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

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck

I first came across The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson at the local book store, and recall how the cover immediately caught my attention - both the colour, typography, and the actual title of the book. I eventually read this book after it was recommended to me many times.

Although I don’t think this book offers anything new, I still think it is a great summary of much of the self-improvement advice that you will come across in this genre, packaged into a single book.


Don’t Try

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.

The more you try to do something, the less likely you are to succeed. Conversely, the less you try to succeed at something, the more likely you are to succeed. That being said, there are some subtleties with this rule:

  1. Not giving a fuck does not mean being indifferent; it means being comfortable with being different.

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

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

Another way of putting this is that everything worthwhile in life is won through overcoming the associated negative experience, as opposed to chasing the positive experience.

Happiness Is a Problem

This is the most simple and basic component of life: our struggles determine our successes. Our problems birth our happiness, along with slightly better, slightly upgraded problems.

Suffering is an inherent part of life. Happiness comes from solving problems. This does not mean that you get rid of problems or that they go away, but rather, you move on to better problems. Don’t deny your problems or have a victim mentality. Instead, choose the struggle and problems you are willing to stick through - the joy is in the climb itself.

You Are Not Special

Our problems are not unique, and most people are average at most things they do. Avoid being entitled and thinking that everything revolves around you. Entitlement causes you to try to stand out and chase the extremes, whether it being a victim or being exceptional.

Accepting that you are average is not a failure. The true measure of self-worth is how you feel about your negative experiences, not your positive ones (i.e. how comfortable you are with your weaknesses).

The Value of Suffering

Our suffering comes as a result of what our standards or values are, and whether they are satisfied. To truly understand our values, we need self-awareness, of which there are three levels:

  1. Simple understanding of one’s emotions.

  2. Asking why we feel certain emotions.

  3. Our personal values, and why we choose them.

Examples of bad values are chasing pleasure, material success, and always being right. If we have bad values, then we will always suffer. Good values, othe the other hand, are reality-based, socially constructive, within your control, and are based on internal factors.

However, always staying positive is also a bad value because it denies us from facing and solving our problems. Some of the greatest achievements in life require some kind of suffering to achieve them. Self-improvement is really about choosing better values to struggle for.

You Are Always Choosing

We are always choosing our problems, even if we don’t think we are. However, we feel the most empowered when we feel we are choosing our problems. The best approach is to choose to take full responsibility for everything in your life, including your problems. This will give you power in your life. If we choose not to, then we are choosing to be the victim, and passing off our responsibility to others.

You’re Wrong About Everything (But So Am I)

Our brains are not perfect, and chances are, our beliefs are wrong - only some are less wrong than others. Growth is, therefore, an iterative process, gradually going from wrong to slightly better. Certainty is the enemy of growth because when we are certain, we become entitled and do not want to challenge what we think or to change. Situations where you are wrong or doubtful bring opportunity for growth.

The more something threatens your identity, the more you will avoid it.

Your idea of who you are is arbitrary, and holding onto this identity stifles growth. You are not special - let go of your identity in order to be free. Make your identity broad instead of being narrow. The following questions will help you to be less certain of yourself:

  1. What if I’m wrong?

  2. What would it mean if I were wrong?

  3. Would being wrong create a better or a worse problem than my current problem, for both myself and others?

Failure Is the Way Forward

Growth and improvement are based on thousands of tiny failures. When we try too hard to stay in our comfort zones and avoid failure (as many learn to do later in life), we stop growing. Social media has made it easier to see the extreme ends of the bell curve - to see the success but not the failure that it took to get there. Good values are process orientated and have many iterations.

Our proudest achievements come in the face of the greatest adversity. Our pain often makes us stronger, more resilient, more grounded.

Denying pains means denying our potential. Be comfortable feeling bad while in the process of learning and growing, and learn how to sustain this pain.

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

Motivation is an endless loop that goes from action, to inspiration, to motivation. You can start this loop by taking action and doing something. This is the “do something” principle.

Don’t just sit there. Do something. The answers will follow.

The Importance of Saying No

It is important to accept rejection, as well as give rejection. This establishes trust, as you are honest and say “no” when you mean it. Rejecting something means that you have values and standards that you stand for, and you are able to stick to them. This gives you direction in life and provides meaning. Although avoiding rejecting gives us short term pleasure, in the long term it makes us directionless and without meaning. To truly appreciate something, you must commit to it, and in doing so, you must reject everything else.

Learn how to set boundaries and say “no” when needed - accepting responsibility for yourself and not others, and not expecting anyone else to take responsibility for your problems.

…And Then You Die

The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.

Death gives us meaning to our lives, and puts things into perspective, allowing us to focus on the important things. See yourself as something bigger than who you are, and choose values that go beyond serving yourself. Happiness comes from caring about something greater than yourself.

March 4th, 2021