The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck

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 — it only focuses in what you lack and then it emphasizes for you.

The fixation on the positive is a continuous reminder of what we haven’t achieved or what we are not.

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 [more, more, more] — giving too many fucks is bad for your mental health.

The key to a good life is giving a fuck about less, giving a fuck about only what is true and immediate and important.

📍 Filter bubble (aka. feedback loop from hell): social media recreates a fake illusion — where we get a filtered and distorted picture of everybody’s lives — that constantly makes us unhappy and we feel that something’s wrong with us.

🔖 We are no longer facing a material crisis — we have plenty of resources: TVs, smartphones, and clothes and goods that we don’t need. We are arguably living in the best time in history. 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.

Wanting positive experience is a negative experience; accepting negative experience is a positive experience. Pursuing something only reinforces that you lack it in the first place.

🖇 Related to Alan Watts’ Backwards Law: if one is to apply more conscious effort in hopes of increased results, he will run into diminishing returns for his effort. More effort does not equate to better results.

Everything worthwhile in life is won through surmounting the associated negative experience. Any attempt to escape it only backfires. 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

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

🔖 This is how it works: you are going to die one day. Everyone you know is going to die soon. In this period of time, you only have a certain amount of fucks to give.

Learning how to focus and prioritize your thoughts effectively, pick and choose what matters, based on finely honed personal values. It is extremely difficult to achieve, but it is perhaps the greatest and most important struggle one can undertake in life.

Because when you give too many fucks — everyone and everything — you’ll feel that you’re perpetually entitled to be comfortable and happy at all times. That all is supposed to be exactly the way you wanted it to be. It’ll eat you alive.

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 consider “life problems” are really just side effects of not having anything more important to worry about.

👇 Coming up, a masterclass on happiness, pain, the meaning of emotions, why we fall in love with the result (not the process), exceptionalism, and how Internet and the media have created a polarized society that only cares about extremes.

Happiness is not a solvable equation.

Happiness is a work in progress. It comes from solving problems, not avoiding them. To be happy we need something to solve. Yet solving problems is hard and often feels bad.

Finding something important and meaningful in your life is perhaps the most productive use of your time and energy. Find the shit you enjoy dealing with.

Suffering is nature’s preferred agent for inspiring change. But there is no value in suffering when it is done without purpose.

📍 Pain spurs action, it is not a bug, but a feature of evolution. Problems never stop. They merely get exchanged or upgraded. The solution to one problem is merely the creation of the next.

The emotional pain of rejection or failure teaches us how to avoid making the same mistakes in the future.

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

True happiness occurs only when you find the right problems you enjoy having and enjoy solving. Happiness is wanting the problems you have and wanting to solve them. Happiness requires struggle. It grows from problems.

📍 Negative emotions as a CTA: 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.
  • Positive emotions are rewards for taking the proper action.

If you feel crappy it’s because your brain is telling you that there’s a problem that’s unaddressed or unresolved.

Make a habit of questioning emotions because they are not always right. Just because something feels good doesn’t mean it is good. Just because something feels bad doesn’t mean it is bad. Emotions are merely signposts or suggestions.

📍 Being in love with the result — not wanting it, enough. You can’t merely be in love with the result. Everybody loves the result. You have to love the process.

I didn’t actually want it. I was in love with the result, but I wasn’t in love with the process. Because of that, I failed. The common cultural narratives would tell me that I gave up on my dream. The truth is, I thought I wanted something, but it turns out I didn’t.

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.

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.

Technology has solved old economic problems by giving us new psychological problems.

There’s no such thing as a personal problem. If you’ve got a problem, chances are millions of other people have had it in the past. You are not unique in your suffering.

The easier and more problem-free our lives become, the more we seem to feel entitled for them to get even better. Entitlement is linked to mass-media-driven exceptionalism.

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. But the media only cares about the extremes — the exceptional — these are the only ones that get all the attention, reinforcing the false perception that exceptional is the new normal.

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.

Exceptional information drives us to feel insecure, so we feel the need to compensate through entitlement and addiction, feel the need to be more extreme, more radical, and more self-assured to get noticed or even matter.

If the worst thing you can be is in the middle of the bell curve, it then becomes better to be at the extreme low end, because at least there you’re still special and deserve attention: the most miserable, or the most oppressed, or the most victimized.

