shelf improvement

I Hate This Book About Lifehacks, But I Can’t Stop Reading It

I hate lifehacks. I inherently distrust anybody who tells me there is a shortcut for anything. I think there’s usually one best way to do things: the hard way. So I was nonplussed when my mother bought me Tools of Titans, by Tim Ferriss, for my birthday this past spring. “I’ve been listening to this podcast by this guy,” she told me, “and I thought you should have this book!” I wanted to cry, mostly because this is the kind of book that quotes Neil Strauss like he’s a reasonable guy worth taking advice from. But I kept it together because I love my mom and she doesn’t even know what PUA stands for.

Tools of Titans is divided into three sections: Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise. Quick hits from charming men like Peter Thiel and Glenn Beck are interspersed with Ferriss’s own essays, which have titles like “The Soundtrack of Excellence,” and “Some Practical Thoughts on Suicide.” It serves portion-controlled bites of thoughtlike sentences — or, as the cover says, “THE TACTICS, ROUTINES, AND HABITS OF BILLIONAIRES, ICONS, AND WORLD-CLASS PERFORMERS.” Virtually every word on the cover is set in all caps, presumably because successful men yell everything all the time. It promotes meditation as a means to increase net worth, micro-dosing as fast-track enlightenment, and fasting to make you live forever. I’ve always liked to judge books by their covers, and this one was ugly.

I deliberately didn’t Google Tim Ferriss. I suspected I was supposed to know who he was, or that his life story might skew my reading of the book. Besides, his disclaimer already made me want to type the knife emoji, followed by the gun, bomb, cigarette, syringe, and, for good measure, clown: “Please don’t do anything stupid and kill yourself. It would make us both quite unhappy. Consult a doctor, lawyer, and common-sense specialist before doing anything in this book.”

Instead, I did what any common-sense specialist presented with this gift would do: I put it in a pile of books to be ignored and eventually donated. There it lived for months, until last weekend, when I went to Kondo my house and found myself randomly flipping through the chapters, trying to gauge how little joy it might bring me.

I’ll blame Marie Kondo for my fragile, susceptible state. Because before I knew it I was sucked into a Rick Rubin vortex, on page 503. Rick Rubin’s work has brought me a lot of joy. I like his beard, his beautiful wife, his enviable modern house in Malibu. I thought, Okay, let’s hear what Rick has to say about the power of sunshine, and how he got Adele to produce her best work. Can’t hurt, right?

Wrong. I have become a new, shameful version of myself: engrossed in a book about lifehacking that I can’t seem to extricate myself from. After learning all about Rick Rubin’s sauna habit (and Googling where to buy his $5,000 sauna even though I have nowhere to put a sauna), I bounced from page to page like one of those sad people who knows better but still can’t help but click the link promising one weird tip for getting rid of belly fat.

As the days have passed, I’ve found that I can’t stop reading this doorstopper for two reasons: (1) because what if, buried in the endless subheads, lies a golden nugget of advice worth following? and (2) because I feel like I am spying on the unbridled id of MEN IN TECH.

Aside from hawking the value of naked ambition, the advice defies neat categorization. Ferriss covers everything from DMT to archery to cryotherapy in the service of self-maximization. If you’ve ever sought validation for one of your more out-there curiosities about wellness, you will find some man in this book who swears it is the reason for his achievements.

Since diving into this cesspool of self-help, I’ve gleaned some facts, and here are a few of the least important and most obvious:

• Men who don’t wake up with boners should be worried.
• Making your bed in the morning helps you feel more in control.
• Most of the men in this book have read Dune.

But I also learned that Steve Jobs asked that people at his funeral receive the book Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda. So I bought Autobiography of a Yogi.

This is the addictive secret sauce of Tools of Titans. Every page brims with the contagious mania of tech-bro self-improvement. Every contradictory pellet of advice has been engineered to keep you searching for more. Reading it is like standing in front of the most plentiful salad bar at Whole Foods — there you are, poised to choose the perfect ingredients, but the abundance scrambles your brain, so you end up piling on sunflower seeds, hearts of palm, and three hard-boiled eggs, with no regard for the stomachache that will come later. You eat that salad and you think, THAT WAS GROSS BUT AT LEAST I ATE SOME FUCKING ANTIOXIDANTS!

This book is my nightmare. I am stuck in it. Here’s my lifehack: Avoid lifehacks and books about them — by any means necessary.

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I Hate This Book About Lifehacks, But I Can’t Stop Reading