The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck

A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life
Mark Manson

This book in three sentences

  1. Don't try to be positive all the time and look at life through rose-coloured glasses – that shit doesn't work.
  2. Instead, you should embrace negative emotions as a call to action, find the meaning in your suffering, and take full responsibility for changing the parts of your life that need to be fixed.
  3. Instead of giving a fuck about everything, prioritize your fucks on the things that truly matter.

Book notes

Don’t Try

All the positive and happy self-help stuff we hear all the time—is actually fixating on what you lack. It lasers in on what you perceive your personal shortcomings and failures.

A confident man doesn’t feel a need to prove that he’s confident.

Consumer culture and social media has bred a whole generation of people who believe that having negative experiences—anxiety, fear, guilt, etc.—is not okay.

The desire for more positive experience is itself a negative experience. And, paradoxically, the acceptance of one’s negative experience is itself a positive experience.

Everything worthwhile in life is won through surmounting the associated negative experience. Any attempt to escape the negative, to avoid it or quash it or silence it, only backfires.

You need to learn how to focus and prioritize your thoughts effectively—how to pick and choose what matters to you and what does not matter to you based on finely honed personal values.

No matter where you go, there’s a five-hundred-pound load of shit waiting for you. And that’s perfectly fine.

To not give a fuck about adversity, you must first give a fuck about something more important than adversity.

Whether you realize it or not, you are always choosing what to give a fuck about.

Maturity is what happens when one learns to only give a fuck about what’s truly fuckworthy.

Because once you become comfortable with all the shit that life throws at you (and it will throw a lot of shit, trust me), you become invincible in a sort of low-level spiritual way.

Happiness Is a Problem

Research has found that our brains don’t register much difference between physical pain and psychological pain.

Don’t hope for a life without problems. There’s no such thing. Instead, hope for a life full of good problems.

Emotions are simply biological signals designed to nudge you in the direction of beneficial change.

Negative emotions are a call to action. When you feel them, it’s because you’re supposed to do something. Positive emotions, on the other hand, are rewards for taking the proper action.

The question that determines your success isn’t, “What do you want to enjoy?”, it’s “What pain do you want to sustain?”

You Are Not Special

Feeling good about yourself doesn’t really mean anything unless you have a good reason to feel good about yourself.

A true and accurate measurement of one’s self-worth is how people feel about the negative aspects of themselves.

A person who actually has a high self-worth is able to look at the negative parts of his character frankly and then acts to improve upon them.

If we have problems that are unsolvable, our unconscious figures that we’re either uniquely special or uniquely defective.

When a culture’s standard of success is to “be extraordinary,” it then becomes better to be at the extreme low end of the bell curve than to be in the middle, because at least there you’re still special and deserve attention.

(Note: Reminds me of the “Courage to be normal” idea from the Courage to be Disliked).

The rare people who do become truly exceptional at something do so not because they believe they’re exceptional. On the contrary, they become amazing because they’re obsessed with improvement.

The ticket to emotional health, like that to physical health, comes from eating your veggies—that is, accepting that your actions actually don’t matter that much in the grand scheme of things, and the vast majority of your life will be boring and not noteworthy, and that’s okay.

Suffering is Valuable

We all have emotional blind spots. Often they have to do with the emotions that we were taught were inappropriate growing up.

Ask why you feel certain emotions. Why do you feel angry? Is it because you failed to achieve some goal?

Investigate your personal values: Why do you consider this to be success/failure? How are you choosing to measure yourself?

Problems may be inevitable, but the meaning of each problem is not.

If you want to change how you see your problems, you have to change what you value and/or how you measure failure/success.

People who base their self-worth on being right about everything prevent themselves from learning from their mistakes... it’s far more helpful to assume that you’re ignorant and don’t know a whole lot.

Constant positivity is a form of avoidance, not a valid solution to life’s problems.

Good values are 1) reality-based, 2) socially constructive, and 3) immediate and controllable. Bad values are 1) superstitious, 2) socially destructive, and 3) not immediate or controllable.

As a rule, people who are terrified of what others think about them are actually terrified of all the shitty things they think about themselves being reflected back at them.

You Are Always Choosing a Response

We often fight over who gets to be responsible for success and happiness. But taking responsibility for our problems is far more important, because that’s where the real learning comes from.

