“Some things benefit from shocks; they thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors and love adventure, risk, and uncertainty.” -Nassim Nicolas Taleb, Antifragile
Speedreading. Virtual assistants. Mind-enhancing supplements. Ice-cold baths. Soylent diets (*shudders*). These days there are enough lifehacks (and life hack articles) to last a lifetime, and life optimization is the newest craze.
It’s latched on to all of us at some point. “If I just restructure the way I do email, I’ll have 10 extra hours per week!” “If I eat kale and run every day, my brainpower will increase tenfold!”
I’ve had my own spurts of reorganization, rethinking, and restructuring. For the most part, these have been good experiences. I’ve eaten healthier, gotten better sleep, and have been (at least on the surface) more efficient at my work. More importantly, I’ve had the creativity to rethink my daily routines and my status quo.
But my experience tells me there’s something the life optimization experts gloss over. A month or so into a new routine, you start to realize that you’re working for the routine now. You start to live for checking off your boxes for the day (“Ten-mile run in the cold? Check. Daily journal entry? Check.)
It’s to be expected – building systems for life optimization requires commitment, and (at least in the popular life optimization canon) there are no standalone “life hacks.” There is only life perfected and organized.
Thank goodness we’re not machines like that. And even if we could all follow all of the life hack articles out there on the web?
We’d be insufferable to be around.We’d all be too busy drinking our supplements and mapping our routines to notice life and people around us. If we had any kind of spontaneous interaction with our fellow humans, we would probably just form bureaucracies (but they would be optimized, I’m sure).
“Life optimization” fails for the same reason that the concepts of “market equilibrium” and “harmonious social planning” fail: we’re meant to change, fail, adapt, and learn – always. That’s not a bug of our species but a core feature.
Hacking your life can be an important part of that change and learning, but it’s not an end in itself. Like markets, we may always trend toward equilibrium, but we’ll never reach it. If we ever do, we’ll have reached stagnation.
A lot of interesting things happen in unplanned time, mistakes, and chaos. Instead of trying to optimize them away, we might do far better to take an active approach in enjoying them.