Review / Summary of “The subtle art of not giving a f***” by Mark Manson

Book reviews are part of the reason why I started this blog. Unfortunately, as I manage to pile myself with bunch of obligations I’m in constant dreaming mode. Mode where I dream about new things over and over never actually getting to DO things I dreamt about. Luckily, reading this book as part of Betterment Book Club on Reddit got me to finally produce detailed overview that I am using now as summary / review of the book.

Note that my writings on this blog regarding books will fall somewhere between reviews and summaries. Like, I will definitely give score at the end so that people can understand whether or not I recommend book. But also, I’ll try to be detailed enough so that you have summary of the book and biggest takeaways. So, let’s dive in right away – my view of “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck” by Mark Manson. Caveat – I’ll mix both positive and negative… takeaways and just plain interesting bits.

Happiness is a problem

If I was forced to choose only one takeaway from the book – this would be it. Ever since I’ve read the book I’m trying to remind myself every day that “Happiness is a problem”. That sentence is ingenious because it has multiple meanings. As Mark tells in the book: the act of trying to have positive experience is itself a negative experience. On the other hand the act of accepting negative experience is itself a positive experience. In that sense, chasing happiness will cause problems for you. The more you yearn happiness the bigger problem you’ll create.

Also, another meaning of that sentence targets relationship between solving problems and being happy. Like – find something meaningful, solve it, be happy. Of course, after some time happiness will vanish and you’ll need to look for another meaningful problem to solve to be happy. In that sense, people who don’t have meaningful problems in their they feel

The value of suffering

Hiroo Onoda was officer of Japanese army who at the end of 1944 was basically sent on a suicide mission. His orders called to do as much as damage as he could to overwhelming Allied forces and basically fight to the death without surrendering or taking his own life. Well, Onoda did exactly that – for next 30 YEARS. He hid in the jungles of Philippine island he was on, fighting on and on and on… ignoring pamphlets dropped from planes, pleads of locals and probably his own doubts.

I feel tempted to link to YouTube video or various online articles that tell the story… but instead I call you to purchase this book and read about Onoda there. The way Mark presented Hiroo and tied his legacy with “the value of suffering” is alone worth the price of admission. I’ve read lots of book that talk about necessity of suffering for goals you hold dear… but never was that idea better presented than in this book. Crystal clear. Bravo Mark Manson.

Hiroo Onoda surrendering to Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos in 1974, 29 years after WW II ended

Hiroo Onoda surrendering to Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos in 1974, 29 years after WW II ended

Inspiration -> Motivation -> Action misconception

Also a big takeaway from this book is that action should precede everything else. Like, most people harbor idea of being inspired, which in turn will get you motivated and ready to perform. Reality is that this almost never materializes. What Mark recommends is to turn those 3 into a loop that STARTS with action, like: Action -> Inspiration -> Motivation… Every time you will lead with Action, after finishing action you’ll be Inspired, and reflecting back on your action you’ll be Motivated. Then when it’s time to start again, you go with another Action feeding off Inspiration and Motivation of previous cycle. Pro-tip.

Commitment is a NO

Finally, one more misconception that gets shattered in this book is “Commitment is a YES”. What Mark points out is that Commitment requires way more NOs than YESes. If you are committed to something you basically only need to say 1 YES. From there, until you “complete” your commitment you’ll be saying NO over and over.

Title of this book is misleading

Author probably went with it because it sounds cool and is eye catching (let’s boost sales, right?). But then you start reading first chapter and essentially get that title of book should be – “The Subtle Art of Choosing What to Give a F*** About”. Subtitle would be in line of: after you choose what to give f*** about, you then need to go deep and invest 100% of you into it. Mark illustrates this by bragging about how he went all-in-badass with helping his mom recover money from scammer.

Do try

Author is obviously a try-hard. And that’s a good thing. However, for some reason he is ashamed of it. Even worse, the way he glorifies Bukowski and his tombstone inscription of “Don’t try” completely misses the mark. Message of Bukowski’s life is more in line with “Don’t try – do it”. Like when you ask someone to do something and he replies with “I’ll try”. Well – don’t try, actually do it.

Because if you look at history and how Bukowski succeeded – you’ll see that guy TRIED for 20+ years to get published. He wrote daily and went through rejection after rejection oblivious of failures until, in the end, he found one person that believed in him and was proficient enough in the publishing business.

Now, Bukowski is definitely person whose “talk the talk” is far removed from “walk the walk”. Thus, book which aims to help people improve should not mystify and feed cult of personality for sake of cool factor. Tell it as it is. Help people find the truth… don’t obscure it. Especially if person you are using as an example is as complex and confusing as Bukowski was:

Writing f*** a lot won’t make you cool

Start of the book is especially bad because you are torn between author’s message of “Don’t try” and his incessant *trying* to sound cool. F*** count in first chapter is over 9000. My theory is that author re-purposed one of his early writings as a filter chapter for a book. Like – let’s put worst chapter at start, so we filter out readers. Because as soon as chapter 2 stars, f*** count drops almost to zero and book quality picks up.

