Summary of the subtle art of not giving a f*ck

September 1st, 2019

Chapter 1 - Don't try

  • Today most cultures are obsessed with trying to be happier, healthier, faster, better, smarter, sexier, richer etc. Most of which are wildly unrealistic.
  • The problem with this is that all this positive talk about achieving this stuff actually only really reminds the majority of people all the things we don't have and have failed to get!
  • Texas saying "The smallest dog barks the loudest" Essentially someone already content, happy, confident doesn't need to prove to others they are that, they just are.
  • The main driver for the above is that every man and his dogs wants you to believe that the key to a good life is bigger house, faster car, better job, holiday home etc. This leads us to have way too many things to try and focus on and to focus on superficial things that won't actually bring you happiness
  • "The feedback loop from hell". Society tells us we shouldn't get stressed, shouldn't fear things, shouldn't have anxiety and this is amplified by the fact that if we look at our 'friends' on social media, we just see their success, new cars, the guy we used to go to school with who has just sold his company for $100million.
  • This isn't normal, we have to accept that actually it's ok to have a shitty day, ok to feel bad, ok to feel angry.
  • Basically by not giving a fuck, we can short-circuit this feedback loop. You feel bad but so what?
  • Alan Watts "the backwards law" - the more you pursue feeling better all the time, the less satisfied you become, as pursuing something only reinforces the fact that you lack it in the first place
  • Need to learn to focus only picking what really matters to you rather than wasting your energy on so many superficial things
  • Not giving a fuck doesn't mean you become indifferent or don't care about 'anything'. it means you don't care about what people think or pissing people off in order to do what feels right based on good values
  • If you're wasting too much energy getting stressed out about the fact that the controller batteries ran out, or your boss didn't say well done or your train being 3mins late then you probably don't have much stuff going on in your life. That's the real problem here

Chapter 2 -Happiness is a problem

  • Pain and loss are inevitable. We have to let go and stop trying to resist them
  • Strange thought process of being dissatisfied with what we have, telling ourselves we'll only be satisfied once we get what we don't have. The upshot of this is that it keeps us fighting for more - we have to accept that pain is our body's most effective form of motivation.
  • Happiness comes from solving problems, in particular, those we enjoy solving
  • Problem is we screw this up because we either deny we have problems to solve or believe there isn't anything we can do to solve problems.
  • We get far too caught up with our emotions. They exist for one core reason which was to help us survive (and reproduce). They generally teach us things we don't want to experience again.
  • We shouldn't fight negative emotions, instead we should see them as a "call to action". A problem that is unresolved and we need to solve it
  • But, we can't focus on our emotions too much because we fall into a vicious cycle. What we're happy with today, might be different tomorrow - emotions never last which is why we're always in pursuit of something else.
  • Instead of focussing on trying to be happy, need to choose your struggle, ask yourself what pain you want in your life and what you're willing to struggle for.
  • People are often in love with the result e.g getting super buff in the gym but they aren't willing to put hour upon hour of time and effort in the gym to get there.
  • "People usually want the reward but not the struggle"

Chapter 3 - You are not special

  • There aren't many 'personal problems' that our people haven't already experienced or are currently experiencing
  • These problems might still hurt but the simple truth is that you're not special. You're not the only one going through what you're going through so you have to stop seeing yourself as a victim of some special circumstance
  • Despite this, we seem to have a rising sense of entitlement, that this shouldn't happen to us, that we should get our way and other people shouldn't be able to disagree or oppose us
  • To become truly great at something, you have to dedicate a ton of time to it. That's a simple fact. This means that most of us are average at best at most things.
  • This is absolutely fine but the problem is that today we're bombarded with information to suggest that exceptionalism is the new normal and because we're pretty average at most things, this makes us feel insecure as 'compared to everyone else' we're clearly not good enough
  • We're setting our expectations too high because we assume everyone else is exceptional and so when we're not we make ourselves feel even worse
  • If we're not going to be exceptional, then what's the point? We can't all be exceptional, it's just not possible otherwise it would be a contradiction in itself....
  • The ironic thing is that those that do become exceptional don't do so because they believe they are, they do so because they're obsessed with improvement and this is driven by the fact they think they aren't that great and need to get better
  • So, what we actually have to constantly focus on is improving (growth mindset - Mindset by Carole Dweck), thinking we are the apprentice and getting better and better along the way
  • If you just accept tat most of your life will be pretty boring and not noteworthy, you'll remove the stress of always feeling inadequate and the constant need to prove yourself.
  • This in turn will give you a much better appreciation for life's basic experiences: friendships, creating something, reading a booking.

Chapter 4 - The value of suffering

  • The self awareness onion - Understanding our emotions, understanding why we feel certain emotions, personal values (Why do I see this as a success/failure? By what standard am I judging myself?
  • Incredibly difficult to reach that personal values level but it's most important as our values determine the nature of our problems
  • Have to ask ourselves why. When things are bugging you, it's usually because of a failure of some sort. Are you really failing or are you not measuring success/failure in the right way? What if you're not actually failing afterall?
  • Dave Mustaine, Megadeth example - sold over 25million albums, hugely successful. Unfortunately he was kicked out of Metallica (which was why he was determined to form a new band) He used Metallica as his measure of success and still considered himself a failure because Metallica were so much more successful.
  • A lot of our problems stem from bad values. One example is material success. Research actually shows that once you can provide the basic needs for yourself, food, shelter etc, the relationship between happiness and worldly success quickly reaches zero i.e the more you have doesn't make much difference if you're already doing 'ok'.
  • Another bad value example is always being right. The biggest issue with this is that if you dedicate yourslef to always being right you completely block yourself off learning from other people and learning from mistakes. Much better to take an apprentice approach, assume you know nothing or very little to keep learning from others
  • Another bad value is constant positivity. Negative emotions are a necessary part of a healthy life - sometimes we have a bad day and that's ok. Trying to be constantly positive is essentially avoiding fixing a problem.
  • Examples of good values are honesty, innovation, curiosity, humility, creativity, vulnerability

