Notes: The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck by Mark Manson

1. Don’t try

  • Can’t be happy chasing more happiness

Feedback loop from hell

  • Being aware of a flaw and then recursively being more agitated that you have the flaw
  • Having negative experiences is okay
  • Infinite amount of ways we don’t measure up
  • Alan Watts’ backwards law
    • The desire for positive experience is a negative experience
    • Acceptance of negative experience is a positive experience
    • Pursuing reinforces the fact that you don’t have it in the first place
  • Similar to Scott Adams: pursuing negative generates positive
    • Pain in gym creates better health and body
    • Failures in business teach what’s necessary to be successful
    • Being open with insecurities makes one more confident and charismatic
  • Feels like confirmation bias to think of instances of not caring leading to success
    • I do agree that these moments can define you
      • Switching majors junior year
      • No longer caring about getting rejected from jobs

Subtle art of not giving a fuck

  • Does not mean being indifferent and having no feelings
  • Means being comfortable being different
  • Make deliberate choices of what to give a fuck about
  • Because they reserve their fucks for only the big things that matter, people give a fuck about them in return
  • You can’t be an important and life-changing presence for some people without also being a joke and an embarrassment to others
  • With no meaningful problem to work on, mind will create meaningless things for you to worry about
  • Greatness is a made-up destination that we obligate ourselves to pursue
  • Practical enlightenment
    • guide to suffering
    • Turn pain into a tool, trauma into power

2. Happiness is a problem

  • Story of Buddha
    • Both wealth and suffering aren’t meaningful without purpose
    • Life is a form of suffering
    • Pain and loss are inevitable and we should let go of trying to resist them
  • Happiness is not a solvable equation
    • Dissatisfaction and unease are necessary to create consistent happiness

Disappointment panda

  • We’re biologically wired to suffer because it is useful for evolving
  • Hope for a life full of good problems

Happiness comes from solving problems

  • Solution to one problem creates more problems
    • Solving health problem with gym membership means timing to go to gym, eating more to bulk, feeling pain and inferiority, etc
  • Happiness is an activity, not something passively bestowed upon you
    • Doesn’t appear when you make x amount of money
  • (from chapter 6 intro) Happiness is a choice and not a destination
  • Happiness occurs when you find problems you enjoy having and solving
  • Pitfalls
    • Denial: avoiding problems, denying reality
    • Victim mentality: Blame others or circumstances for problems, believe there is nothing they can do to solve their problems

Emotions are overrated

  • Emotions are an evolutionary feedback mechanism
    • Sadness of being alone teaches you not to do things that made you feel so alone again
  • Emotions are biological signals designed to nudge you in direction of beneficial change
  • Negative emotions are a call to action
  • Emotions are part of the equation, not the entire equation
    • Emotions are suggestions, not commandments
    • Shouldn’t always trust emotions
  • Decision-making based on emotion without reason is dangerous
  • Whatever makes us happy today will no longer make us happy tomorrow
    • Our biological always needs something more
    • Our brain always adjusts to what is normal
  • What we gain is also what we lose
    • The person you marry is the person you fight with
    • The house you buy is the house you repair
    • The job you take is the job you stress over

Choose your struggle

  • Easy to ask what do you want out of life
    • Everyone wants the same thing
  • What pain do you want in your life?
    • What are you willing to struggle for?
  • Everyone wants an awesome relationship but not everyone wants to go through the awkward phases and emotional drama to get there
  • Happiness grows from problem
    • Acceptance and active engagement with negative experience
  • Consider whether you actually like to climb or if you just like to imagine the summit
  • People who enjoy the stresses and uncertainty of the artist lifestyle are ultimately the ones who live it and make it

3. You are not special

  • Entitlement and self-esteem movement
    • Confidence can be alluring
  • More accurate measurement of self-worth is how people feel about negative aspects of themselves

Things fall apart

  • If we have problems that are unsolvable, we rationalize that were are uniquely special in some way
    • We’re somehow unlike everyone else and the rules must be different for us
  • Could go both ways
    • I’m awesome and you all suck, so I deserve special treatment
    • I suck and the rest of you are all awesome, so I deserve special treatment
  • You and your problems are not privileged in their severity or pain
  • My generation
    • Want to be free of having to deal with anyone who may disagree or upset us
    • Seem to get upset that other viewpoints exist
  • No such thing as a personal problem
    • It’s happened to millions in the past and happening now to millions in the present

Tyranny of exceptionalism

  • The extremes get publicity
  • Internet open-sourced insecurity, self-doubt, and shame

What’s the point if I’m not exceptional?

