I have to admit I am kind of a self-help junkie. I know it has a negative connotation, but even as far back as when I was 8 years old I remember going to the bookstore and flipping pages through books that focused on confidence, positive self-image, and using the power of the mind to overcome challenges in life. As an adult, I continue to seek out self-improvement resources to positively influence my state of mind.
The reason I picked up the book I am about to summarize, the Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, had to do more with sheer curiosity over how a whole book could be written on the topic. If you don’t give a f*ck, what is there to write about? Until I read it and realized that it wasn’t about suddenly shrugging off everything in life like Peter Gibbons in Office Space. It’s about making choices when we only have so many Fs to give.
The Give a F framework
Before I summarize the chapters below, it is important to understand the “give a f” framework. The basic premise is this: You are always choosing what to give Fs about. And Fs represent values. We all have different values, therefore we all have different things we give an F about.
So making that decision on where to give your Fs can act like a filter for choosing not to worry about things that don’t represent the Fs you give. It is about putting your attention on what moves you to your very core and pushing all the outside noise to the sidelines.
Chapter 1 – Don’t try
There are two basic truths: The pursuit of positive experience is itself a negative experience. And the acceptance of a negative experience is a positive experience.
In other words, the more you “try”, the unhappier you will feel. Not trying does not mean not doing anything, it’s more about your state of mind. The more you believe you have to try to get something else to be happy, the more you will be in a perpetual state of trying to get the next thing, and the next thing.
Let’s take an example: Say you think you will be happy if you lose 15 pounds. That process will be a negative experience – it won’t be easy, you will be frustrated by how long it takes, and it will take time. You think you may have to “try” harder to make your results happen faster – restrict more calories, work out twice a day, eliminate XY or Z. Doing that will just make you even more miserable.
The alternative is appreciating your body NOW and accepting that this will be a long process that will challenge you and may even suck at times, but that shift from expecting instant gratification will transform the experience into something more positive. That doesn’t mean you don’t put in the effort, but you are doing so with more presence in the process and with less focus on the numbers (see my BMI is BS post for more reasons why that is not the right approach).
Chapter 2 – Life is suffering (but there is a path to still be happy)
Which is the first of four truths in Buddhist practice (fun side fact – I minored in Buddhism at UVA). Life is suffering, and that is because we form attachments to things that we often do not have or that someone else has. He describes it as a hedonic treadmill – that no matter how often we get what we want or work for, that there’s always something beyond that or problems that come with it that make our happiness short-lived.
For example, you might be single and think, if I could just meet someone I’ll be happy. Then you meet someone, and if we get engaged I’ll be happy. Then you start planning the wedding and will only be happy if everything goes perfectly. And then once you are married you will only be happy if you can have kids right away. And once you have those kids only if they get straight As. And SO ON.
Negative emotions actually help us a lot of the time – anxiety and anger signal our body to act. If we ignore or try to avoid them, we miss an opportunity. Happiness comes from solving problems. Choose your Fs, and make it your adventure, but choose consciously, not because you see someone with something you don’t have. and did not give an F about before. Forget about keeping up with The Jones’ if you don’t give a F about them!
Chapter 3 – You are not special
Nobody is special. Including you.
We are in a growing culture of exceptionalism and social media sycophantic behavior that drives these feelings of entitlement to getting what we want without having to roll our sleeves up and slog through the dirt for a whil.e . You can’t get the positive experiences without going through the negative. Yes, positive experiences can come out of nowhere, (see my DAO Guide to the Law of Attraction) but don’t you notice that this happens after you have had the experience, the highs and lows, falling down, getting back up?
So when you think of this in the context of a fitness journey, think of it like you can’t sit on the couch and eat chips and expect to have a superior physique. The work involved will be hard, and if you expect to notice a difference after one week of exercising and eating more vegetables, you will be sorely disappointed. True transformation takes time and lots of days of seeing no difference at all. A great way to think about this is that some days your body and everyone else’s just “WON’T” or you might take a class or a bunch of different classes that will not jive with you until one day you find the one that suits you just right. There will be hard times and you have to trust the process (albeit, always listen to your body!).
