May 20, 2022

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: Commentary and Takeaways

Book: The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life
Author: Mark Manson
Published: 2016 (Harper)
BR Score: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

I have always been wary of self-help books and especially ones that peddled commonsense or ideas that would never work. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson (Goodreads) bucked this trends, kept me reading and even had me taking notes throughout.


A quick note: I don’t always take notes when I’m reading. For example, I’m reading Andy Weir’s The Martian at the moment but I don’t feel the need to note down Mark Watney’s every movement. However, when a topic is complicated or I want to reflect on a book’s content in the future, I’ll jot down a few things. On this occasion, I felt like I was “giving too many fucks” in my life, and may find it beneficial to apply some of this book’s wisdom.

Without wasting any (more) time, here are my key takeaways from this book:

  • Achieve self awareness
  • Hold good values
  • Stay in control of your life
  • Be vulnerable to grow

Let’s step into them one by one and I’ll tell you provide my additional thoughts and commentary on them.

Hold good values

Mark asserts that although we all hold some values, few of us hold good values. And that’s because holding entirely good values requires us to be saints. But most of us aren’t. What should therefore be mindful of the values that drive our decisions and ensure that they, to the most part, are three things:

  1. Reality-based – realistic to uphold and can be measured with accuracy
  2. Socially constructive – adhering to the value provides a societal benefit
  3. Controllable and immediate – you have agency over adhering to the value, now

If there was one part of this book that I really liked, it was this section because it made me question myself…deeply. I took a pen and brainstormed what I thought my values were.

Some of my values were good:

  • Doing the ‘right’ thing – I can control this, it is realistic for me to aspire to, easy to measure using my own internal moral compass, and it helps society
  • Living in the moment and enjoying it – enjoyment is measurable, I control it (my perception of the moment at least), and it benefits others by making me a more pleasant person to be around

Some were neutral:

  • Being financially well off – neutral; I can probably control this to some degree by working harder, but not sure it benefits society

And some of them…were bad:

Making the ‘most’ out of life
  • Making the ‘most’ out of life – I don’t know what making the ‘most’ out of life even looks like, it doesn’t benefit society directly, and it would be very hard to control (basically means becoming a Type-A personality)
  • Having a ‘prestigious career’ – Society doesn’t benefit from this, and I can control this to some extent but there are many other things at play; importantly, I can’t control what others think is prestigious – it’s a matter of perception

Achieve self awareness

The book asks us to ask ourselves three questions:

  • What emotion do I feel?
  • Why do I feel that emotion?
  • How do my personal values affect how I feel?

This is an easy one to fall into a hole of self-deprecation with so I urge you not to be too harsh on yourself when you think about this.

On reflection, I found that when I am feeling unhealthy emotions, it is because my personal values were bad. As I mentioned in the previous sections, one of the values I realised I held was that of ‘making the most out of life’. This meant that when I witnessed my friends and family relaxing or not pushing as hard I did, I’d feel angry or frustrated. And it would mean that I’d make snide remarks or be overly encouraging to the point of being irritating.

Bad values. Unhealthy emotions. That’s how I think it works.

This framework is a bit fluffy and I doubt I’ll apply it that often in reality, but as a tool for diagnosis, if you do get the chance, I encourage you to have a go.

Stay in control of your life

One of the books that has really stayed with me was Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl (Goodreads). It is about how people in Nazi death camps and how they stayed positive against all odds. Frankl’s view was that we cannot avoid suffering, but we can choose how to cope with it, and part of that is finding meaning in our existence.

That’s quite existential and philosophical, and Mark Mason has a more earthy view of it. However, I think it speaks to the same ideas:

  • We are always in control and have a choice in how we respond to situations; and
  • People can be to blame for how you feel, but they can’t be responsible

I like to interchange the word ‘people’ with ‘situations’ as well.

These ideas have become quite pertinent to me as my city enters what feels like its billionth day in lockdown. I haven’t seen my friends on family in forever, and I desperately need a holiday to stop be burning out. Remembering that the situation (COVID-19) is to blame, but I am responsible for how I respond and feel is empowering.

I’m not saying you won’t feel sad or angry or frustrated if you follow this philosophy. But when it all gets hard, it can be a crutch to pull you above the surface, if only just a little and only for a little while.

Be vulnerable to grow

The path of least resistance is the path of a loser.

H.G. Wells

The final takeaway from this book for me was that I need be vulnerable to grow. Our minds naturally gravitate toward challenges that are more certain in their chances of success, even if that success is mediocre or unambitious. In achieving it, our growth is limited.

Having a ‘growth mindset’ something I have believed in for a long time. Uncertain growth is less attractive than certain stagnation. Many of us do not like variability in outcomes. To have a growth mindset is to accept the chance of failure. But most of the time and certainly in the long-term, the worst-case scenario is that you learn something.

One thing I hadn’t thought about previously but that the book makes clear is that the more something threatens your identity, the more you avoid it.

This absolutely makes sense to me, and I have a very salient example for you: writing this blog. In my mind, I wasn’t a blogger or a writer. I never have been. So the idea of starting a blog went against my very identity. Which is why I found it so hard to start this blog. But every day that I write, it will become more and more a part of my identity and lowerly become easier.

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