Carl Cederstrom,André Spicer

Desperately Seeking Self-Improvement

“A comically committed exploration of current life-hacking wisdom in areas ranging from athletic and intellectual prowess to spirituality, creativity, wealth, and pleasure.” —The New Yorker

In these pages, the authors of the widely-acclaimed Wellness Syndrome throw themselves headlong into the techniques of self-optimization, a burgeoning movement that seeks to transcend the limits placed on us as mere humans, whether the feebleness of our bodies or our mental incapacities.

Cederstrom and Spicer, devoted each month of a roller coaster year to a different way of improving themselves: January was Productivity, February their bodies, March their brains. June was for sex and September for money. Perhaps the trickiest was April, a month devoted to relationships, when their feelings for each other came under the microscope, with results that were both hilarious and painful. Carl thought Andre was only “dialing it in,” Andre felt Carl was too controlling.

In fact, both proved themselves willing guinea pigs in an extraordinary (and sometimes downright dangerous) range of techniques and technologies, had hitherto undertaken little by way of self-improvement. They had rarely seen the inside of a gym, let alone utilized apps that deliver electric shocks in pursuit of improved concentration. They wore head-bands designed to optimize sleep, and attempted to boost their memory through learning associative techniques (failing to be admitted to MENSA bit learning pi to 1,000 digits), trained for weightlifting competitions, wrote what they (still) hope might become a bestselling Scandinavian detective story, attended motivational seminars and tantra workshops, went on new-age retreats and man-camps, and experimented with sex toys and productivity drugs. Andre even addressed a London subway car whilst (nearly) naked in an attempt to overcome a negative body image.

Somewhat surprisingly, the two young professors survived this year of rigorous research. Further, they produced a hilarious and eye-opening book based upon it. Written in the form of two parallel diaries, Desperately Seeking Self-Improvement provides a biting analysis of the narcissism and individual competitiveness that increasingly pervades a culture in which social solutions are receding and individual self-improvement is the only option left.
375 printed pages
Original publication
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    Kristinahas quoted3 years ago
    “They’d help you concentrate.”

    “Like coffee?”

    “Better than coffee! It’s not without reason that 20 percent of Ivy League students use drugs like these.”

    “So you would recommend them?” I asked.

    “No, I wouldn’t recommend them, since you don’t have a diagnosis,” he said, clearing his throat. “But they would help you concentrate.”
    Kristinahas quoted3 years ago
    In a consumerist society, we are not meant to buy one pair of jeans and then be satisfied. The same goes for self-improvement. We are not expected to improve only one area of our lives. We are encouraged to upgrade all parts of our life, all at once. We should be fitter, happier, healthier, wealthier, smarter, calmer, and more productive—all at once, all today. And we are under pressure to show that we know how to lead the perfect life.
    Kristinahas quoted3 years ago
    It was the Stoic philosopher Epictetus, more than two millennia ago, who first insisted that opinions matter more than real events. Since then, advice on how to live our lives has poured out in a steady torrent. And why not? Who doesn’t want a better life? In some ways self-improvement is like drinking: it is a perfect consolation in bad times. And a great companion to good times.

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