Book Club – The Subtle Art Of Not Giving A F*ck by Mark Manson

Book: The Subtle Art Of Not Giving A F*ck, A Counterintuitive Approach To Living A Good Life

Publishing Year: 2016

About the Author: Mark Manson is an American blogger and author of three books including another #1 New York Times bestseller titled “Everything is F*ucked, A Book About Hope“. He is a speaker to large events and corporations, and has been featured in over 50 large newspapers and TV/radio shows including the BBC, the New York Times, Larry King and Dr Oz. In his words, “My life’s mission is to improve the public conversation around personal development and happiness. My approach to this has been to disrupt the self-help industry and debunk many of the old tropes about positive thinking and the law of attraction and other woo-woo nonsense.”

Growth Is A Journey book review consists of a series of questions and answers, intended to represent 1-2 key nuggets of insights from the book, as well as personal takeaways with an invitation for readers to discover the book in its entirety.

Key message of the Book: The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck is a one-of-a-kind self-book, written in a hilarious style -(and not for the faint of heart who cannot utter a word of profanity) – to break away from “all positivity, all happiness”, “you are special”, “feel better” books.  The counterinituitive approach comes from the fact that focusing on chassing positive experiences and wanting too much – giving too many f*cks-  is in fact negative: “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.” This is because “everything worthwhile in life is won through surmounting the associated negative experience“. When we learn to not give a f*ck about too many things, that’s when we focus on what really matters and we put things, problems and people we deal with in the right perspectives. As per Mark, “the idea of not giving a f*ck is a simple way of reorienting our expectations for life and choosing what is important and what it is not. Developing this ability leads to something I think of as a kind of “practical enlightenment“. The “subtle art of not giving a f*ck” comes down to “learning how to focus and prioritize your thoughts effectively – how to pick and choose what matters to you and what does not matter to you based on finely honed personal values.

What to know before reading: The book debunks a series of fundamentally flawed beliefs that many of us need to unlearn. For instance, Chapter 2 walks us through how trying to feel always happy is a trap we fall into so often. Problems, discomfort and dissatisfaction are part of life irrespective of how much we try to avoid them. Happiness comes therefore from solving problems, it is a form of action and a constant work-in-progress because solving problems is a constant work-in-progress. “Suffering is biologically useful” in fact with emotions and pains giving us clues to problems and solutions. The conclusion -at the end of this 2nd chapter – is made obvious by these poignant points: “Who we are is defined by what you’re willing to struggle for.”

Similar “north star” beliefs are presented across the rest of the book as counterintuitive truths challenging previously-held beliefs: You Are Not Special, The Value of Suffering, You Are Always Choosing, You’re Wrong About Everything, Failure Is The Way Forward, The Importance of Saying No, and Then You Die….

Biggest personal learning from the book: Eat your veggies! In the chapter You Are Not Special, Mark Manson makes a simple but powerful point that at the end of the day, our actions don’t matter that much in the grand scheme of things. There are only very few special people and very few special actions in the long history of our civilization. Acknowledging this – eating this bland and mundane veggie- will actually take the pressure off and enable us to live a more meaningful and joyful life: “The vast majority of your life will be boring and not noteworthy, and that’s okay. This vegetable course will taste bad at first. Very bad. You will avoid accepting it. But once ingested, your body will wake up feeling more potent and more alive. After all, that constant pressure to be something amazing, to be the next big thing, will be lifted off your back. And the knowledge and acceptance of your own mundane existence will actually free you to accomplish what you truly wish to accomplish, without judgement or lofty expectations. You will have a growing appreciation for life’s basic experiences: the pleasures of simple friendship, creating something, helping a person in need, reading a good book, laughing with someone you care about. Sounds boring, doesn’t it? That’s because these things are ordinary. But maybe they are ordinary for a reason: because they are what actually matters.

One specific learning from the book: A point made in the book is motivation doesn’t always comes first, with Mark reminiscing over a saying from his math teacher from high school: “Don’t just sit there. Do something. The answers will follow”. If we wait to feel motivated, we miss opportunities and what the solutions to problems could be. The principle “do something” means committing to doing something, anything …which will generate a chain reaction leading to increased inspiration and motivation.

Another specific takeaway from the book is that by consciously choosing what you give a f*ck about, you are also choosing what problems you have or don’t have to solve: e.g. if you choose to give a f*ck about your job or a particular relationship, you are also choosing to put up with some of the stresses that come along, and that’s okay: “True happiness occurs only when you find problems you enjoy having and enjoy solving.” Clarifying and prioritizing good values is a first step to then only give a f*ck towards things that matter.

How is this book different from other leadership books: The book is a wake-up call about choosing what we care about and why, and about accepting adversity, uncertainty and failure as necessities for leading a “good life”. It is, as per Mark, “a refreshing slap in the face for all of us that we can start to lead more contented, grounded lives.

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