Introducing the Cynic's Guide to Self-Improvement Podcast

(Sort of)

Introducing the Cynic's Guide to Self-Improvement Podcast

I thought it'd be fun and perhaps even convenient to record some of the posts here as a kind of mini-podcast. So here is the first episode – a recording of last week's post, Map of the Problematic. (I've also added this audio to the original post.)

Map of the Problematic - The Cynics Guide to Self-Improvement Podcast

It seems to be a rule in the writing business that the stuff you like the most is what audiences like the least. I really enjoyed Map of the Problematic, but a somewhat surprising number of subscribers didn't! While it's easy to assume that the unsubscribers were just those readers who are also into Andrew Huberman, I doubt that's the case. I think it's a bit of newsletter fatigue. God knows there are a lot of these things, with seemingly every made-redundant journalist starting one. I just want to reiterate that while a paid subscription is lovely and helps keep me in coffee, I want this newsletter to stay aggressively free. If a paid subscription causes you any kind of financial hardship, just stop paying (or, preferably, pay someone whose newsletter pays the bills, like Emily Writes. I love her Meditations posts).

Meditations to get you through the week
Who needs a rest? And it’s only Monday! How about some meditations to get you through the week? I hope at least one of these brings you a bit of joy and a bit of calm. You are a half blind seal bathing on the beach along the Whangaparāoa peninsula. You are large and round and perfect. Growing crowds watch you in awe. You listen as they coo and gasp in wonder at your fat belly. It is full of fish or whatever seals eat. You are happy. Your only job is to lie on this beach and bring joy to onlookers who will hold the memory of you through generations. In years to come, they will walk one day with a friend or a grandchild and point to the spot where you once bathed and say “I saw a fur seal here once”. And they will smile as they remember. And this is your sweet and lovely legacy.

The best way to pay me is to DM someone who has buyers remorse over purchasing a second-hand copy of 12 Rules for Life and getting them to subscribe, for free, to this newsletter.

So here are some links to some stuff I found improved my self this week:

Steal some writing time back

Nadine Ann Hura is always worth reading, and she's got a rather lovely observation on stealing time to write – in poem form!

Steal back your life
Time to write is always stolen
So get used to thieving
I think of all the words I've ever written furtively, fearfully, faithfully
Hiding notes inside the spines of books penned by others
Never daring to describe myself as a writer
despite writing being the only thing I have ever done with any consistency
and not once because someone gave me the time
I am a thief, not a writer.

I relate, heavily. Go subscribe (for free) to read the rest. Newsletter fatigue notwithstanding, you won't regret having Nadine's writing in your inbox.

Time to Write is Always Stolen
So get used to thieving

Bro, read this essay on bro culture, it's sick bro

After reading Map of the Problematic, a bunch of people recommended this essay by Patrick Wyman. I'd already seen it, but it was well worth the re-read.

But this kind of Bro Culture is also intimately connected to the emergence of a new kind of American ethnonationalism, rooted in its peculiar conception of masculinity, its collection of lifestyle products, its worship of guns, and its aversion to self-reflection. Maybe you can just have the big dudes lifting stones without the drive to pardon Navy SEALs convicted of horrific war crimes; but then again, maybe the algorithms make them impossible to separate.
Bro Culture, Fitness, Chivalry, and American Identity
This is a foundational text of American Bro Culture: two large men shooting the shit about lifting weights, working in references from everything to guns to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu to football in the process. The subject of the day is the squat, and whether one of the two participants - Echo - neglects this essential lift.

Life Coaching is (very often) a scam

Caveats: I think that some kinds of coaching – ADHD coaching, business coaching, sports coaching, even life coaching, whatever that is – are not scams, or at least, they don't have to be. I've got an article coming up on coaching stuff, but in the meantime, use this NYT gift link to gape in horror at how thoroughly some people have been fleeced by the deeply unethical aspect of an unregulated industry:

After completing the program, Ms. Mullett was certified by the school and hoped to start coaching. But although she had initially been told that her certification would give her “everything I needed to make my first $100,000,” Ms. Mullett found herself short of clients and scrambling to make any income. The solution that she was offered? To spend more money on being coached.