Chapter 5 - You are always choosing

  • "If you're miserable in your current situation, chances are it's because you feel like some part of it is outside your control"
  • We don't always control what happens to us but we have total control over how we respond to it or interpret it.
  • We have to accept that we are responsible for everything in our lives not matter what the circumstances
  • Can sometimes look at life like a game of poker. Whilst there is some luck in terms of the cards you're dealt, it doesn't dictate the long term results. That is in life, you get dealt a specific set of cards, some are lucky to get better ones than others and whilst you can waste a lot of energy analysing yours, the long-term outcome actually comes down to the choices you make with those cards. That is, you can still make those bad cards work really well for you.

Chapter 6 - You're wrong about everything

  • Should stop seeking the 100% right answer and instead look at how the things we're wrong about today we can be a little less wrong tomorrow
  • Being wrong about things opens up the opportunity for improvement and change. Being right makes you think you already know it and therefore lose out on personal growth
  • The irony is that the more you embrace being unsure about things, the more comfortable you are about exposing what you don't know. Again this has similarities with fixed vs groth mindset. i.e those with a fixed mindset constantly protect themselves from being exposed to situation where they might look like they don't know wha they are doing or 'don't know'.
  • The big thing for me about this is the uncertainty removes a lot of our judgements about people we don't know such as those on tv or those we've only briefly met. We don't really know if someone is a nightmare to work with, arrogant or blah so why assume it based on something someone else said or a brief experience we had.
  • "The man who believe he knows everything learns nothing"
  • "The more we admit we do not know, the more opportunities we gain to learn"
  • Parkinson law "Work expands so as to fill up the time available for it's completion"
  • Murphys law "Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong"
  • Mansons law of avoidance "The more something threatens your identity, the more you will avoid"
  • Basically the more something challenges how you view yourself e.g how successful you are, the more likely you are to avoid doing it
  • We need to accept that we're actually not as special as we think. Our problems aren't unique and so we shouldn't expect to be treated in a special way
  • Reign yourself in, in your attempt to try and be unique or special and instead focus on the basic principles. Friendly, fun, reliable, honest. This will help you to give us your sense of entitlement and the idea you are owed something.

Chapter 7 - Failure is the way forward

  • Basically the only path to real improvement is through lots of failures. Obviously they can't be huge failures but smaller failures that help you develop and learn
  • Learning to walk as a baby is a good example of this. You fail lots of times trying to do it but you don't give up the first time, you try and try again until you get it.
  • The other example is how the media share stories of 'overnight success' from entrepreneurs without sharing the 1000's of hours of practice and learning and effort, stress to get to where they are
  • Growth is what actually generates happiness
  • Our most significant changes in perspective often come after some of our hardest moments
  • Do something principle - when your stuck on a problem, don't sit there and do nothing when you don't know what to do. Just start working on it as the simple act of getting started will help to surface the right ideas and solutions in your mind.
  • Motivation is an interesting topic. Most of the time we think of it as inspiration driving motivation which in turn causes us to take action. We should actually flip this on it's head and instead take action in order to get inspired and get motivated.
  • So it should be action->inspiration->motivation this is the order you need to do things if you lack the motivation to change something important in your life
  • It's a bit like reading a put it off but once you actually read a page, you find yourself reading 10. Can be related to your to do list, just tackling some of the small stuff can quickly make your bigger tasks seem much easier
  • Tim Ferriss example of a novelist who interviewed who said he was able to write so many novels simply by sticking to "Two hundred crappy words per day, that's it" it was of course always much more but just sticking to that as a starting point is the key

Chapter 8 - The importance of saying no

  • Travel is a fantastic self development tool as you can experience how other societies function with completely different values and don't hate themselves. e.g Russia has a very direct and blunt culture. They say it as they see it where as the west have created a society where the desperation to be liked by everyone means that we are constantly trying to fit in and be semi fake to appeal to people and be liked
  • Travelling allows you to revaluate what you think is most important in your life and realise that perhaps it's not the best way to live after all.
  • Consumer culture has made us think that more is always better! But that's not always the case and in fact less is often more. The more options we have tends to me we suffer from "paradox of choice" which is where whatever option we choose we're likely to be less satisfied because we're aware of all the other options we're giving up

Chapter 9 - And then you die

  • Generally speaking we often give too many fucks about stuff we shouldn't to distract ourselves from the reality that we'll die one day
  • Whilst death is never good, it is inevitable so by coming to terms with it means that you can release yourself from the anxiety of it happening and more freely choose our values that lead us to 'immortality'.
  • Essentially what is your legacy? What will you have done that people will remember you by? What dent will you have made? What influence will you cause?
  • "They say a butterfly flapping it's wings in Africa can cause a hurricane in Florida" What hurricane will you leave in your wake?
  • What is your legacy is possibly the most important question in your life in order to find your purpose and true values
  • "Death is the only thing we can know with any certainty"
  • Bukowski (German-Armerican poet and novelist) quote "We're all going to die, all of us. What a circus! That alone should make us love each other, but it doesn't. We are terrorised and flattened by life's trivialities; we are eaten up by nothing."

By Jonathan Clift, a UX Desginer based in the UK.