What exactly are we optimising towards anyway?
As we usher in the new year, diets, exercise regimens and new year’s resolutions become the dominating pillars of conversations, both online and in person.
We swallow articles on how to hack our bodies for peak physical fitness, how to shed “Christmas weight”, and how to become a healthier version of ourselves.
Our bodies aren’t the only thing looked upon with scrutiny this year. We’re also issued never-ending advice on how to optimise our brains, our daily routines, our sleep patterns, our social lives and our careers. On the whole, the abundance of articles are, probably, well-meaning, but they do beg the question; what exactly are we optimising towards anyway?
The conversations around self-development that present a “one-size fits all” approach to wellness often fail to take into account the fact that every single person on this planet is different. No two people are the same, so why should their needs be? We all have different experiences, goals, priorities, needs and means, so what helps one person may harm another.
Perhaps waking up at 5am leads one individual to a more productive morning, but for another, such an early start may cut their night’s sleep in half. Running three times a week might ignite one person’s love of fitness, but for someone else, that regimen may be completely unworkable.
Another undercurrent of the discourse surrounding our constant optimisation is the very real financial cost that goes hand in hand with it. Framing a food supplement or a piece of exercise equipment as a neccesary tool to achieve peak physical health is a very easy way for companies to sell products. In fact, these corporations depend on our own anxieties and insecurities to shift their goods off shelves and to stay in business.
As well as this financial element, it is also worthwhile to consider the impact of the pressure to optimise every element of our lives from a mental health perspective. Diet culture, no doubt, plays a role in upholding the narrative that we should always strive to be thinner, stronger, more toned, and the industry – while lucrative – rarely has its consumers’ mental health interests at heart.
Indeed pushing to be the best version of ourselves – physically, mentally, professionally – may seem like a worthy goal, but what good is it if it sees us compromising our mental or financial well-being? What’s more, the past two years have shown us how unpredictable life can be and how precious our time on Earth is. Perhaps we shouldn’t spend it entirely in optimisation mode.