Drama and sounding cool returns at the end

After spending 7 chapters explaining that “you are not special”, “you’re wrong about everything”, “failure is the way forward”… in the last chapter author suddenly goes all soft and fluffy with “don’t try, you are already great”. Then he supports that with following bs paragraph:

You are already great because in the face of endless confusion and certain death, you continue to choose what to give a fuck about and what not to. This mere fact, this simple optioning for your own values in life, already makes you beautiful, already makes you successful, and already makes you loved. Even if you don’t realize it. Even if you’re sleeping in a gutter and starving.

Yeah, right. Kinda fits with whole narrative of the chapter in which he approaches, sits on the edge of The Cape of Good Hope and lives through zen-like “I’m reborn” experience. Of course, there is also someone to witness his brave, awe-inspiring act of sitting on the cliff:

As I step back over some rocks, back to the main path, I look up to see a man staring at me. I stop and make eye contact with him.
“Um. I saw you sitting on the edge over there,” he says.
His accent is Australian. The word “there” rolls out of his mouth awkwardly. He points toward Antarctica.
“Yeah. The view is gorgeous, isn’t it?” I am smiling. He is not. He has a serious look on his face.
I brush my hands off on my shorts, my body still buzzing from my surrender. There’s an awkward silence.
The Aussie stands for a moment, perplexed, still looking at me, clearly thinking of what to say next.
After a moment, he carefully pieces the words together.
“Is everything okay? How are you feeling?”
I pause for a moment, still smiling. “Alive. Very alive.”

Yeah… that’s our unfazed, uber-cool Mark Manson. And the best part is that he doesn’t give a f*** and isn’t even trying. /s

Psycho girlfriend

Mark dedicated few paragraphs in his book to bragging about dating “Harvard Law School graduate” who was desperately in love with him. I was curious enough to Google about “Mark Manson girlfriend” and it seems his ex is a prolific blogger. For past 10 minutes I’ve been trying to write few sentences and explain how relationship between Mark Manson and Erika “Awakening” ties into this book. But it seems I’m unable to do so… you’ll need to read whole “It’s Complicated: An Open Letter to My Ex Mark Manson” by Erika Awakening.

Mark Manson and Erika Awakening - they do make a lovely couple

Mark Manson and Erika Awakening – they do make a lovely couple

Summary

This is probably one of the best self-improvement books I’ve ever read. What makes it even better is the fact that Mark Manson is pretty young writer. I honestly can’t wait for him to get older and wiser… considering he is writing killer books now, when he is 50+ and becomes just a bit more mature, material he’ll spew out will probably be godly.

I promised a score, so here it is: 89/100.

In the end, if you are still on the fence, I HIGHLY recommend reading chapter breakdowns by TheZenMasterReturns. The guy just killed it with his breakdowns as part of Betterment Book Club, and he was instrumental in getting me to write my own detailed view. Here are the links to detailed analysis of “The subtle art of not giving a f***” by /u/TheZenMasterReturns:

Stick to your childhood dreams. Reach the stars.

Most people, when they remember their childhood dreams, often find them silly and far disconnected from life they are currently living. Of course, they can promptly provide you with a list of reasons why those dreams are unachievable. Those few who have actually tried following their childhood dreams will often say how hard it was even to start going, yet alone get anywhere near what they dreamed about. Most of us can accept a statement that life is not a dream as a solid fact. That sweet dreams are simply not compatible with harsh reality.

It’s understandable and it’s undeniably true – some dreams are just too wild. Some dreams are incompatible with people around you. And some dreams are actually silly. So, yeah – you probably won’t be traveling outside of solar system in next 10 years.

But what about dreams of having fulfilled and happy life? What about your dream job? What about wanting to be in shape and workout? What about hundreds of other small and happy dreams you had for yourself when you were younger and wanted to accomplish? Are those also unattainable? Or you are too distracted to even remember them any more?

Do not kid yourself that you are in a transition period. Everyone can slip and have a bad day or two. But there is no such thing as a year-long slip. You are who you are in the moment of reading this. Whether you are happy with who you currently are is topic for another discussion. But the good news is that you can be the person you decided to be. Simply remember your childhood dreams and be honest – if you went back in time what would be the reaction? Would you make yourself proud? Repulsed?

Think about it. And do not let your goals to slip your mind. Deep down in yourself you’ve always knew what you were destined to be. You are the only one that decides whether your dreams will become your reality. So, stop making excuses and start making your dreams happen.