Is Reddit OK?

A social experiment: Go to one of the self-improvement subreddits, like r/selfimprovement, sort the posts by controversial, and witness the absolute state of it.

A question to r/selfimprovement: “Thoose of you who has been an avid music listener but has either stopped or quitted listening to music in a whole. What has the benefit been according to you and how long did it take you to adapt to not having music constantly playing in your ears”
How is babby formed, but for self-improvement

There's been a huge increase in GPT spam to Reddit lately and the self-improvement subreddits have been hit hard. They're full of posts that are just some spammer's poorly-written AI summary of a self-help book studded with affiliate links, and are somehow escaping moderator attention. But sometimes you get something so impossibly odd that only a human could have written it.

Too long for alt text but basically it's screenshot of a guy asking Reddit how to stop wanking.
You learn something new every day. Today we learned about "ghost loads."

I just thought this was funny

I don't mean to dunk on this newsletter – I'm sure it's good, and paid subscriptions help enable writers to do fun activities like "eat," but I thought this was amusingly emblematic of the great Paywalling of Everything:

Here's what she had to say: this post is for paid subscribers.

More Birmo wisdom

If there comes a day when John Birmingham stops churning out quotable articles that boldly identify the self-improvement elephant in the room especially as it relates to writers, I'll stop plugging him in my own newsletter – but today is not that day.

The Blergh, whatever you want to call it, arises from a loss of meaning, a loss of any connection to what’s grounded and firm. For us, specifically, I think it’s triggered by the rootless, untethered feeling of floating around on an endless sea of digital shit. And you what isn’t gonna help with that? Some glowing, beady-eyed, ratbastard influencer yammering at you to get one per cent better every day.
Failure is the point.
We get sold a lot of shit in this crazy, go-go world of ours. Climate change is no biggie. Delicious carob animal snacks with half the calories but all the flavour. “People are looking at your LinkedIn profile, John!” But of all this dubious content, perhaps the most pernicious is the idea that we need to be one percent better every day.

Pilgrim's progress

Let's take a break from pull-up updates. Look, self-improvement is all about doing things yourself, right? So what could be more self-improvementing than self-surgery?

Here's the story. I think I mentioned a while back that I'd picked up a splinter while gardening. "Splinter" doesn't perhaps do it justice. It was a big bit of sharp stick that shot deep into the ball of my thumb, and when I pulled it out, it dropped off a friend. This splinter stayed in my thumb for two months, long after the entry wound had completely healed over. I had two ultrasounds to image the thing – one from a startlingly inept technician who tried doggedly to scan the wrong bit of my thumb and then snarled at me for daring to whistle in an attempt to take my mind off the whole ordeal – and I finally got surgery exactly one month ago today.

Unfortunately, the surgeon missed the splinter. She had promised that if they couldn't get it out on the first attempt the only recourse was to (I'm using her term) flay my thumb wide open. I didn't feel like going through this, and I'd figured out I could kind of push the splinter towards the end of my thumb, as it seemed to have made a kind of tunnel for itself – like a water-slide, but with pus. So I sterilized one of my craft scalpels, made a small cut, and slowly pulled it out with tweezers. It's now a great life regret that I didn't take a video of the process, but I did get this pic.

A picture of a splinter I pulled out of my thumb against my thumb, with the tools I used in the background.

The splinter was pretty pristine given how long it had lived in my thumb. If anyone is looking for a variety of wood that can survive being carried around in their bodies for several months, I recommend whatever my hedges are made of. The moral of the story is obviously that if I ever need any kind of surgery in the future, I'm going to do it myself, and you should too.


You asked, the Cynic's Guide to Kitten Pictures delivered. Here he is looking alternately fiendish and adorable while trying not to fall asleep.

It's a gif of my tiny fluffy black kitten doing his best to look fierce while also trying not to fall asleep

Expect regular Pango updates in future, and possibly podcasts of select posts too!

Dopamine, now in song form

Also, let me know what you thought of the Cynic's Guide podcast! You may now type any words you choose in the comments.