  • Culturally, better to be at either end of bell curve
    • If especially miserable or victimized, still special and deserve attention
  • Acceptance of mundane existence frees you to accomplish what you wish to without judgment or lofty expectations
  • Learn to enjoy life’s basic experiences

4. Value of suffering

  • If suffering fulfills some greater cause, you are able to endure it
  • Don’t ask how to stop suffering
    • Ask “for what purpose am I suffering”

Self-awareness onion

  • Three layers
    1. Simple understanding of one’s emotions
      • “This is when I feel happy“
    2. Ability to ask why we feel certain emotions
      • Why do I feel angry?
    3. Personal values
      • How am I choosing to measure myself?
      • What standard am I judging myself and everyone around me?
  • Honest self-questioning is difficult

  • Sometimes people who love each other don’t have close relationships

  • What is objective about situation is not as important as how you choose to measure and value it

  • We get to control what our problems mean based on how we choose to think about them, the standard by which we choose to measure them
    • Reminds me of Derek Sivers: choose your metric

Rock star problems

  • Dangerous to adopt success relative to someone else as metric
  • Pete Best vs Dave Mustaine adjusting to being kicked out of Beatles vs Metallica

Shitty values

  • Values that create problems that can’t be solved

    1. Pleasure
      • Pleasure is effect of happiness, not cause
    2. Material success
      • After hitting Maslow’s needs, getting richer just introduces new problems
    3. Always being right
    4. Staying positive
      • Denying negative emotions is dangerous
      • Constant positivity is still avoidance
      • Learn how to express them in a socially acceptable and healthy manner that aligns with values
  • Some of the greatest moments in life are not pleasant, successful, nor positive
    • Stressful, arduous activities that can be the most meaningful

Defining good and bad values

  • Good:
    • Reality-based
    • Socially constructive
    • Immediate and controllable
  • Bad:
    • Superstitious
    • Socially destructive
    • not immediate and controllable
  • Examples of good
    • Honesty, creativity, vulnerability
  • Examples of bad
    • Not being alone, being liked by everybody
  • Prioritize better values

5. You are always choosing

  • Often the only difference between a problem’s perception as painful or powerful is a sense that we chose it and are responsible for it
  • When we feel we’re choosing our problems, we feel empowered
    • If forced upon us, we feel victimized

The choice

  • You are responsible for everything that happens in your life no matter the external circumstances
    • We always control how we interpret and respond to what happens to us
    • We are always choosing

Responsibility/Fault Fallacy

  • Responsibility and fault are not the same thing
    • Fault is past
      • Choices that were already made
    • Responsibility is present
      • Choices you’re currently making
  • Even when something isn’t our fault, we sometimes still have to be responsible for it
  • Many people may be to blame for your unhappiness but nobody is responsible for your unhappiness but you
  • Both parties have problems in a bad relationship
    • If the other person is doing selfish and hurtful things, you probably are too but don’t realize it
    • Cast yourself as victim

Responding to tragedy

  • Responsible for coping with loss
  • You don’t choose tragedy, but still your responsibility to manage emotional and legal fallout
  • Saying “I can’t do anything“ or “I have no choice“ is still a choice

Genetics

  • Not your fault but still your responsibility
  • Poker analogy
    • Some get better cards than others, but the real game lies in the choices we make with those cards, the risks we decide to take, and consequences we choose to live with

Victimhood chic

  • Social media makes it easy to share injustices and victimization, riding the highs of moral indignation
  • Ironically, every demographic group from left/right to rich/poor feels victimized
  • Deserve to be outraged and deserve attention
  • Easier and more profitable for media to broadcast something mildly offensive and then report on the ensuing outrage and counter-outrage

There is no “how”

