An earnest scholarly effort devolves into a funny, sometimes-sardonic tour of the possibilities of changing your life—or not.
Are we immutable? Cederström (Stockholm Business School) and Spicer (Cass Business School, City Univ., London) teamed up for a year of month-by-month mutual challenges to improve mind, body, and spirit through endeavors ranging from yoga and raw veganism to tantric sex (“she was the only multi-orgasmic person I knew,” writes Cederström of one informant). They raced to lose weight, write the greatest number of words each day, and memorize speeches; they used drugs, drank and ate excessively or not at all, smoked cigarettes, self-administered mild electrical shocks, underwent plastic surgery, and visited a succession of oddballs, from a Rasputin-y Russian with a mysterious “God helmet” to a German longhair who urged, “now, imagine you are a wild man! Find your inner wild man! Stand like your wild man!” Grunts, pants, huffs and puffs, and spreadsheet entries ensued. The loser of the month’s competition had extra chores: in one instance, Spicer had to stand and talk at the famed Speaker’s Corner in London’s Hyde Park on the subject of “Why I Am an Asshole.” The epithet applies to both authors at times, but there is serious purpose behind the quest, which is often reminiscent of the Steve Coogan/Rob Brydon Trip movie series. It would spoil the fun to give away too much of their concluding argument, but suffice it to say that one of Spicer’s takeaways seems just right: “Living like this for a year, I had come to appreciate the comforts of my regular life.” Another good point: though self-improvement and self-change invite a world of charlatans to prey on the weak, most of the practitioners they encountered “were genuinely committed to using their expertise to help their clients.”
A good-natured, thoughtful, and often comic joyride, well worth reading before listing your new year’s resolutions.