The Subtle Art of not Giving a F**k

October 4, 2018

Book Notes

the subtle art of not giving a fuck book cover

When I read a book I have the habit of highlighting certain passages I find interesting or useful. After I finish the book I’ll type up those passages and put them into a note on my phone. I’ll keep them to comb through every so often so that I remember what that certain book was about. That’s what these are. So if I ever end up lending you a book, these are the sections that I’ve highlighted in that book. Enjoy!

Conventional self-help advice which tells you to visualize success and think about the type of person you want to be only reinforces the idea that you are not that thing.

Everyone wants you to believe that the secret to a good life is to have a nicer job or a better car or a prettier girlfriend.

The key to a good life is not giving a fuck about more; it’s giving a fuck about less, giving a fuck about only what is true and immediate and important.

We are no longer facing a material crisis. We have plenty of resources: TVs and clothes and goods that we don’t need. The problem we face is existential and spiritual. We have so much stuff and so many opportunities that we don’t know what to give a fuck about anymore.

Because there’s an infinite amount of things we can now see or know, there are also an infinite number of ways we can discover that we don’t measure up, that we’re not good enough, that things aren’t as great as they could be.

The desire for a more positive experience is itself a negative experience. And, paradoxically, the acceptance of one’s negative experience is itself a positive experience.

Pursuing something only reinforces that you lack it in the first place.

Accepting your experience of life as being great and wonderful is the single greatest thing you can do for your happiness.

“You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life.” -Albert Camus

Everything worthwhile in life is won through surmounting the associated negative experience.

If you are able to not give a fuck about the pain your goals require, then you become unstoppable.

The moments when we don’t give a fuck and take action are often the moments that most define the course of our lives.

You are going to die someday. Everyone you know is going to die soon. And in your short life you only have a certain amount of fucks to give.

Learning how to focus and prioritize your thoughts effectively based on finely honed personal values is perhaps the greatest and most important struggle in life.

Subtlety #1: Not giving a fuck is not about being indifferent. It just means you’re comfortable with being different. Don’t say fuck it to everything in life, just to the unimportant things.

Subtlety #2: To not give a fuck about adversity, you must first care about something more important than adversity.

Subtlety #3: Whether you realize it or not, you are always choosing what to give a fuck about. The key is to gradually prune the things you care about, so that you only give a fuck on the most important of occasions.

When a person has no problems, the mind automatically finds a way to invent some.

I think what most people — especially educated, pampered middle-class white people — consider “life problems” are really just side effects of not having anything more important to worry about.

Finding something important and meaningful in your life is perhaps the most productive use of your time and energy.

It’s okay for things to suck some of the time.

Practical enlightenment is the act of becoming comfortable with the idea that some suffering is always inevitable.

There is no value in suffering when it is done without purpose.

Don’t hope for a life without problems. Hope for a life with good problems.

Problems never stop. They merely get exchanged or upgraded.

Happiness is found in solving problems, not avoiding them.

True happiness occurs only when you find the problems you enjoy having and enjoy solving. Happiness is wanting the problems you have and wanting to solve them.

Emotions are simply biological signals designed to nudge you in the direction of beneficial change.

Negative emotions are a sign that something is going unaddressed. They are a call to action. Positive emotions are the reward for taking the correct action.

We should question our emotions because they are not always right.

Don’t ask yourself what you want out of life. It’s easy to want success and fame and happiness and great sex. Everybody wants those things. A much more interesting question to ask yourself is, “What kind of pain do I want?” What you are willing to struggle for is a greater determinant of how our lives turn out.

You can’t merely be in love with the result. Everybody loves the result. You have to love the process.

The climb to the top is a never-ending upward spiral with new problems always surfacing and new processes that you must fall in love with. You are never allowed to stop climbing because the entire point is to love the climb. If you ever stop loving the climb, the results will never come.

Self-esteem, by itself, is overrated. It doesn’t help to feel good about yourself unless you have a good reason for feeling that way. The struggle makes self-esteem useful, not the participation trophy.

Your problems are not privileged in their severity or pain. You are not unique in your suffering.

The more exposed we are to opposing viewpoints, the more we seem to get upset that those other viewpoints exist. This seems like a logical trend to me because before the internet and our hyper-connected modern world, people didn’t have as much likelihood of running into ideas that disagreed with their own. Today, alternate ideas are far more likely to cross your radar screen.

Most of us are pretty average at most things we do. Even if you’re exceptional at one thing, chances are you’re average or below average at most other things.

Our lives today are filled with information from the extremes of the bell curve of human experience. The best of the best, worst of the worst, and most upsetting of the upsetting. We only see the most exceptional news stories because that’s what drives revenue. This is a real problem when it comes to comparison because you can only be exceptional in one thing thing and you’re going to be below average in nearly everything else. That makes comparison a very dangerous game to play.

The problem is that the pervasiveness of technology and mass marketing is screwing up a lot of people’s expectations for themselves.

One of the most pervasive narratives about masculinity in our culture is that the most valuable thing a man can attain is sex and it’s worth sacrificing nearly anything to get it. (Interestingly, this corresponds to one of the dominant female narratives, which is that the greatest thing a woman can be is beautiful.)