  • You are already choosing every moment
  • Change is simple, but not easy

6. You’re wrong about everything

  • It’s okay to be wrong
  • If you look back and you see that you were wrong, that means you’ve grown
  • When we learn something new, go from “wrong” to “slightly less wrong“
    • not immediately from “wrong” to “right”
  • Cannot reach ultimate truth or perfection
    • Seek to learn how we’re wrong today so we can be a little less wrong tomorrow
  • Personal growth as science
    • Our values are hypotheses
    • Our actions are experiments
    • Resulting emotions and thought patterns are our data
  • People who become obsessed with being “right” about life never end up living it
  • Certainties that we hold onto because we’re afraid to question or let go of them
    • Easier to sit in a painful certainty than to test those beliefs and find out
    • Gives us moderate comfort now by mortgaging greater happiness and success later on
  • Certainty is the enemy of growth
  • We don’t know what a positive or negative experience is
    • Stressful and difficult moments end up being the most formative and motivating
    • Best and gratifying experiences end up the most distracting or demotivating
    • All we know is what hurts in the moment and what doesn’t, and that’s not worth much

Architects of our own beliefs

  • Human mind is capable of coming up with and believing bullshit that isn’t real
  • Our brains try to find meaning in everything
    • Meaning defined as associations between two or more experiences
    • We assume button caused light to go on

Be careful what you believe

  • Meredith Maran and throughout the 1980s - many women accused male family members of sexual abuse only to turn around and recant years later
  • Brain is always biased toward what we feel to be true in the moment
    • Same memories can be tinted by our present-day feeling towards the person
  • Incentive to fudge memories and explain current suffering that allows them to avoid responsibility and remain victims

Dangers of pure certainty

  • The fact that you do everything right doesn’t make you right
  • Roy Baumeister researches why people do bad things
    • Not usually about low self-esteem
      • Have to feel justified in hurting and disrespecting others
  • Certainty leads to entitlement
  • The more you’re certain about something, the more uncertain and insecure you’ll feel
  • Can’t learn if you know everything

Manson’s law of avoidance

  • The more something threatens your identity, the more you’ll avoid it
  • Comfort in knowing how you fit in world
  • Comfortable being Artist Nobody’s Heard Of versus Artist Nobody Likes
  • Knowing or finding yourself can cement you with unnecessary expectations

Kill yourself

  • Identity of “you” is restricting
  • Don’t be special or unique
    • Don’t measure self as rising star or genius or victim
    • Like improv - be average
  • The narrower and rarer the identity you choose for yourself, the more everything will seem to threaten you
  • Give up on idea that you’re uniquely talented or intelligent

How to be less certain of yourself

  1. What if I’m wrong?
    • People are bad at observing and judging themselves
    • In order for any change to happen in life, have to be wrong about something
  2. What would it mean if I were wrong?
    • Evaluate different values without necessarily adopting them 3: Would being wrong create a better or a worse problem than my current problem, for both myself and others?
    • Beliefs are often generated retrospectively to justify values and metrics we’ve chosen for ourselves
  3. If it feels like you vs world, usually just you vs yourself

7. Failure is the way forward

  • Not much difference between broke and unemployed 22-year old and 25-year old

Failure/success paradox

  • Success is based on how many times you’ve failed at something
  • We are not born avoiding failure (e.g. learning to walk)
    • Something we learn from school/society
  • Unwilling to fail mean unwilling to succeed
  • Good values are process-oriented, defies completion (e.g. express myself honestly to others)
    • Bad values are tangible external goals outside of our control
      • Once achieved, the metric has nothing left to give you (e.g. buy a nice car)
  • Like Scott Adams: conventional goals are limited in the amount of happiness they can produce in our lives
  • Picasso’s goal was honest expression
    • Not become famous or paint one thousand pictures

Pain is part of process

  • Physical pain to develop stronger muscles
    • Emotional pain to develop greater emotional resilience
  • Important to feel pain because it’s part of the process
    • Generates the motivation to actually change
  • When they feel pain or anger or sadness, drop everything and try to numb out whatever they’re feeling
    • Get back to feeling good even if that means deluding themselves or returning to shitty values
  • Accept new pain, then act despite it
  • Life is about not knowing and then doing something anyway
    • You don’t know anything
    • Don’t be afraid of that

