The Year I Stopped Taking Personal Development Vitamins
Life, writing, my favorite Substacks, and more
Each time this year, I take stock of my wisdom and foolishness, hoping to understand what type of life I am living. Yet the truth is that the motivation to do such an exercise eluded me this holiday season. Today I find myself a bit wary of turning something as creative and wild as my life into a startup project—then publishing a listicle about my prescient takeaways. Some might call this cynicism. Others would declare it an evolution, the necessary résistance to a dominator culture that insists on extrinsically measuring beingness.
But on Christmas morning, like a good Jew, I sat at my desk to write. As I typed, I remembered why I started doing these annual reviews in the first place. How for over a decade, I only completed them for businesses. With the help of my old pal Adderall XR 20mg, I’d chart annualized revenue growth, OKRs, top-down performance! Then, when Adderall and I divorced, when I lost the custody rights to imbibe all my other narcotic pals, when shit really hit the fan, I plunged myself into recovery.
The “personal development” echo chamber was the obvious next realm to explore. This is when I started carving out time to do annual reviews not just for startups, but for mi vida! I did most of these exercises on planes traveling to Central and South America because, healing. My annual reviews were populated with intentions such as: if I can just be a tad more self-aware; if I can root my identity in something shapeless and timeless; if I can remember to kneel and kiss the Earth for no reason; if I can serve others and not be so damn selfish; if I can make progress against these clear, specific, actionable personal goals; maybe then, if I’m lucky, I won’t train wreck my life again.
You see, a yearly practice of self-reflective writing is about more than just swallowing some personal development vitamins. And even though we sometimes need to swerve off the train tracks to change, I’m happy to report that, this year, I’ve mostly been situated in the passenger carriage reveling at the views. Thus, without further ado, I present you with some fire listicles.
My life in a listicle
Natura Care Programs. I am most proud of this: after years of planning, in July we launched and ran NCP’s first successful cohort. For the ~800 readers who are new arrivals of late, I am the co-founder of an interdisciplinary addiction program that harnesses the power of a psychedelic sacrament. We have two cohorts planned for 2023 and are already accepting applicants. More here soon.
Somatic psychotherapy. Earlier this month, I finished my second year of study and graduated from the Hakomi Institute of Mindful Somatic Psychology. My coaching practice is going remarkably well, energizing me each week. Sometimes, I pinch myself that I earn the bulk of my living exploring the ambitions and psyches of talented folks, mostly over Zoom.
I’m writing a book! When I began writing online, I thought I’d be the type of dude to only embrace self-publishing. I have strong anti-establishment instincts, which, as I’ve documented, often get the better of me. But thanks to the encouragement from several mentors, in 2021 I began the process of finding a traditional agent for my book aspirations—a process I’ll write about at some point. Earlier this year, after receiving multiple offers, I signed with a literary agent! The book is not in its full form yet by any means, and the process has been a bit of an emotional rollercoaster. But I’m pumped about its emerging direction and concept. Hopefully, I’ll have more to report this year.
This newsletter is officially my job. In November, after four years of writing here, I turned on paid subscribers. Even before this progression, I spent countless hours on my essays and viewed this newsletter as the cornerstone of my work. After a conversation with Holly Whitaker a few weeks ago (read: a much-needed pep talk), I’ve decided to get over my bashfulness and simplify the offering, leaning into the quality of my writing itself (hopefully it’s quality?!). As such, I’ve paywalled all my essays over a year old and will be sharing more gated literary content for paid subscribers. I’ll also be increasing the community offerings such as our upcoming book club read, dialogues, and modern recovery groups.
If you consistently read Deep Fix and find value in it, please consider becoming a paid subscriber and supporting my work.
Turns out, Deep Fix is no longer a listicle
For ~130 essays, I numbered my newsletters. I now see this as reflective of the worldview that I inhabited at the time: quantity over quality, marketing schedule over spirit. This year, I decided to write only if I was genuinely compelled to share, which still ended up being 25 times or so. As I began working on this review, I realized I blew past my 150th Substack newsletter without dramatically announcing it, which feels like a missed branding opportunity or something. Anyways, I wrote some essays this year that a few of you seemed to enjoy. Here are five that I’m especially proud of:
The Great Millennial Predicament: The Antidote to Self-Doubt, Cosmic Insignificance, and Narcissism
The Divine Union: On Silicon Valley Skills and the Search for Meaningful Work
I tend to write about the ideas that I find most useful and impactful, so if there’s an overlap here between my essays, I swear that it’s not just a way to plug my shit!
Reciprocal opening. I wrote about this cognitive science concept in my latest essay “Addiction is Between You and the World.” The idea: you can progressively close yourself to your emotions and environment, which narrows your agency and environment, leading to addiction. Alternatively, you can progressively open to all of it, the internal and external. I practice this in subtle ways throughout my day: What happens if I open myself to the minor frustration that my girlfriend sparks within me? What happens if I open to the all-too-familiar fear about my body or health? Reciprocal opening can be described as the move towards enlightenment. It’s my core intention for 2023.
Relatedly: let it hurt. So much distress is caused by denying or shunning whatever it is we are feeling, convincing ourselves that it is somehow wrong. For me, this includes catching myself when I am externalizing my feelings and projecting my discomfort onto a person or environment.
