The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson

Reading Time: 6 minutes


In this engaging and philosophical read, writer Mark Manson provides philosophical and candid thoughts on how we can live a better life. He explores embracing the negative, taking responsibility for how we respond to everything that happens to us, and prioritizing good values.

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Key Takeaways

The problem with conventional life advice

“But when you stop and really think about it, conventional life advice—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 to already be, and then emphasizes them for you.”

“By not giving a fuck that you feel bad, you short-circuit the Feedback Loop from Hell; you say to yourself, “I feel like shit, but who gives a fuck?” And then, as if sprinkled by magic fuck-giving fairy dust, you stop hating yourself for feeling so bad.”

“Being open with your insecurities paradoxically makes you more confident and charismatic around others. The pain of honest confrontation is what generates the greatest trust and respect in your relationships. Suffering through your fears and anxieties is what allows you to build courage and perseverance.”

Focusing on what you lack will only make you miserable. Instead, openly embrace your shortcoming and insecurities, and from that place of acceptance, not only will you feel better, but you can start working on the areas that you care to change.

Happiness is borne in action

“To be happy we need something to solve. Happiness is therefore a form of action; it’s an activity, not something that is passively bestowed upon you, not something that you magically discover in a top-ten article on the Huffington Post or from any specific guru or teacher.”

“True happiness occurs only when you find the problems you enjoy having and enjoy solving.”

To live a happy life, you need to identify and do meaningful things. Happiness comes from conquering challenging endeavors that you consciously set out to tackle.

Listen to your emotions

“In other words, 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.”

When you feel a negative emotion, it’s a signal that you need to do something. Instead of feeling down about the emotion, identify the source of the emotion and figure out how you can solve the problem you are facing. On the flip side, look to positive emotions to identify the things you are doing right.

Become obsessed with improvement

“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. And that obsession with improvement stems from an unerring belief that they are, in fact, not that great at all.”

Success is not bestowed upon you. It requires hard work and the willingness to do things that other people are not willing to do. When you approach life from the perspective that you can and should improve, you start to see challenges as opportunities, and over time, you improve in ways that will make you successful.

Choose good values

“The third level is our personal values: Why do I consider this to be success/failure? How am I choosing to measure myself? By what standard am I judging myself and everyone around me?”

“What is objectively true about your situation is not as important as how you come to see the situation, how you choose to measure it and value it.”

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

Your personal values – the way in which you perceive the world, measure yourself, and value your actions – has an undeniable effect on your life. Because your values determine your problems, and your problems determine the quality of your life.

“This is why these values—pleasure, material success, always being right, staying positive—are poor ideals for a person’s life. Some of the greatest moments of one’s life are not pleasant, not successful, not known, and not positive.”

“When we have poor values—that is, poor standards we set for ourselves and others—we are essentially giving fucks about the things that don’t matter, things that in fact make our life worse.”

“This, in a nutshell, is what “self-improvement” is really about: prioritizing better values, choosing better things to give a fuck about. Because when you give better fucks, you get better problems. And when you get better problems, you get a better life.”

If we have the wrong values, we are giving our limited time and energy to things that make our life worse. So if you want to improve your life, you need to prioritize the right values.

Problems are only painful when you don’t chose them

“Often the only difference between a problem being painful or being powerful is a sense that we chose it, and that we are responsible for it. If you’re miserable in your current situation, chances are it’s because you feel like some part of it is outside your control—that there’s a problem you have no ability to solve, a problem that was somehow thrust upon you without your choosing.”

If you’re in a situation that you don’t like, it’s likely that your discontent is related to not having control over the problems you are facing. If, on the other hand, you have a big set of challenges in front of you that you have chosen, you are likely to be more ready and willing to face those challenges with the right attitude.

You control your response

“We don’t always control what happens to us. But we always control how we interpret what happens to us, as well as how we respond.”

No matter what happens to you in life, you have the power to choose your response. I learned this principle from Viktor Frankl, and it’s one of the most empowering beliefs that you can adopt on your journey to improve your life.

You are responsible for your life

“Many people may be to blame for your unhappiness, but nobody is ever responsible for your unhappiness but you. This is because you always get to choose how you see things, how you react to things, how you value things. You always get to choose the metric by which to measure your experiences.”

Adopting responsibility for your life is the first step to improving your life. While you may face terrible situations that are not your fault, it’s your responsibility to find a path forward.

Growth is an iterative process

“Growth is an endlessly iterative process. When we learn something new, we don’t go from “wrong” to “right.” Rather, we go from wrong to slightly less wrong.”

Life is full of the potential for endless growth. And even when we grow in an area, there is always an opportunity to learn and grow more. Over time, we become slightly less wrong.

Improvement is borne in failure

“Improvement at anything is based on thousands of tiny failures, and the magnitude of your success is based on how many times you’ve failed at something. If someone is better than you at something, then it’s likely because she has failed at it more than you have.”

We master skills and become successful only after we have experienced many failures. Those who are truly at the top of their fields have likely failed many more times then you. So if you want to improve at something, keep experimenting, failing, learning, and moving forward.

For example, imagine that you and your girlfriend break up. Depending on the circumstances, that may be painful for some time. But once you have time to think, you can begin to understand why the relationship failed and use what you learned for your next relationship.

The relationship between action and motivation

“Action isn’t just the effect of motivation; it’s also the cause of it.”

Most people wait until they are motivated to take action. But what these people fail to realize is that action can create motivation. When you act, you make progress. And progress is one of the most powerful motivators that we have.

Travel as as self-development tool

“Travel is a fantastic self-development tool, because it extricates you from the values of your culture and shows you that another society can live with entirely different values and still function and not hate themselves.”

After traveling to over 30 countries in the last 2 years, I’ve seen how exposure to new places and values can lead to extreme personal growth. In taking you away from what you know, travel exposes you to new values and ways of living. In doing so, it allows you to pick and choose the values that best serve you, rather than blindly accepting the values that you were born into.

The difference between a healthy and unhealthy relationship

“The mark of an unhealthy relationship is two people who try to solve each other’s problems in order to feel good about themselves. Rather, a healthy relationship is when two people solve their own problems in order to feel good about each other.”

In your romantic relationship, are you seeking something by solving your partner’s problems, or are you working on yourself and your problems so that you can better enjoy your relationship? The difference is critical.

Cheating comes down to values

“If people cheat, it’s because something other than the relationship is more important to them. It may be power over others. It may be validation through sex. It may be giving in to their own impulses. Whatever it is, it’s clear that the cheater’s values are not aligned in a way to support a healthy relationship.”

If you cheat on your partner, you’re prioritizing something over your relationship.

Confront your mortality

“Because once we become comfortable with the fact of our own death—the root terror, the underlying anxiety motivating all of life’s frivolous ambitions—we can then choose our values more freely, unrestrained by the illogical quest for immortality, and freed from dangerous dogmatic views.”

“This willing and even exuberant interfacing with one’s own mortality has ancient roots. 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.”

Much of our lives and choices are driven by our unconscious fear of death. But when we confront this fear of death, a reality that will happen to all of us, we are free to more freely choose our values and make choices independent of our fears.

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