Huberman and All His Buddies are Distracting You From Your One Shot at a Good Life
Last August I was about halfway over the Atlantic, deeply engaged in one of my favorite self-care practices: sedately scrolling TikTok. After chuckling at a video of a tiny pig and his owner sharing fresh slices of an apple, my FYP arrived at an ad featuring Stanford Neurobiology professor Dr. Andrew Huberman promoting what was essentially a human chew toy.
In a laughably serious, high-production-value-podcast-studio setting, Huberman celebrated the benefits of neurotically chewing on what looked like a thick, rubber rigatoni to the squareness of one’s jawline.
I became unhinged.
Five consecutive canned espresso martinis into a flight to Paris, I rage wrote a business poem (a what!? yes, a business poem) expressing my disdain for the popularity of today’s personal development gurus.
I opened my Apple notes app and let the seething disdain pour forth from my caffeinated, plastered fingertips. It was dark. It was unsettling. It was spot fucking on. And most importantly, it was not an overreaction.
Dr. Huberman boasts an impressive resume: Ph.D.; neuroscientist; tenured professor at Stanford School of Medicine; McKnight Foundation and Pew Foundation Fellow; Cogan Award winner; published in top journals including Nature, Science and Cell; featured in TIME, BBC, Scientific American, Discover.
And yet, with all that understanding of how the human brain (and its psychology) works, Dr. Huberman didn’t pause to consider that maybe, just maybe, he ought to disclaim that feeling better about the squareness of your jawline won’t help you feel better overall about your experience of being alive in any meaningful way whatsoever? And that, in fact, it will just further reinforce your feelings of inadequacy!?
The rub is that these guys know how your brain works and they’re using that knowledge not to lead you to contentment, but to distract you from it and sell to you over and over and over and over again.
I’ve always hated the top names in my industry because they all strategically ignore a very important elephant in the room, and they do that because they know it’s magnificently profitable. The elephant is this: everybody knows what they don’t want, and what they’re supposed to want (or what it’s fashionable to want), but nobody knows what they really, personally, individually do want. And these fuckers are making sure it stays that way.
Said differently, they’re distracting us with how to win at keeping up with the Joneses, plainly because that keeps us from winning at living lives that we love, for our own weird and deeply, richly beloved reasons. They know that if we enjoy our lives and like ourselves, we don’t need the routines and products and subscriptions they’re peddling.
So instead of emphasizing the essential truth that a capacity to perform’s only value is whatever is found in the importance of the ends it helps deliver for you, they conveniently leave out talking about the signifigance of knowing what you want and keep you focused on your 4am alarm (don’t snooze it, ‘cause science!), cold plunge, and 2-hour TM session before packing your Athletic Greens (sponsored by HubermanLab!) and scurrying off to the gym.
The trouble is, the routines they purport to keep themselves (hot take: they don’t) are too demanding, so we won’t stick with them, and when we fail over and over and over and over again, we reinforce that we are not good enough, we must improve, our commitment to and investment in and obsession over performance must deepen.
And so we continue on, listening to more drivel — and buying more shit — from these supposedly higher-order beings with their right-angle-glass-cutters-for-jaws, failing both to execute on these absurd standards of discipline nor to develop any true sense of what it is we really want, individually and personally, out of the experience of this, our one life.
Ultimately, my great fear is this: when we get to the end of our lives, as we lie upon our deathbeds, what memories will we have to ease the finality of folding, once and for all, into nothingness? A 96-day streak of 5 pages of self-help-book reading, neurotropic ingestion and flawless macro tracking? Or the year dedicated to deepening relationships with aging parents, the enthusiastic embrace of a fully work-disconnected paternal leave, a solo trip to finally fulfill a dream of seeing Madagascar a month after your 52nd birthday?
The first set is valuable only so far as they help you get to something of worth, the second are fundamentally valuable expenditures of the precious gift of life. Which begs the question: who can we look to for guidance?
In the end, there’s one authority and one authority only on the matter of learning ourselves well enough to know what we want (and then getting it): ourselves. Luckily, when we make the life-capturing leap into courage that is handing ourselves over to the exploration of what it is we truly want, we are nowhere near the first to do it. Human history is swarming with artifacts-as-beacons left behind by the great artists who have trudged through the trenches of their own truth before us.
So listen to some Nina. Read some Steinbeck or some Dickinson or some Bukowski. Go see a Frida Kahlo, even (especially?) if that means getting on a flight. Listen to a Sagan lecture, or a Churchill speech. Thankfully, we can trust these guides because none of them would ever tell us what to do or how to do it, or why. All they offer is the bravest and truest gift a person can give: what and how and why they did. And all we can do to thank them is to pay it forward.