Pain of one sort or another is inevitable for all of us, but we get to choose what it means to and for us.

People who consistently make the best choices in the situations they’re given are the ones who eventually come out ahead in poker, just as in life.

Some people are legitimately victimized in horrible ways. But as much as this may upset us or disturb us, it ultimately changes nothing about the responsibility equation of our individual situation.

This ability to alleviate responsibility through blame gives people a temporary high and a feeling of moral righteousness.

The more people there are who proclaim themselves victims over tiny infractions, the harder it becomes to see who the real victims actually are.

We're All Wrong About Everything

As a teenager, I told everybody that I didn’t care about anything, when the truth was I cared about way too much.

When we learn something new, we don’t go from “wrong” to “right.” Rather, we go from wrong to slightly less wrong... we never actually ever reaching truth or perfection.

Many people become so obsessed with being “right” about their life that they never end up actually living it.

Before we can look at our values and prioritizations and change them into better, healthier ones, we must first become uncertain of our current values.

Manson’s Law of Avoidance: The more something threatens your identity, the more you will avoid it.

This is why people are often so afraid of success—for the exact same reason they’re afraid of failure: it threatens who they believe themselves to be.

For some, the real possibility of becoming An Artist Nobody Likes is far scarier than remaining An Artist Nobody’s Heard Of.

Measure by more mundane identities: a student, a partner, a friend, a creator. The narrower and rarer the identity you choose for yourself, the more everything will seem to threaten you.

“Am I jealous—and if I am, then why?” “Am I angry?” “Is she right, and I’m just protecting my ego?” Questions like these need to become a mental habit.

if it’s down to me being screwed up, or everybody else being screwed up, it is far, far, far more likely that I’m the one who’s screwed up.

Failure Is the Way Forward

You can make plenty of money and be miserable, just as you could be broke and be pretty happy.

The best values are process-oriented. Something like “Express myself honestly to others,” a metric for the value “honesty,” is never completely finished.

When you choose a new value, you are choosing to introduce a new form of pain into your life. Relish it. Savor it. Welcome it with open arms. Then act despite it.

If you lack the motivation to make an important change in your life, do something—anything, really—and then harness the reaction to that action as a way to begin motivating yourself.

I quickly learned, though, that forcing myself to do something, even the most menial of tasks, quickly made the larger tasks seem much easier.

Force yourself to write “Two hundred crappy words per day.” If you force yourself to write two hundred crappy words, more often than not the act of writing will inspire you.

The Importance of Saying No

The biggest lesson from being a digital nomad was this: absolute freedom, by itself, means nothing.

To truly appreciate something, you must confine yourself to it. There’s a certain level of joy and meaning that you reach in life only when you’ve spent decades investing in a single relationship, a single craft, a single career.

The act of choosing a value for yourself requires rejecting alternative values.

People in a healthy relationship with strong boundaries will take responsibility for their own values and problems and not take responsibility for their partner’s values and problems.

People with strong boundaries are not afraid of a temper tantrum, an argument, or getting hurt. People with weak boundaries are terrified of those things and will constantly mold their own behavior to fit the highs and lows of their relational emotional roller coaster.

The older you get, the more experienced you get, the less significantly each new experience affects you.

Commitment allows you to focus intently on a few highly important goals and achieve a greater degree of success than you otherwise would.

Breadth of experience is likely necessary and desirable when you’re young – but depth is where the gold is buried.

Memento Mori

Ernest Becker came to a startling realization on his deathbed: that people’s immortality projects were actually the problem, not the solution; that rather than attempting to implement, often through lethal force, their conceptual self across the world, people should question their conceptual self and become more comfortable with the reality of their own death.

The Stoics of ancient Greece and Rome implored people to keep death in mind at all times, in order to appreciate life more and remain humble in the face of its adversities. In various forms of Buddhism, the practice of meditation is often taught as a means of preparing oneself for death while still remaining alive. Dissolving one’s ego into an expansive nothingness—achieving the enlightened state of nirvana—is seen as a trial run of letting oneself cross to the other side.

How will the world be different and better when you’re gone? What mark will you have made? What influence will you have caused? This is arguably the only truly important question in our life.

© 2023 Mike Fiorillo
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