What status game am I playing? There are three types of status games: dominance, virtue, and success. Understanding what motivates us is vital, as I wrote. The game of life is inescapable, so we might as well be aware of how we are playing it and have some fun while doing it. Whenever I engage with social media, I try and watch which status games get triggered within me, particularly around virtue and success.
Speak 20% less. If there’s a skill that has most benefited me from my training this year, it’s learning how to listen psychodynamically. What this means: forsaking the need for self-expression and self-acknowledgment, allowing the person to be the authority on their own life, and studying the non-verbal cues that comprise ~80% of conversations. Only speak if it enriches the silence. And if you’re an excitable dude like me, aim to speak 20% less. I’m working on an essay about this.
- by Freddie DeBoer. Freddie is one of those rare people who dwells in the quadrant of a hardcore socialist, yet also opposed to the pathologies of far-left politics. I’ve especially enjoyed his essays discussing mental health. I think I send his essays to friends more than I do for any other writer.
- by Holly Whitaker. Holly’s essays leave me with the following feeling: permission. Permission to be myself without self-censoring. Permission to be imperfect. Her roundups of 15 Links are phenomenal; honestly, it saves me time for doing addiction research because I know if it’s significant, she’ll cover it.
- by Erik Hoel. Erik wrote some banger essays this year. I love that he also drops experimental fiction and stories, as I have from time to time. His growth has been remarkable. If you’re an aspiring writer, he’s a person to watch, proving that quality trumps quantity.
- by Sasha Chapin. Sasha’s writing embodies showing rather than telling, genuine wisdom rather than verbose advice column listicles. He’s the type of writer whose prose will make you insecure about your own. This essay is a must-read.
And a few other fire Substacks I loved this year that I don’t always get a chance to celebrate: The Metagame, Bad Guru, The Mandate, beauty and terror, Surrender Now, The Map is Mostly Water, The Journey, Pirate Wires, Tiny Revolutions, Just Enough to Get Me in Trouble, bookbear express, The Bigger Picture, and a new fav Broke But Moisturized.
Jesus’s Son by Dennis Johnson. If you’re from the MFA/high-lit world, this selection of short stories will come as no surprise, it might even feel obvious. But it’s simply that good. This year, I’ve been studying non-linear storytelling, and I don’t know if I’ve read a better narrative about addiction. I instantly became obsessed with Johnson in the same way that I did with Junot Díaz, devouring most of his other books this year.
Soul Craft: Crossing into the Mysteries of Nature and Psyche by Bill Plotkin. Plotkin, a Jungian and eco psychologist, makes the claim that the soul is a primarily ecological function, that we must root down into nature, and that a disconnection from nature’s wildness is core to modern malaise. Given the work I do with Natura Care Programs and elsewhere, this missive resonated at the deepest levels of my being.
Radical Wholeness: The Embodied Present and the Ordinary Grace of Being by Philip Shepherd. Oftentimes, we read books about psychology, embodiment, self-help, and it all sounds great and neat, but nothing sticks. Yet the practices prescribed in this book—breathing deep, slow, breaths into the pelvic bowl—have become part of my daily life. We read this for DFx Book Club, and Philip Shepherd joined our discussion, which was a real treat.
A few other fire books: Already Free: Buddhism Meets Psychotherapy (another DFx book club read), Existential Kink, Motivational Interviewing for School Counselors (best for coaches/therapists), The Map and The Territory (aware Houellebecq is controversial; as mentioned, I’ve been studying non-traditional storytelling and this novel is quite impressive), The Psilocybin Connection, and When Plants Dream.
Books I found sorrowfully overrated: The Courage to Be Disliked, I’m Glad My Mom Died, and The Way of Integrity.
La Frontera Verde. Amazonian mysticism, ayahuasca, the destruction of the rainforest, Eternal spirits, and Nazi’s—this show is truly on another level. Note: it is not light viewing.
White Lotus. The hype is real. Part of why it’s so universally popular is because they cleverly roast every subgroup—especially the elites and disillusioned millennial/Gen Zer’s.
Tied for third: The Rehearsal, perhaps the most metamodern show I’ve ever seen. Severance, extremely heady. And Euphoria, which sexualizes addiction and teenage angst, but is also shockingly accurate; there are elements of addiction that are, indeed, seductive.
CAPRISONGS by FKA Twigs. If Santigold, Rihanna, and MIA were melded into a metamodern artist with creative genius, it would be FKA Twigs. This album is fucking incredible, such a vibe. Listen from start to finish.
Music for Psychedelic Therapy by Jon Hopkins. Hopkins was my most-played artist on Spotify this year, which is I guess what happens when you work in the psychedelic space (his music is also great for writing). Note: this album is, technically, more suited to guiding synthetic psychedelics than entheogenic (earth-based) compounds, for which East Forest is preferred.
Metamodern Sounds in Country Music by Sturgill Simpson. An old album that I revisited on vinyl this year, and god damn, Sturgill is the motherfucking man. “Just Let Go” hit me harder this year than it ever had before.
Best to you as you continue to share your experience and gifts. Thanks for the reading and music tips.
So happy to support your writing ✍️.
Thanks for this piece. I’m new to Substack but have loved following you so far