The rare people who do become truly exceptional at something do so because they’re obsessed with improvement, which stems from an unerring belief that they are, in fact, not that great at all. You don’t become exceptional by believing you are exceptional. It’s anti-entitlement.

The vast majority of your life will be boring and not noteworthy, and that’s okay.

Acceptance of your own mundane existence will free you to accomplish what you truly wish to accomplish, without judgment or lofty expectations.

Self-awareness is like an onion. There are three layers:

  1. Understanding of one’s emotions.
  2. Asking why we feel certain emotions and understanding the root cause of the emotions that overwhelm you.
  3. Our personal values: How am I choosing to measure myself?

📍 Values and metrics

If what we value is poorly chosen, then everything will be out of whack. At the end of the day we should ask ourselves “why am I suffering? — for what purpose?“.

🔖 What is objectively true about a situation is not how you come to see the situation — i.e. how you come to measure it. Problems might be inevitable, but the way we choose to measure them it is not, it is flexible. We get to control what our problems mean by how we choose to measure them.

The way we measure success influences how we view the problems we face.

Everything we think and feel about a situation ultimately comes back to how valuable we perceive it to be.

One day, in retrospect, the years of struggle will strike you as the most beautiful.

—— Sigmund Freud

The difference between a problem being painful or being powerful is a sense that we chose it. If you’re miserable in your current situation, it’s because you feel like some part of it is outside your control — that there’s a problem you have no ability to solve, a problem that was somehow thrust upon you without your choosing.

📍 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.

🖇 Related to the three types of happiness described in Delivering Happiness.

Pleasure […] is about always chasing the next high. I like to refer to it as the “Rock Star” type of happiness because it’s great if you can have a constant inflow of stimuli, but it’s very hard to maintain unless you’re living the lifestyle of a rock star.

📍 Responsibility — it looked to me like a handy summary of Jordan Peterson’ Rule #2: Treat yourself as if you were someone that you are responsible for helping.

William James decided to conduct a little experiment. Spend one year believing that he was 100 percent responsible for everything that occurred in his life, no matter what. During this period, he would do everything in his power to change his circumstances, no matter the likelihood of failure. James would later refer to his little experiment as his “rebirth” and would credit it with everything that he later accomplished in his life.

We are responsible for everything in our lives. We always control how we interpret what happens to us, as well as how we respond.

Fault is past tense. Responsibility is present tense. Fault results from choices that have already been made. Responsibility results from the choices you’re currently making.

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.

📍 Change and growth — yet again related to Jordan Peterson’ Rule #4: Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today.

Change is as simple as choosing to give a fuck about something else. It really is that simple. It’s just not easy.

Throughout my life, I’ve been flat-out wrong about myself, others, society, culture, the world, the universe — everything. And I hope that will continue to be the case for the rest of my life.

On the other hand, people who base their self-worth on being right about everything prevent themselves from learning from their mistakes.

Learning is not a binary process. When we learn we move from wrong to slightly less wrong, without actually ever reaching truth or perfection.

🔖 Personal growth can actually be quite scientific.

  • Our values are our hypotheses.
  • Our actions are the experiments.
  • The resulting emotions and thought patterns are our data.

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

There are particular certainties that we don’t want to let go of, values that have given ourselves meaning during the years.

Certainty is the enemy of growth. Uncertainty is the root of all progress and all growth.

Instead of striving for certainty, be in constant search of doubt: about beliefs, feelings, or the future.

Being wrong opens us up to the possibility of change.

There is no correct ideology. There is only what your experience has shown you to be right for you. All beliefs are wrong — some are just less wrong than others.

The only thing we “know” is what hurts in the moment — but we don’t know if that will eventually turn out to be a positive experience.

People five hundred years from now will laugh at us and our certainties today. They, too, will be wrong. Just less wrong than we were.

📍 Meaning

We are associative machines, our minds keep on generating associations so we get the feeling that we are in control of our environment.

But our brains, while magnificent, they are imperfect, we make mistakes, misinterpret events, forget things, to know that this is ultimately deceptive.

Once we create meaning for ourselves it is really difficult to let go. We are biased towards the meaning that our mind has made and don’t want to let go of it.

Most of our believes are wrong.

The man who believes he knows everything learns nothing.

