4 Things I Learned from ‘The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fu*k’ by Mark Manson

I listened to Mark Manson’s ‘The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fu*k’ in my late 20s on Audible and it genuinely changed my life. Well, it was a combination of this book, The Chimp Paradox by Prof Steve Peters and listening to The Power of Vulnerability by Brene Brown on Audible. A magical combination I would highly recommend.

The last few years have been hard for a lot of us, myself included and I have felt a little lost. I look back on turning 30 with such fond memories, I was in a great place mentally and very at peace. We all know we can’t turn back the clock and so after dwelling on this a little too long I have given up on figuring out how I ‘get back to the old me’ and I am focussing on how I make things easier, happier and more fulfilling for the current and future me.

So I decided to re-read/re-listen to the books/talks listed above and this time I am taking notes.  I am 4 chapters in to The Subtle Art and I thought why note share the 4 things I have learned so far.

1 – There is a Subtle Art to Not Giving a Fu*k

Choosing what to give a fuck about is extremely important.  Give to many fuck, especially the wrong ones and you quickly become extremely entitled.  This feeling of being entitled will quickly send you down in to a deep dark hole where every adversity is an injustice.

It is extremely important to choose what to give a fuck about and what not to give a fuck about.  This should be based on defined personal values.  This will allow you to prioritise your thoughts and where you channel your energy effectively.

But this will not be easy, it will take practice and you will experience failure.  It will be a struggle.

2 – Happiness comes from solving problems

Chapter 2 is titled Happiness is a Problem.

As I am sure we have all figured out by now pain and loss are inevitable but apparently that isn’t the problem.  Resisting these things is the problem. 

‘Suffering is biologically useful.  It is nature’s preferred agent for inspiring change’

Great… so what does this mean? Well it means that dissatisfaction and uncomfortableness is what drives us to do better.  Maybe to innovate new tech, maybe just to survive. 

And again as I am sure we have all realised by now problems never stop.  Instead, we solve them and then they get swapped for other problems, maybe they are upgraded to better problems and it’s here we find the key to happiness.  At least one of them. 

‘Happiness comes from solving problems’

Happiness is therefore a form of action.  I re-read this and found it funny.  In my ‘How starting a Podcast got me through a Pandemic’ talk I spoke about how action leads to motivation.  How action is a pre-cursor to motivation.  Well turns out it’s also what creates happiness.

I think this is a really important thing to remember.  How many times do you get stuck in procrastination mode and feel worse? How many times do you get stuck making a decision for fear of making the wrong one? And how many times do you take a small action step in any direction and feel clearer on the path forward? Not so scared and a little bit lighter?

So turns out happiness comes from solving problems and the key is to find the problems you enjoy having and solving.  Don’t aim for zero problems, aim for better ones.

Mark also discusses two problems which block people from getting to this point – Denial and Victim Mentality and WOW it is an eye opener.

Mark then advises to ‘Choose your struggle’. 

‘Because happiness requires struggle.  It grows from problems.  Joy doesn’t just sprout out of the ground like daisies and rainbows.  Real, serious, lifelong fulfilment and meaning have to be earned through choosing and managing of our struggles’

So instead of asking ‘What do you want out of life?’ ask ‘What are you willing to struggle for’?

3 – You are not special

This is the title of Chapter 3 and it is an extremely good and at times uncomfortable chapter.

When measuring self-worth, it isn’t about how a person feels about their positive experiences but how they feel about their negative experiences that count.

Entitlement crops up again here. When we have a feeling of helplessness towards our problems we can tend to wrap ourselves up in entitlement to shield us from the pain.

Mark describes entitlement as playing out in one of two ways:
1. I’m awesome and the rest of you all suck, so I deserve special treatment
2. I suck and the rest of you are all awesome, so I deserve special treatment

He describes this as ‘opposite mindset on the outside, but the same creamy selfish core in the middle’.

Apparently we all tend to recognise option 1 as entitlement but miss option 2 as being the same thing.

‘because construing everything in life so as to make yourself out to be constantly victimized requires just as much selfishness as the opposite’

If you take a step back for a moment and think about a problem in your life, the chances are that many other people have the same problem. This does not minimise your problem but it helps a little to drag you out of victim mode and empower you to take a step in solving that problem.

This chapter is tough…

Mark also talks about the problem with exceptionalism. With the fact that everyone seems to think they have to become exceptional at something or famous for their life to matter. That people are afraid of mediocrity.

Anti-entitlement is the believe that actually you’re not that great. But that this could result in a desire to improve, which could then end up with becoming exceptional at something.

So to sum it up – you’re not special. gulp

4 – Values are important

Chapter 4 is titled ‘The Value of Suffering’ and it discusses finding a purpose to your suffering based on values.

Self-awareness is a big part of the discussion and it is referred to the self-awareness onion because lets face it, the deeper you go the more uncomfortable it gets and there may be tears.

But it is important because ‘our values determine the nature of our problems, and the nature of our problems determines the quality of our lives’ so start peeling that onion and get uncomfortable.

‘everything we think and feel about a situation ultimately comes back to how valuable we perceive it to be’ so if you want to change how you see your problems you have figure out what you value and probably have a think about how you measure success because ‘our values determine the metrics by which we measure ourselves and everyone else’

There is some discussion of ‘shitty’ values and one part stood out to me. It made me think of toxic positivity and how much I loathe it. Toxic positivity is horrific and can have the effect of people feeling unseen and unheard in such a deep way.

Mark says ‘there is something to be said for ‘staying on the sunny side of life’ but the truth is, sometimes life sucks, and the healthiest thing to do is admit it’. When you deny negative emotions this only leads to feeling them deeper and for longer. If you are constantly positive, chances are you’re avoiding your problems and I am sorry to break it to you but this is not a valid solution.

By choosing the right values you can upgrade your problems over time to become motivating.

Mark provides some examples of good values: honesty, innovation, vulnerability, standing up for oneself, standing up for others, self-respect, curiosity, charity, humility and creativity.

He defines self improvement as ‘ 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’

The next 5 Chapters are based on 5 counterintuitive values: radical responsibility, uncertainty, failure, rejection and mortality.

I’m going to end with a question asked in Chapter 4:

‘What are the values that you prioritise above everything else, and that therefore influence your decision-making more than anything else?’

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