“Do something“ principle

  • If you’re stuck on a problem, just start working on it
  • Action isn’t the effect of motivation, it is also the cause of motivation
    • Not a linear process of inspiration -> motivation -> action
    • A cycle of action -> inspiration -> motivation -> action…

8. Importance of saying no

  • Freedom grants opportunity for meaning but by itself means nothing
    • Reminds me of medium maximization[1]
  • Only way to achieve meaning is to reject alternatives
  • Russia trip - culture of unadulterated expression
    • Most valuable currency in economically poor Russia was trust
    • In West, economic abundance makes it more valuable to sell yourself in a certain way
      • Trust lost its value
      • Economic system promotes deception
      • Pressure to be likeable
  • Travel extricates you from the values of your culture and show that another society can live with an entirely different set of values

Rejection makes your life better

  • To truly appreciate something, you must confine yourself to it
  • We are defined by what we choose to reject

Boundaries

  • Emphasis on romantic love has gotten out of control
  • Unhealthy love is two people trying to escape their problems through their emotions for each other
    • Healthy love is two people addressing their own problems with each other’s support
  • Healthy love determined by:
    1. How well each person accepts responsibility
    2. Willingness of each person to reject and be rejected by partner
  • Boundaries: delineation between two people’s responsibilities for their problems
    • Toxic relationship: Avoid own problems / try to solve other person’s
      • Values become making partner happy / your partner making you happy
  • Choose to support, don’t feel obligated or entitled to support
  • One person plays victim and other person plays hero — both feel important
    • Over-blaming and over-accepting
    • Fixer believes he must fix in order to deserve attention and affection
  • Emotionally healthy people don’t seem exciting enough for savers
  • Litmus test: if I refused, how would the relationship change?
    • Difference between doing something voluntarily vs out of obligation
    • Suggests that your relationship is conditional
      • Based on superficial benefits received from one another, rather than on unconditional acceptance of each other and each other’s problems

How to build trust

  • Highest priority shouldn’t be to make partner feel good all the time
  • Without conflict, there can be no trust
  • Must be willing to say and hear “no”
  • Cheaters prioritize something else over relationship

Freedom through commitment

  • Consumer culture is about more
    • Even the less material things: more experiences, visit more countries
  • Paradox of choice: aware of all the other options we’re missing out on
    • Avoid making any choice at all, keep options open as long as possible
    • Avoid commitment
  • Some experiences you can only get with depth
    • Do have to recognize that I’m still in my 20s, still could do with some breadth
  • With breadth, diminishing returns with each new experience
  • Commitment gives freedom because it forces you to ignore unimportant stuff

9. And then you die

“Seek the truth for yourself, and I will meet you there.”

  • If there’s no reason to do anything, then there’s also no reason to not do anything
  • Without death, all experiences would be arbitrary and meaningless

Something beyond ourselves

  • “Denial of Death“ by Ernest Becker
    • Only animal that recognizes own mortality
      • Only animal that conceptualize a universe where we don’t exist
    • Immortality projects: want our conceptual identities to live on after our physical selves die
      • Why we get names on buildings and give back to others
        • Hope that our influence aka conceptual self will last beyond our physical self
      • All of civilization is built on previous immortality projects
        • Religion, politics, sports, art, and technological innovation
    • Giving a fuck is the only thing that distracts us from reality and death
    • By coming to terms with death, more free to choose our values

Sunny side of death

  • Historical roots to confronting mortality
    • Buddhist meditation can be seen as practice runs for death, letting go of ego and interfacing with universe
  • Legacy is the only important question
    • Don’t let trivial things get in the way by ignoring the reality of death
  • Death is the only certainty, so it should be used to orient all our values and decisions
  • Basic root of happiness is feeling like you’re part of something greater than yourself
    • Entitlement is the antithesis - focuses inward
    • This is probably what Give and Take by Adam Grant will boil down to
  • Pressure in today’s society to be great in order to compare in a world that only celebrates and broadcasts the extraordinary
    • Confuses great attention with great success

  1. Watched this video on nerfs and buffs which mentioned medium maximization  ↩