Today I want to share with you what I’ve learned from reading the book The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson.

According to Mark, the Internet has not just open-sourced information but also open-sourced insecurity, self-doubt, and shame. And today we’re facing a psychological epidemic, in which people no longer realize that it’s okay for things to suck sometimes.

The underlying message of the book is that none of us is perfect and the problems and failures that we face are a crucial part of our lives and happiness.

We are told by TV commercials that the key to a good life is a nicer job, or a fancier car, or a prettier partner. We all bought into the idea that for achieving a better life we need to buy more, own more, make more, be more. But we should stop always focusing on more, and start focusing on less instead.  Caring about only what is true, immediate and important.

Our problem is not that we care but that we care too much about the wrong things. In today’s society, we are taught that having negative experiences such as anxiety, fear, guilt, etc. is totally not okay so we judge ourselves for these emotions. Have you ever noticed that when you get anxious about something you start getting even more anxious about the fact that you got anxious in the first place about something so insignificant? Mark calls this the feedback loop from hell.

You only need to look at your Facebook feed to believe that everybody there is having a grand old time. If you feel like a failure for even five minutes, you’re bombarded with 350 images of people totally happy and having amazing lives: graduating from college, getting married or starting a family. That makes it almost impossible to not feel like there’s something wrong with you.

Mark argues that we are all apes, and because of that we instinctually measure ourselves against others and compete for status. The question is not whether we evaluate ourselves against others-which we do- but by what standard do we measure ourselves?

So the key is to identify what to care about. And the best way to do that is to choose your values carefully. Because our values determine the metrics by which we measure ourselves and everyone else.

Good vs Bad Values

According to Mark good values are

  1. reality-based
  2. socially constructive
  3. immediate and controllable

Bad values, on the other hand, are

  1. superstitious
  2. socially destructive
  3. not immediate or controllable.

For example, values like pleasure, material success, always being right, feeling good all the time are poor ideals for a person’s life. Popularity is another bad value. Because if your metric is being the most popular person all the time, much of what happens will be out of your control. Your value/metric wouldn’t be based on reality as being popular or unpopular is very subjective.

Mark also adds that people who are terrified of what others think about them are actually terrified of all the shitty things they think about themselves being reflected back at them.

Good values, on the other hand, are honesty, innovation, vulnerability, self-respect, curiosity, charity, humility and creativity. These are good values because you have control over them, it reflects reality and it benefits others.

Mark brings up two examples to stress this point. There are two similar stories of music bands.

Dave Mustaine was the guitarist who got kicked out of Metallica right before recording their first album. After being kicked out, he formed a new band Megadeth that ended up selling over 25 million albums and did many world tours. Even though he had a very successful career even after 20 years he still couldn’t let go of the disappointment. In his metrics, which is “success relative to Metallica”, he was still a failure as he was never able to be more successful than Metallica.

The other story is about Pete Best, a former Beatles member who got kicked out of the team right before they signed their first record deal- being replaced by Ringo. Ouch. As opposed to Mustaine, Pete Best grew into a happy and healthy old man with no regrets. Despite being depressed from having been kicked out of the Beatles, as he grew older he learned to reprioritize what he cared about and was able to measure his life by new values, such as loving family and a simple life. Because of this, Best had a happy life and great family.

Pain & Negative Experiences

Still, PAIN AND NEGATIVE EXPERIENCES not only matter but are a big part of life. According to Mark, problems are essential to inspire change. As he puts it:

“Life is essentially an endless series of problems, the solution to one problem is merely the creation of the next one.”

– Mark Manson

 In fact,

“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.”

– Mark Manson

Let me explain. I’ve been doing some kind of diet ever since I can remember. But there are always these phases where I really get determined and start tracking what I eat. Now, I’m not overweight. Luckily, I don’t have any health issues, but I still get insecure about my body shape from time to time. These times my only solution seems to be losing weight and getting in shape, so I track calories. I do this for the positive experience of being in the best shape of my life.

Yet, what happens is that I feel miserable for not being allowed to eat as much as Angelo does and I feel guilty if I have a healthy snack. Sound familiar? But if I accept that I actually like how I look already and tracking everything I do just makes me miserable, that’s an uplifting feeling.

Problems never stop, they just get exchanged and/or upgraded. I watched an interview of Mark Mason with Lewis Howes 9 months after this book was released, where he also talked about this. By then, his book was a great success, having sold the most audiobooks in Audible history. Yet by solving the problem of finishing/selling his book he created a new one. What’s next? We’re never actually done. And life would be boring if it would be.

The key is to identify

“What problem do you want to have?”.

– Mark Manson

Those who choose problems like tracking everything you eat, eliminating unhealthy habits, going to the gym several times a week to be in the best shape of their lives are the ones who actually do it and end up on fitness covers.

Taking Responsibility

According to Mark, we also get to control what our problems mean based on how we choose to think about them. That is the standard by which we choose to measure them. We are responsible for our problems being a painful or powerful experience. We are in control, therefore we have to take responsibility for the things that happen to us.

According to Mark, we also get to control what our problems mean based on how we choose to think about them. That is the standard by which we choose to measure them. We are responsible for our problems being a painful or powerful experience. We are in control, therefore we have to take responsibility for the things that happen to us.

When you take responsibility for your life and happiness you take the first step to solving your problems. Taking responsibility for your problems doesn’t mean that you are at fault. But we are responsible for experiences that aren’t our fault all the time. And this is part of life.

Fault results from choices made in the past. But responsibility results from the choices you’re currently making. According to Mark, nobody else is ever responsible for your situation but you. 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.

For example, a break up can both be a negative and a positive experience based on what you decide to do next. I learned from all my breakups and it made me tougher. I never made the same mistakes again and learned which relationships are toxic and which are worth fighting for. But you could also decide to never open up to another person ever again, because you’ve been hurt before. The choice is yours. You are responsible for what happens next.

Mark also argues that there’s actually little that is unique or special about our problems. He says that there’s a kind of self-absorption that comes with fear based on an irrational certainty. When we assume for example that our project idea is the stupid one everyone is going to laugh at, or that we’re the one everyone is going to choose to mock or ignore, we’re basically saying:

“I’m the exception; I’m unlike everybody else; I’m different and special.”

– Mark Manson

This is essentially narcissism. We feel as though our problems deserve to be treated differently, that our problems are unique, but they are not. After all, everyone is fighting a battle that we know nothing about.

Motivation is overrated

 The last lesson is that you don’t need motivation to start. Action creates motivation by building momentum. As Mark puts it, this is the do something principle.

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

-Mark Manson

It goes like this: Action → Inspiration → Motivation.

If you lack the motivation to make an important change in your life, do something and then connect the reaction to that action to motivate yourself. This is why the Pomodoro technique can be so powerful for studying or working. Or why the 5 Second Rule by Mel Robbins is so effective. It’s because the first initial push is the hardest. Once you overcome the first obstacle, the rest is so much easier.

Alright, these were the lessons I’ve learned from Mark Manson’s book. Let me know down in the comments section below what you learned from this post or from the video and which things you care too much about.

If you liked this summary, you should definitely get the book.

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