant as long as you get help from a medic or medkit.
Speaking of which, how do you get those in real life? After gaming for 36 consecutive hours, you aren’t feeling so well...
The Sim Gamer
You’ve just returned from the funeral of your friend Competitive Gamer. RIP. You deeply regret your past inability to convince them to give your favorite genre a try. They might have lived!
You grew up with The Sims, which models people as Sims with a bunch of needs. These needs decline over time and must be recharged. Failing to do so has unfortunate repercussions like falling unconscious or even getting a visit from the Grim Reaper. Conversely, taking care of your Sims both makes them happier and more productive. Now that’s a lesson for real life!
You hope your other insights from the game will be just as applicable. Your first purchase in The Sims was always the most expensive bed, as it paid for itself via reduced sleep length. Hopefully that new gold-studded bed in your room will do so, as well. Those interest payments aren't cheap!
Others might call you lazy, but you know better. You’re preserving your slack. Maybe 80-hour workweeks help those around you get ahead right now, during times of stability. But those times won’t last forever. Eventually, a disruption will occur - whether it be an economic crisis, a pandemic, or some altogether inconceivable thing -, and then their overworked bodies will constitute a dangerous lack of slack.
But that doesn’t apply to you. You’re prepared.
It’s been weeks since you last slept for more than three consecutive hours. You’re running on fumes.
But at least your newborn is safe. That’s all that matters.
The Commitment Contractee
You’d sure love to stuff your face with those cheese crackers. Unfortunately, past!You promised not to do so, and staked your entire fortune on this promise. If you break it, your fortune goes to
Effective Evil an evidence-based anti-charity which has committed to cause as much harm with your donation as possible.
Yes, these cheese crackers look extremely appetizing. But are they so tempting that you’re fine with destroying 14000 +- 20% QALYs (as independently assessed by GiveBadly)?
For now, your willpower holds out.
Others call you superficial. They say you only care about outward appearances, that your character judgments are only skin-deep. They aren’t entirely wrong, but your reasoning might surprise them.
Our sense of aesthetics and beauty evolved to value things like symmetry and an unblemished skin because those are proxies for good health or a low mutagenic load. Conversely, our sense of disgust ensures cleanliness and hygiene, and thus protects us from disease.
So when you take care of your skin, and judge others when they do not, that’s not because of how they look, but because of what it says about their values.
After all, it’s a well-known fact even in physics that you can tell a lot about someone’s inner workings from merely observing their enclosed surface.
The Creature of Habit
When you first started doing daily situps, you struggled a ton and almost quit many times. Now you’ve done them for the last 891 days. On good days, your habit almost takes care of itself. On bad days, your streak keeps you going.
And anyway, your streak is approaching the next round number. It would be a shame to quit now.
For a long time you defined yourself entirely by your dislike of the Apple guy. Unfortunately, it’s hard to ever win against your nemesis when they’re a billionaire and unaware of your existence.
But then he died in a rather dumb way. And you realized... that your pettiness was immaterial in the face of death? Not a chance! You realized that this was finally your chance to surpass him at something, to be better than him.
That was the day you became a health nut. And after many years of single-minded dedication, you're now a health expert. Your advice saves people. In public, you say that’s what motivates you.
But in the privacy of your own mind, you know better.
The One Responsible
It’s a well-known fact of organizations that, for any goal, unless there’s exactly one person who is ultimately responsible for it, one who has ownership of the goal and resources to accomplish it, one who gets praise or blame based on the state of that goal... unless there’s exactly one such person, that goal likely won’t be accomplished.
At some point it occurred to you that even doctors can’t be considered to be ultimately responsible for your health. After all, none of them will get remotely sufficient credit if your health improves, or blame if it deteriorates.
And after you looked around some more, you realized that nobody had taken responsibility for your health.
And then you had to make a choice.
The Knight of Order
Things are even worse than The One Responsible realized. You know that uncared-for health won’t stay constant; time and circumstance will continually worsen it. You have to expend considerable effort on your health just to tread even.
You are a Knight of Order, and your indomitable foe is Entropy.
If life is a story, you’ve already read a thousand ones like it. You know the tropes - the father dying from liver failure after a lifetime of heavy drinking, the actor dying to a drug overdose, the party animal crippled for life after a drunk-driving accident... You know how this goes.
You’ve read those stories. You’ve yelled at their protagonists. And if you’re the protagonist in your own story, the one thing you won’t accept, the one thing you’ll go to great efforts to prevent, is for the readers to yell at you.
The Marshmallow Kid
You participated in the famous Marshmallow Experiment as a kid, and managed to hold out. Everyone praised you and promised you a bright future. How conscientious you were, so full of willpower, able to withstand such temptation. This was your claim to fame.
In truth, you only succeeded because you didn’t like marshmallows. Fortunately for you, the scientists didn’t offer chocolate instead.
But nowadays that’s all moot. Everyone knows you as the Marshmallow Kid. It’s part of your identity. You still feel the temptation to stuff yourself full of unhealthy food, or to binge-watch an entire Netflix series. But you’re known as untemptable. So you resist, because that’s who you are.
Who cares to which extent the Marshmallow Experiment even replicated?
The Other Marshmallow Kid
You also participated in the Marshmallow Experiment, but you couldn’t hold out. Nobody blamed you, but you heard what they said to that other kid, the patient one. You put two and two together: you were doomed. You’d succumb to any temptation.
With your future already ruined, you figured you’d at least read up on the experiment. You learned about hyperbolic discounting, and saw a glimmer of hope. Maybe you could mitigate temptations by moving distant pains and gains into the present?
Nowadays, whenever you feel tempted to stay up late, you mentally visualize yourself the day after. When your back hurts from sitting all day, you remind yourself that this pain foretells chronic health problems, and imagine having them in the present. You’re even considering getting one of those questionable electric shock bracelets.
So life is bearable. But occasionally you daydream. What if it had been a Chocolate Experiment instead? You would've nailed that!
You are the author of this post. Your experience with health is spotty. Health seems endlessly complicated. Your doctors’ visits raise more questions than answers. You’ve seen arguments that increased healthcare spending does not result in better health outcomes. You have a sense that in our inadequate civilization, some professions which are purportedly about health may be partly LARPing. And you sure wish that your body had come with a manual.
But you might not be the only one who feels this way. Maybe you should write about this topic on LW?
And thus we come to you. Did you find your own perspective represented, or were there any glaring omissions? Did you find this post edifying, or failing that, at least mildly amusing? And how do you relate to your own health?