Mark Manson is not your everyday type of writer. His articles are funny, splattered with expletives and look at issues from a different angle.
He is one of my favourite writers and when I found out he had written his first book, The Subtle Art Of Not Giving A F*ck, I had to read it!
As I had come to expect, he did not hold back and the title of the book is a hint at what you can expect. Mark is blunt about his feelings on self-improvement and promotes what he calls ‘negative self-help.’
That is looking at self-help from a different point of view, as opposed to the mainstream angle you’re likely to come across. Life is difficult, it’s a struggle at times. Things don’t go the way we want them to.
Mark does not shy away from this and confronts these issues head-on in the book. The central premise of the book is that we can’t give a f*ck about everything. If we did, it would drive us mad.
The Subtle Art Of Not Giving A F*ck summary
Takeaway 1 – You have to be selective in what you care about
In this day and age of instant news from all corners of the globe, it’s not hard to get overwhelmed with it all. Fires in the Amazon, the climate emergency, natural disasters across the planet, we are more aware of events around the world than ever before.
While this has its benefits, it also has its downsides and its arguable those downsides are greater than the upside.
For instance, I can go on any news website and find out what is happening in China. This is all well and good, but when I am living in Europe, it’s not relevant to my day-to-day life.
Yes, it’s wrong that injustices occur across the world. In an ideal world, there would be none, but we don’t live in that world. If you start to care about all the injustices that occur across the globe, you will quickly become miserable and depressed.
You can only care about so much before it drives you mad. The trick, as Manson states, is to be selective about what you give a f*ck about. There are many issues that we should care about such as the environment, but you can only care about so much.
We have not evolved to process the gigantic amounts of information we are bombarded with on a daily basis. Our ancestors lived in small tribes that had minimal contact with the outside world. Our brains are hardwired to operate this way, they are not designed to compute all the events that occur across the globe daily.
The way to solve this dilemma is to give fewer f*cks and accept that things happen and we have very little control over them.
Takeaway 2 – Your values must be ones you can control
All of us have values, but sometimes, those values can be ones that we have no control over. If you decide to not eat meat, that is a value you control, as you have autonomy over what you eat and what you don’t.
However, if one of your values is to be better than a competitor than you’re in trouble. You can’t control how well your competitor fares, so if they do better than you, you’re going to be miserable.
Mark gives the example of Dave Mustaine from Megadeth as an example. Dave used to be a member of a band before he started Megadeth. However, one day his bandmates took him aside and told him they longer wanted him in the band.
Dave did not take this well and vowed to start a band that would be bigger and better than the one he left. The only problem? The band that Dave was kicked out of was Metallica, one of the biggest metal bands ever.
Dave’s whole life had been built around the desire to be better than his ex-bandmates. Despite the success that Megadeth had, which had it happened to anyone else they would have been content with, he couldn’t help but feel like he was a failure.
This was because he was valuing his ability to better than Metallica, more than he valued being a success.
We are limited in what we can control in life. If we choose to pride ourselves on things that are outside of our control we will be unhappy. Values you don’t control will end up causing to suffer, often unnecessarily at times.
Takeaway 3 – To be happy you need to accept discomfort
No one likes to be uncomfortable. It’s obvious when you think about it. Why would you want to be in uncomfortable situations when you can be comfortable instead?
The problem with this line of thinking is that you will never get anywhere if you don’t have a bit of discomfort in your life. To live inside your comfort zone is to barely live at all.
Mark is clear that a bit of a pain, a bit of suffering is a good thing. There is an argument that without suffering life wouldn’t be worth living. If your life was comfortable all of the time, you would slowly become crazy and it would be meaningless.
We find meaning in discomfort. It pushes us to greater heights, challenges our preconceptions and can make us better people.
One exercise that Mark explains in the book is to sit on top of a cliff edge. This may sound crazy and it sounded crazy to me when I was reading it, but it does have its plus points.
When you do this, your body becomes hyper-aware of everything around you. By placing yourself in danger like this, you feel more alive than you did before.
It’s counter-intuitive, but it’s true. When we place ourselves in danger, we feel more alive, because our mortality is at risk.
An exercise such as this can make you appreciate how good it is to be alive and push you outside of your comfort zone. I have done similar things to this before.
When I hiked Preikestolen in Norway a few years ago, the top is a rock outcrop that sticks out over a fjord below. There are no guard rails and you could easily walk over the edge if you wanted to.
Looking down at the fjord below was an uncomfortable feeling, walking closer and closer to the edge of the outcrop was uncomfortable. I could feel my mind screaming at me and my legs turning to jelly the further I progressed.
But once I returned to the safety of the trail, I felt more alive and more grateful for everything in my life. A little bit of discomfort now and again can kick us out of our routine and make us appreciate what we have in life.
Suffering and discomfort get a bad rep, but when utilised in the right manner, they can improve our lives.
- “Emotions are part of the equation of our lives, but not the entire equation.”
- “Who you are is defined by what you’re willing to struggle for.”
- “Trust is the most important ingredient in any relationship, for the simple reason that without trust, the relationship doesn’t actually mean anything.”
- “Life is about not knowing and then doing something anyway.”
- “Uncertainty is the root of all progress and all growth.”
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck review
This The Subtle Art Of Not Giving A F*ck summary has given you a sneak peek into an intriguing book.
It’s not for the faint-hearted, as Mark doesn’t mince his words. However, you will get a lot of value from this book.
Mark approaches self-improvement from a different angle, one he calls negative self-help. This means instead of blowing smoke up people’s behinds, it forces them to look in the mirror and consider who we are and what we value.
I feel this is a more effective of making people reconsider their lives. It’s easy to say you should visualise success and you’ll achieve it, but what does that mean?
I’ve visualised myself driving a Ferrari multiple times and it’s yet to happen. The vision needs to be realistic and you have to be realistic with your aims.
The reality is that a lot of truths in life are counter-intuitive. They run counter to what a lot of self-help sages state.
Mark uses numerous in the book to illustrate this, one o which I mentioned above.
I enjoyed reading The Subtle Art Of Not Giving A F*ck because it made me think about the way I was living my life and what I value in life.
If you’re keen to read a no bullshit guide to how you can improve your life, this is the book for you.
Who should read The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck?
Not everyone will enjoy this book. some people won’t like the corae language, others will disagree with Mark’s views.
That’s fine. No book is going to please 100% of people. However, if you’re srious about living a better life, this book will help.
It’s not a magic bullet, but it will encourage to think instead of offering a one size fits all roadmap to success.