We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars. -Oscar Wilde Dreams

We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars. -Oscar Wilde

Keep marching on your way toward success

When you are well on the path toward your goal, you may find yourself at crossroads. Looking back on everything accomplished so far you may start to feel as if it’s time to “rest”; stand still for a bit and do nothing – just for sake of it. Your brain doesn’t know better and whether you like it or not it will often try to protect you. You should recognize the helpful intention but you should also reject the notion and keep going toward your goals.

It is said that laziness is a habit of resting when you are not really tired. It’s easy to fall into this habit and allow it to overwhelm you over time. And then as you age you find yourself resting more and more often. Why? Because collective thought of humanity said it must be that way? Because it’s the way things are?

Nothing could be farther from the truth. Especially in this day and age it’s easy to find examples that prove otherwise. You can witness humans in their 50s who are more fit and focused than they were in their 20s. In days of record setting obesity in teens and young adults you have scores of 80 year olds who are completing marathons each year.

What is it that fuels this shocking contrast? Maybe it is that we do gain wisdom with age, so that we find trading couch and pizza eating in front of a screen for outdoor challenge a no-brainer. Maybe we do not know better when we are young so we allow easy excitement and shallow fun to consume our best years.

Or maybe it is regret. Maybe as we draw near to the moment when we will finally be gone from this world we start realizing how much time we have wasted. How many unnecessary stops and detours we have taken. How we should plan rests as meticulously as our goals… and join the two whenever possible.

The next time you feel like taking a break just for sake of it – don’t. Recognize that only you can stop yourself. And that there is simply no need to do that. Keep marching.

Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm. -Winston Churchill

Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm. -Winston Churchill

Creatures of habit and routines that rule you

When you take a closer look at living beings on Planet Earth you’ll invariably start to discover certain patterns in their behavior. You will see that every animal has habits it conforms to while it goes through it’s day. Of course, pretty soon you will see that majority of animals don’t even realize the patterns and routines that rule their lives. They stumble through their day without noticing all the shortcuts they could take and improvements they could make.

You will be shocked when you discover how many of these animals are healthy, full-grown humans. How many of them don’t even pay attention during most of the day. How they are trapped in their own negative thoughts or events that happened years ago. How they’ve developed a routine that makes them wade unhappily through every single waking hour of their lives, while clinging to status quo simply because they won’t think for a second, and start fighting for themselves.

That’s the most striking thing. Almost every human in the world today has the capacity to stand up and take the ownership of their life. True, some of us are more free than others. But I will argue that if you are reading this text on the screen of your electronic device, you can make a difference. The weight of burdens you carry does not matter – you can still make a stand for your and lives around you.

Decide what you want to do with your life and how you can help others. Do not let world, happenstance, negative thoughts or circumstances decide your habits. Design your routine for yourself. Consciously pick who and what you serve. And even if you want to surrender to your anxiety and fears – by all means – do it. But don’t do it unconsciously, while tricking yourself with other busy thoughts. Say it out loud and force yourself to acknowledge what you are doing.

Only when you make a conscious effort to realize your reality will you be on the path of building a routine which serves you as much as you serve it. Routine is a powerful master that can lead you all the way to the rags or the riches. You have the power to choose what your routine consists of. Choose wisely.

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit. -Aristotle

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit. -Aristotle

Addition by subtraction. Remove unnecessary things from your life.

Do you ever imagine yourself living in the distant past? And how do you see that past? Glorious and exciting as movies and popular media try to present it? Or you imagine yourself vulnerable, ill equipped for time travel, struggling to accept amenities of simple life?

Even recent past can seem daunting. Just think about everything you would’ve missed if you go back only 30 years in time. All the choices you simply couldn’t make, innovations you would need to wait out…. lotteries you could win if only you remembered the numbers.

Not surprising, some people find past and less choice a positive turn of events. It is easy to forget how overwhelmed we are nowadays. How many choices we need to make each and every day, glued to our smart device that seems to keep ringing through the whole day, telling us of yet another thing we need to do.

And yet, there is no reason for it to be this way. We should rule choices rather than allowing choices to rule us. If choice is trivial, remove it from your thoughts. Do not allow anxiety to get a hold of you and push you into seeing every choice as a matter of life and death. Take a moment to step back and look at what you are doing. Realign yourself toward what is truly important.

Mathematics is probably the closest we humans have came to universal language of cosmos. And math can well show that subtracting a negative number will increase score in the same manner addition of positive number does. Use your ability to choose less. Remove everything meaningless from your life.

Nothing prevents you from enjoying each and every moment you live. But to get there you need to remove your busy thoughts, meaningless tasks, shallow ambitions and unhappy relationships. Remove things that hold you back, so that you can rediscover how long day actually is. And how there is time for everything you want. Subtract everything that is negative and – just go.

