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The Spectator USA guide to personal growth

The internet is awash with advice and inspiration for optimizing your health, productivity and happiness

December 29, 2019

7:06 AM

29 December 2019

7:06 AM

People sometimes laugh when I call myself a businessman, an entrepreneur and a CEO.

‘Ben,’ they say, ‘You are a freelance writer and teacher and you opened a business so you could pay taxes. You have no offices, employees or financial risk.’

Well, as we entrepreneurs know, there are always envious people who will try to drag you down to their lazy level.

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Still, I have trouble growing my business. I have wondered if my life could be more optimized for success. Could I be more healthy? Could I be more motivated? Could I have more inspiration? Could a bird have wings?

Happily, experts are on hand to help me. The internet is awash with advice and inspiration for optimizing your health, productivity and happiness. The modern businessman, I have discovered, should be neither a cigar-huffing industrialist nor a buttoned-up nerd but somewhere between Mark Zuckerberg, Joe Rogan and a twice-divorced Californian yoga teacher. As a practitioner of ‘New-Wage’ entrepreneurialism I should be as fond of working out as of working out figures, and as keen on meditation as on marketing.

The first question is, as an entrepreneur what should I wear? A suit and tie? Too formal. Jeans and a hoodie? Not formal enough. A turtleneck? Has pervert vibes. Better to wear a suit jacket over a t-shirt – a t-shirt, importantly, which is just tight enough to show the world that I go to the gym.

Speaking of which, it is important that I exercise. Physical health affects our mental health, and, besides, a little sex appeal can hardly hurt in the business world. Jocko Willink, a Navy Seal cum author, podcaster and management consultant, has a Twitter page on which he posts a daily photo of his watch bearing a time that gravitates around 3am. ‘GET SOME,’ the caption might read, or ‘Less talk, MORE DO.’ Photos of sweat-sodden metal floors and gym equipment soon follow along with the caption ‘Aftermath’.

Inspired by Jocko, I resolved to hit the gym as early as he does. Dragging myself out of bed at ten past three I fell into my clothes and tottered to the gym. Disaster! The damn place opens at 6am. It was tempting to wander home and drop back into bed but then I heard Jocko’s guttural cry, ‘GET SOME.’ I dropped to the floor and started doing push-ups in the night-time rain. Passing drunks and street cleaners might have scoffed at my efforts but will their lifestyle be optimized? I think not.

Aftermath. I stumbled home to work on my nutrition. ‘Life hack’ guru Dave Asprey’s invention ‘Bulletproof Coffee’ has been hailed as ‘rocket fuel for the brain’. It combines coffee, butter and coconut oil. Asprey recommends that people buy a special brand of coffee with has a reduced level of mycotoxins. For our convenience, he sells it himself! I couldn’t wait for his magic beans to arrive, though, and concocted a coffee with the regular stuff. It tasted, I imagine, how an enema feels, but 15 minutes later I realised that Ferris had been right! I was more alert and clear-headed. The experience was something like that of drinking any other kind of coffee early in the morning.

To work! I had discovered an organization called ‘Mindvalley’ run by a man called Vishen Lakhiani. ‘Mindvalley’ offer online courses on subjects such as diet, exercise, spirituality, productivity and entrepreneurialism. ‘We’re on a mission,’ their website announces, ‘to unite the world by teaching wisdom and transformational ideas that our education system ignores.’ The price tags, which run from the hundreds to the thousands, might exclude most of the world, including me, from this endeavor but in fairness I spent far more on a humanities degree and learned the square root of sod all so who am I to talk?

Mindvalley make big promises. Mr Lakhiani runs a course called ‘Becoming Limitless’ which promises to guide its students ‘into stage 3 consciousness so you too can bend reality and live a limitless life’, where ‘all fear and worry’ is ‘eliminated’ and:

‘…you become so excited about your work that retirement or holidays or breaks seem meaningless to you…’

This all sounded a bit like the cheerful verbiage of the Church of Scientology but I found no references to Xenu or Tom Cruise and thus immediately called my fiancée to tell her I was canceling our holiday plans. ‘Everything except my work is meaningless to me,’ I told her. She was so delighted she was on the verge of tears.

Mr Lakhiani is an author as well as an entrepreneur. His book The Code of the Extraordinary Mind, helps its readers to improve their lives through ‘consciousness engineering’. Lakhiani writes that we live in a world of ‘absolute truth’ – fire is hot, water is wet – and ‘relative truth’ – religion, morality and social custom. Why are religion, morality and social custom not based on ‘absolute truth’? He doesn’t say. Never mind. Transcending the ‘culturescape’ of ‘relative truth’ demands freeing ourselves from ‘brules’, or, bullshit rules. Oddly, despite saying that morality is ‘relative’ and that we should ‘deconstruct the beliefs, systems, and rules we have been living with’ Lakhiani is quite clear that he is ‘not talking here about getting rid of moral and ethical standards that uphold the Golden Rule’. What separates a ‘brule’ from the ‘Golden Rule’? Again, no explanation. The conflict between explicit relativity and implicit objectivity runs throughout the book, as Lakhiani is so firmly committed to the power of the human mind to shape its own potential that he even recommends forming your own religion, yet the book is premised on a shared acceptance of liberalism, capitalism, secularism, technological optimism et cetera. Still, I like the idea of starting your own religion. Sixtianity, I’m going to call it. (I’m the Pope.)

At the end of a long day of personal growth I was exhausted. Staring down at my t-shirt I noticed a big coffee stain. The mark was ringed with the fat from the butter and coconut oil. On the one hand, I was glad I had been active. Busting out push ups at 4am and watching motivational talks was at least more energizing than lying in bed eating potato chips. But I also realized that I had done no work, and could not even remember what that work should be. Was guzzling liquid butter and browsing YouTube like a heroin addict in search of a fix accomplishing anything or was it a convenient distraction from the atomized meaninglessness of my existence? 

What a question. And what a subject for a TED talk. That’s it! I’m going to be a motivational speaker. By God, I’ll get Silicon Valley listening. Someone pass me the coffee and the coconut oil…

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