In Desperately Seeking Self-Improvement, the authors of the widely-acclaimed The Wellness Syndrome throw themselves headlong into the world of self-optimization, a burgeoning movement that seeks to transcend the limits placed on us by being merely human, whether the feebleness of our bodies or our mental incapacities.
Cederström and Spicer, though 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. But, in the course of a year spent researching this book, they wore head-bands designed to optimize meditation, attempted to boost their memory through learning associative techniques (and failed to be admitted to MENSA), trained for weightlifting competitions, wrote what they (still) hope might become a bestselling Scandinavian detective story, enrolled in motivational seminars and tantra sex workshops, attended new-age retreats and man-camps, underwent plastic surgery, and experimented with vibrators and productivity drugs. André even addressed a London subway car whilst (nearly) naked in an attempt to boost attention.
Somewhat surprisingly, the two young professors survived this year of rigorous research. Further, they have drawn deeply on it to produce a hilarious and eye-opening book. 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.
Carl Cederström is Associate Professor at Stockholm Business School, Stockholm University and the co-author or co-editor of five books. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, The Atlantic and Harvard Business Review.
André Spicer is Professor at Cass Business School, City University London and the co-author or co-editor of five books. His writing has appeared in The Guardian, Financial Times, Times, Independent and CNN.