Despite dreaming of being X, the real potential of being an X nobody likes is far scarier than remaining an X nobody has heard of. At least, we are used to the latter.

Don’t find yourself. Never know who you are.

“Finding yourself” can cement you into a strict role with unnecessary expectations, and close you off to potential and opportunities.

📍 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.

Let go of the idea that “you” exist at all — if you don’t have an identity to protect, then change becomes much easier.

Don’t be special. Don’t be unique. The moment you start worrying about what other would think you’re being narcissistic, assuming that your problems are somewhat special. Redefine your metrics in mundane and broad ways.

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

—— Aristotle

If it’s down to me being screwed up, or everybody else being screwed up, it is far, far, far more likely that I’m the one who’s screwed up.

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, metrics and processes

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.

“Buy a house and a nice car” once achieved, has nothing left to give you.

Goals like buy a lake house, lose fifteen pounds — are limited in the amount of happiness they can produce in our lives. They may be helpful when pursuing quick, short-term benefits, but as guides for the overall trajectory of our life, they suck.

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.

A metric for the value “honesty” is never completely finished; it’s a problem that must continuously be reengaged.

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

🖋 Sometimes problems are left aside, unattended for months, just because the idea of starting feels unbearable. Yet just the fact of putting on feet in front of the other and working on it again, inevitably generates the motion to keep at it.

If you’re stuck on a problem, don’t sit there and think about it; just start working on it. Even if you don’t know what you’re doing, the simple act of working on it will eventually cause the right ideas to show up in your head.

📍 Manson’s “do something” principle: do something now, even if it’s really small, and let good actions cascade as a result.

📍 Less is more — or why more is not always better

The only way to achieve meaning and a sense of importance in one’s life is through a rejection of alternatives, a narrowing of freedom, a choice of commitment to one place, one belief, or one person.

Pursuing a breadth of experience denies us the opportunity to enjoy the rewards of depth of experience.

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.

We are defined by what we choose to reject.

🔖 Travel shows you that another society can live with entirely different values and still function.

Russian frankness is unadulterated expression. Honesty in the truest sense of the word. Communication with no conditions, no strings attached, no ulterior motive, no sales job, no desperate attempt to be liked.

To build trust you have to be honest. That means when things suck, you say so openly.

On the other hand, western culture is rooted in the desire to avoid rejection at all costs, to avoid confrontation and conflict, is a deep valueless, pleasure-driven, and self-absorbed life. We are even motivated to change opinions depending on who’s listening, just for the sake of being liked.

📍 Commitment

When pursuing a wide range of experiences, there are diminishing returns to each additional adventure — it is a logarithmic trend, as you keep adding experiences, excitement flattens out.

On the other hand, commitment…

  • Gives you freedom because you’re no longer distracted by the unimportant.
  • Hones your attention and focus, directing them toward what is most efficient at making you healthy and happy.
  • Makes decision-making easier and removes any fear of missing out; knowing that what you already have is good enough, why would you ever stress about chasing more, more, more again?
  • Allows you to focus intently on a few highly important goals and achieve a greater degree of success than you otherwise would.

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.

Breadth of experience is necessary and desirable to go out there and discover what seems worth investing yourself in. But depth is where the gold is buried.

📍 Death

The human being is the only animal that is able to think about alternate realities.

Ernest Becker book The Denial of Death makes a distinction between two types of selves:

  • Physical self
  • Conceptual self: the one the endures even after we “physically” die

All of human civilization, he says, is basically a result of immortality projects that allow our conceptual self to live on way past the point of our physical death. This is ultimately why we aim to put our names in buildings or go to Mars.

Our physical bodies will die, but we cling to the idea that we can live on through religion, politics, sports, art, and technological innovation.

All of the meaning in our life is shaped by our innate desire to “never truly die”.

Death is the only thing we know for certain, thus it shall be the compass that orients our values and decisions.

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.

📍 Something bigger than yourself

True happiness comes from contributing to something bigger than yourself.

On the other hand, entitlement isolates us because it runs counter the idea of a contribution to a larger, greater project.

Great attention !== Great success

People declare themselves experts, entrepreneurs, inventors, innovators, mavericks, and coaches without any real-life experience, because they feel that they need to be great to be accepted in a world that broadcasts only the extraordinary.

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

First published on February 10, 2019