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The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck

Updated: Aug 17, 2018

Mark Manson is the author of the NY Times bestselling book The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck, Models: Attract Women Through Honesty, and his very popular blog He graduated with a degree in finance from Boston University just as the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression was beginning so he didn’t have any bright prospects for any good jobs at the time. Jobs were being destroyed, not created. So he made some contrary decisions on what to do with his life post graduation compared to what so many other graduates do once they graduate from college. He decided to travel the world and then start a blog. 

What got me interested in Mark in the first place is that he became a NY Times bestselling author without a background in writing. Yes, he had a very successful blog, but he had no prior experience in writing from school. He majored in finance, not writing. He got me thinking deeper in a new type of economy we are living through today thanks to the internet. It may seem like the same old boring economy we’ve been following from what the media has been talking about but we all have a very valuable free option embedded in it. Gary Vaynerchuck talks a lot about this economy and how the internet plays such a vital role in allowing the actor, comedian and singer who couldn’t get a gig on TV to share his or her talent on Youtube or the model who couldn’t land a job at a modeling agency to post his or her pictures on Instagram.

Once upon a time before the Internet, if you wanted to be a successful writer or author you went to school for it. If you wanted to be the editor of a big magazine or newspaper you had to have some experience as a writer. Not these days. Mark just had an Internet connection which allowed him to create a blog and he had his ideas and his experiences.

Before I get into the valuable ideas that I loved from Mark’s book, I want to introduce to you what Mark says is the purpose of his book from his own words:

“So Mark, what the fuck is the point of this book anyway? This book will help you think a little bit more clearly about what you’re choosing to find important in life and what you’re choosing to find unimportant.”

Mark’s book is more of a philosophical self-help book to help you think better so that you can discover what you want out of life and create values to help you get what you want. A great idea that Mark shares is to think about what pain you want in your life. The reason is because everyone of us has pain in life in some form so might as well make it pain that will help all of us get where we want to be.

We are a species that didn’t have easy and abundant access to food, safety, and shelter for tens of thousands of years. We were running around the earth in the middle of the food chain afraid that we might be eaten by a lion, but now things have changed. And I can imagine all of our ancestors saying, “If only we had easy access to food, safety, and shelter then all of our worries would be gone and we can live happily ever after.” Not so fast though. Think about how much they would be surprised because we have all of those things today but we still have pain and struggle.

Now all of that pain and struggle has been replaced with different types of problems then what our ancestors faced in the past. Now those problems are mental and psychological. That is how our minds work. When we solve one problem it gets replaced with another. And Mark is emphasizing that if you’re going to have problems, then make sure you have good problems. Problems that will help you get closer to what you want out of life.

“A more interesting question, a question that most people never consider is, ‘What pain do you want in your life? What are you willing to struggle for?’ Because that seems to be a greater determinant of how our lives turn out.” — Mark Manson

There are a couple of ideas and life hacks that Mark makes a great point on in his book that I want to mention.

The first one and probably my favorite is what Alan Watts called the backwards law.

The backwards law is about realizing that the more you chase after something, the more you end up getting the opposite effect. For example, the more you chase happiness, the more you end up feeling unhappy. This is an interesting idea and it make so much sense because happiness is an emotion and there are a lot of factors that affect how we are feeling that are out of our control. And also because the act of not achieving our goal of happiness itself acts as a reinforcing variable in making us feel even more unhappy.

For example: if we are planning an event outside and we really want it to be beautiful that day, but it turns out that there is a really bad storm outside then we are unhappy. But there was nothing we could do in this situation since we can’t control the weather. And if all we are striving for is happiness then we will measure everything based off that happiness metric which will create a negative feedback loop because not only are you upset about the weather, but you are also upset that you aren’t achieving your ultimate goal of being happy. You’re now unhappy about two things instead of just one. You failed to achieve your goal of being happy and the weather is nasty outside.

“’The backwards law’ [is] the idea that the more you pursue feeling better all the time, the less satisfied you become, as pursuing something only reinforces the fact that you lack it in the first place. The more you desperately want to be rich, the more poor and unworthy you feel, regardless of how much money you actually make. The more you desperately want to be sexy and desired, the uglier you come to see yourself, regardless of your actual physical appearance. The more you desperately want to be happy and loved, the lonelier and more afraid you become, regardless of those who surround you. The more you want to be spiritually enlightened, the more self-centered and shallow you become in trying to get there.” — Mark Manson

So what does Mark suggest we should do instead? He suggests that instead of looking for the positives such as happiness and riches, he suggest looking for the negatives.

“If pursuing the positive is a negative, then pursuing the negative generates the positive.” — Mark Manson

This goes back to what I mentioned earlier about thinking about focusing on the pain that you have to endure to get what you want. It’s the negatives that make us stronger such as the pain we feel while working out in the gym, the bad breakup we had that taught us many lessons and made us stronger after we reflected on how we felt at the time and what went wrong, and the failures in business that taught us valuable lessons that we can now carry on with us in our next venture.

All of this focuses on a value that Mark lives by which is on suffering and is a great segway into the last idea that I want to discuss from Mark’s book.

And that idea is about values. Values play such an important part in our life because they are the foundation of how we all live. I consider the way Mark discusses values to be very similar to what I’ve been writing about recently which are principles. I recently wrote an article about the principles from Ray Dalio and Leonardo Da Vinci, two very intelligent people who lived by their own principles and understood the importance of having them.

The title of Mark’s book is The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck but it doesn’t mean don’t give a fuck about everything. It is about not giving a fuck about the less important things in life that we shouldn’t care so much about. Like the internet being down for 15 minutes, our favorite sports team losing one game, or how many likes we have on Instagram.

It is about focusing our efforts on giving a fuck only about the important things to us in life and those important things should be our values. They will vary from person to person but the important thing is that we all have the self awareness to realize what they are.

I will leave you with the 5 values that Mark shares in his book which he lives by and my own interpretation of those values added after, and then lastly, a nice little quote from Mark to get you started on developing your own values to help you start living your own life and not someone else’s.

Value 1: Radical form of responsibility — always take responsibility and don’t blame anything on others no matter whose fault it is. This is important because when it is someone else’s fault, you do nothing, but when something is your own fault you always act or reflect on what went wrong.

Value 2: Uncertainty — it exists no matter what. Deal with it. I remember reading a great book from Peter Bernstein called Against the Odds and he makes a great point about the value of uncertainty. If there was no such thing as uncertainty and everything was certain in life then we would lose our freedom and freewill. Life would be so goddamn boring. But since uncertainty exists and we don’t know how our life is going to turn out because there are so many doors to open in life, we have our own control on choosing which door to open. And it’s a hell of a lot better to have freewill then to not have it at all.

Value 3: Failure — reflecting on mistakes and what went wrong and using it to get better. There are so many memes and quotes out there saying this that it feels cliché but it’s true so it’s worth repeating. Our success in life is a function of our failures in life.

“We can be truly successful only at something we’re willing to fail at.” — Mark Manson

Value 4: Rejection — Being comfortable hearing it and having the ability to dish it out.

Value 5: The contemplation of one’s own mortality — Understanding that in the end we all won’t be here so my as well get started on doing what you love now as opposed to never. Also, using death to keep all of our other values in the right perspective.

And lastly, the quote I promised to leave you with:

“While most people whittle their days chasing another buck, or a little bit more fame and attention, or a little bit more assurance that they’re right or loved, death confronts all of us with a far more painful and important question: What is your legacy?

How will the world be different and better when you’re gone? What mark will you have made? What influence will you have caused?”

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