Civilization is the limitless multiplication of unnecessary necessities. -Mark Twain

Civilization is the limitless multiplication of unnecessary necessities. -Mark Twain

Stop procrastinating. Focus on your work.

We are all guilty of procrastinating at some point of our lives. It’s easy to succumb to the temptation of not doing what needs to be done. We have trained ourselves to procrastinate. Even when there is something we really want to do. Especially then – we lie and give in to yet another “let me just do this”.

Procrastination would be understandable, if it always brought you the pleasures you imagine as your drop your focus. But it doesn’t. Procrastination tires you out immensely. It brings you down. And it’s easy to figure out why – if you have even shred of character, deep down in yourself you know that you are cheating yourself. That you are trading what you truly are and what you truly want for something you don’t even care about.

Decide that today is the day where you take a stand and say no to procrastination. That you say yes to all the plans you have made for yourself. That you will not trade your goals for senseless wasting of time. And that from now until the end of time, you will write down everything you ever wanted to do and look at that list whenever you feel the urge to procrastinate.

If you make that promise to yourself, you will see that there is enough time in the day for all your plans. That you can accomplish so much more. That time used well will bring you immense satisfaction. That nothing can replace the moment at the end of the day, where you sit down with yourself and *feel* that you mattered. That your effort, persistence and resilience made difference in your and lives around you.

Trade moments you have for rest and things that truly interest you. But don’t you ever trade precious, scarce time you have in this life for mindless wading through the day that destroys your focus while giving you nothing in return. Stop procrastinating. Start working.

Failure is not our only punishment for laziness; there is also the success of others. -Jules Renard

Failure is not our only punishment for laziness; there is also the success of others. -Jules Renard

 

Happiness is easy

I often talk with people about happiness. And when I mention that happiness is easy, I usually get response that – it is not.

If happiness was easy, there would not be so many unhappy people in the world, they say.

Smart reasoning always brings smile to my face. It’s crazy how well people debate nowadays. How well educated people are compared to 100 years ago. How entertainment, choice and chances are increasing with each passing year. How demanding we all have become.

And demand is the key.

If you are not happy, chances are that you are demanding more than you are willing to give. It’s as simple as that. If you are not trumped by disability, illness or serious condition that prevents you from standing up and fighting for yourself right now – you can easily feel happy. Just start giving, at least to yourself.

Decide what is your goal… and then begin working toward it. Happiness will simply show up as a feeling that will accompany you as you progress toward your goal. Happiness can’t exist when you’re standing still for too long.

If happiness could be obtained by standing still, all those celebrities that have millions of dollars and millions of admirers around the world would be happy. And yet they are not – because by their own standards they are standing still or regressing. The more you have, the more you can lose… and that feeling is crushing to those easily scared.

Don’t be scared. On the path toward your goal, there will be obstacles. There will be disappointments. But there also will be happiness. Happiness that you are marching with your head held high and that you are giving it your all. That you are not allowing your fears to protect you from everything by making you stand still. Because you don’t need that kind of protection; as it’ll truly protect you from everything – including happiness.

Happiness is when what you think what you say, and what you do are in harmony -Mahatma Gandhi

Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.  -Mahatma Gandhi

 

Motivation – One step at a time

Doing anything worthwhile requires effort. There is no way around it. If you truly want to do something unique and personal, you can’t rely on existing solutions without giving up joy of achievement. It’s hard to join “I” with something that came off assembly line with a price tag.

Accept the struggle. Live it and feel it. Find the time to rest, find the time to think, but when it is time to perform – perform. Keep doing. Keep building. Keep following the plan.

And don’t be afraid to fail. Every big success was preceded by big failures. But no success happened to those that stopped trying.

You need to be content with small steps. That’s all life is. Small steps that you take every day so when you look back down the road it all adds up and you know you covered some distance. -Katie Kacvinsky

Motivation – Figure out how it’s your fault

For most of us, fault is always external. Whenever things go south, it’s always – circumstances, other people, chance and whatnot that caused misfortune. Majority will gladly walk down the path on which blame is always attached to others.

You go in opposite direction. Whenever something bad happens – figure out how it was your fault. What is it that you could’ve done that would’ve produced better outcome? Do that and you’ll see how easy it is to make a difference. While others are running away from it – you embrace responsibility and wield it to make your life better.

Motivation – Go beyond you

In a crazed, judgmental world isolation can seem like a blessing. Not participating in countless dramas that are going around every moment, is alone attractive lure. But it is never about the whole world. It’s always about the world around you. Who you choose to share your moments with.

Let the company you keep define you. Be proud of people you spend time with. Find those who are helpful to you, and be even more helpful to them. Sharpen your skills and focus, not in blind service to yourself; but to serve those who serve you. Do that, and motivation won’t be a problem. Find your tribe.