People who are exceptional become that way by thinking they are average and focusing on improvement. You don’t become exceptional by believing you are exceptional.

The more uncomfortable the answer, the more likely it is to be true.

Problems are inevitable, but what they mean is flexible. We get to control what our problems mean to us based on how we choose to think about them and how we choose to measure them. The way we measure success influences how we view the problems we face.

“Pleasure is a false god. Research shows that people who focus their energy on superficial pleasures end up more anxious, more emotionally unstable, and more depressed. Pleasure is the most superficial form of life satisfaction and therefore the easiest to obtain and the easiest to lose.”

People who base their self-worth on being right about everything prevent themselves from learning from their mistakes.

“One day, in retrospect, the years of struggle will strike you as the most beautiful.” -Sigmund Freud

People who are terrified of what others think about them are actually terrified of all the negative things they think about themselves being reflected back at them.

When we feel that we’re choosing our problems, we feel empowered. When we feel that our problems are being forced upon us against our will, we feel victimized and miserable.

We don’t always control what happens to us. But we always control how we interpret what happens to us, as well as how we respond.

Accepting responsibility for our problems is the first step to solving them.

A lot of people hesitate to take responsibility for their problems because they believe that to be responsible for your problems is also to be at fault for your problems. This is not true. We are responsible for experiences that aren’t our fault all the time. This is part of life.

People will often fight over who gets to be responsible for successful and happiness. But taking responsibility for our problems is far more important because that’s where real learning comes from.

Growth is an endlessly iterative process. When we learn something new, we don’t go from “wrong” to “right.” Rather, we go from wrong to slightly less wrong. We shouldn’t seek to find the ultimate “right” answer for ourselves, but rather, we should seek to chip away at the ways that we’re wrong today so that we can be a little less wrong tomorrow.

Certainty is the enemy of growth.

All beliefs are wrong—some are just less wrong than others.

Counterintuitive insight by Baumeister regarding evil: some of the worst criminals often felt good about themselves. Low self-esteem was not always associated with evil acts.

The more you try to become certain about a particular issue, the more uncertain and insecure you will feel.

The more you embrace being uncertain and not knowing, the more comfortable you will feel in knowing what you don’t know.

The man who believes he knows everything learns nothing.

Manson’s Law of Avoidance: The more something threatens your identity, the more you will avoid it. The more something threatens how you view yourself, the more you will avoid getting around to doing it.

If I believe I’m a nice guy, I’ll avoid situations that could potentially contradict that belief. If I believe I’m an awesome cook, I’ll seek out opportunities to prove that to myself over and over again. The belief always takes precedence.

Manson’s idea of “kill yourself” is similar to Paul Graham’s idea of “keep your identity small.” The central point is that if you don’t have an identity to protect, then change becomes much easier.

For any change to happen in your life, you must accept that you were wrong about something you were doing before.

“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” -Aristotle

If it feels like it’s you versus the world, chances are it’s really just you versus yourself.

The magnitude of your success is tied to how many times you’ve failed at that thing.

Goals are limited in the amount of happiness they can provide in our lives because they are finite. Once you achieve the goal, it can no longer provide happiness because the finish line has been crossed. Paradoxically, then, by choosing processes as your focus, you can increase your overall, lifelong happiness by focusing on the process and not the goal. Processes never end, which means happiness can continue indefinitely.

Action isn’t just the effect of motivation; it’s also the cause of it. Do something and inspiration will follow.

How do you write a tons of books? Write “200 crappy words per day” and you’ll find motivation often flows out of you.

Manson’s “do something” principle sounds a lot like the philosophy behind the 2-minute rule. Do something now, even if it’s really small, and let good actions cascade as a result.

To truly appreciate something, you must confine yourself to it. There’s a certain level of joy and meaning that you reach in life only when you’ve spent decades investing in a single relationship, a single craft, a single career. And you cannot achieve those decades of investment without rejecting the alternatives.

The mark of an unhealthy relationship is when two people try to solve each other’s problems in order to feel good about themselves.

Trust is the most important ingredient in any relationship for the simple reason that without trust the relationship doesn’t actually mean anything.

Investing deeply in one person, one place, one job, one activity might deny us the breadth of experience we’d like, but pursuing a breadth of experience denies us the opportunity to enjoy the rewards of depth of experience.

Commitment, in its own way, offers a wealth of opportunity and experiences that would never otherwise be available to you, no matter how many surface level experiences you pursued.

Rejection of alternatives liberates us. In a strange way, commitment to one thing offers more freedom than anything else because it relieves you of all the second guessing about what else is out there.

If there is no reason to do anything, if life is pointless, then there is also no reason to not do anything. What do you have to lose? You’re going to die anyway, so your fears and embarrassments and failures don’t mean anything. You might as well try.

All of the meaning in our life is shaped by our innate desire to never truly die. Our physical bodies will die, but we cling to the idea that we can live on through religion, politics, sports, art, and technological innovation.

The only way to be comfortable with death is to understand and see yourself as something bigger than yourself, to contribute to some much larger entity.

It is the act of choosing your values and living by them that makes you great, not any outcome or accomplishment.

“We’re all going to die, all of us. What a circus! That alone should make us love each other, but it doesn’t.” -Charles Bukowski

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