Chapter 4 – The value of suffering
In other words, if you have the wrong goal, you’re f&*d. And when you have the right one, it’s worth fighting for!
What are we willing to sacrifice for? Assuming you agree that you should give Fs about something, the question is what is worth it? Even with all the right resources and people in your corner, you have to define your goal. As I have said before, you have to FIND YOUR WHY to define what you give an F about.
Chapter 5- You are always choosing
This is one of the most important chapters. Imagine your family is kidnapped and a gun is to your head and you have to run a marathon to save them. This would suck, right ?
Now imagine training, hiring a coach, buying gear, celebrating with your family – that would be great right?
The actual pain of running the marathon isn’t much different in these two scenarios. Even though the actual race may be easier in scenario 2 there will be months of grueling training sessions, muscle soreness, fatigue, bad weather, etc.
The difference between these two scenarios is that you have a choice in the latter. When we feel things are thrust upon us without our control is when we suffer. When we feel that we have lost our agency in that moment and our free will is taken are our times of trials and tribulations. Our problems are problems because we choose our perspective. You may feel, for example, your job is too stressful, but consider that in a lot of situations, you are CHOOSING the stress. Accept that your career will be full of ups and downs, office politics, making mistakes, and that there will be too much to do and not enough time to do it all. Then decide who and what you give Fs about and focus your energy on that.
Chapter 6 – We are all wrong about everything
Have you ever looked at a picture of yourself from 10, 15,20 years ago and wondered what you were thinking with that hair or those overalls? That’s not just an evolving fashion sense but an evolving sense of truth and growth. Now, for example, we recognize that more simplicity and modesty may be a better way to present ourselves.
Certainty can be a trap, because we are a society that constantly craves knowing exactly where we are going. Take WAZE or Google Maps – it tells us all the steps, how long it will take to get there, where there will be traffic. But life does not come with a GPS. Yet how many times do we try to play God and control outcomes? This can be very tricky to navigate because we are in the social media age where everyone is showing their most fantastic times plastered in front of you, in tandem with an age of ‘cancel culture’- it becomes important to take a step back and at try and think of different perspectives around you to keep yourself grounded and keep working on the things that you give the F about.
Feelings aren’t facts. And our feelings come from our brain, which as we have discussed, is a liar.
Chapter 7 – Failure is the way forward
In my post about the law of attraction, I tell the story about how failure is celebrated at some companies in order to encourage their employees to stop pursuing an invention that isn’t working out and put their energy into new possibilities.
Manson tells us how he had a math teacher that advised not to If you don’t know what to do, rewrite the problem so you can find the next step. That can either be breaking down something overwhelming into little steps, even the smallest thing, and just do that. This is Neda’s M.O. with clients and herself, just work with where you are at, no matter how bottom or top, and just focus on that one tiny piece- you would be surprised at how peaceful it feels and you can push away feelings of overwhelm. There is a Persian proverb that says, “Drop by drop it gathers, suddenly it becomes an ocean.” Apply this how you see fit.
Action leads to motivation – not the other way around. And if you never taste the bitter, the sweet just isn’t as sweet.
Chapter 8 – Importance of Saying no
If you are willing to traverse the negative to get to the positive, if you are willing to take responsibility, and accept failure then being able to say no is a good thing to have. It also relates to the “everyone is wrong” principle” – we are programmed (especially women) to believe that it is “wrong” to ever say no. Saying yes to everything is way overrated because that shows you cannot prioritize. Saying no is a way to set boundaries and enforce in all relationships.
Chapter 9 – And then you (and all of us) Die
Despite our fears about getting older, death is the most crystallizing way to shape what yuo give an F about. If you knew you were going to die in a year, what would you not waste time giving Fs about. That would narrow down a lot of things that you currently are devoting your Fs to. One example of that giving your time and energy to petty debates and situations that probably won’t even matter 5 minutes from now.
We take for granted that tomorrow is guaranteed, but the reality is that we could all suddenly die or suddenly lose someone. Let someone be right even if they are wrong, and don’t waste your time on minutiae. There is something bigger and greater than just people, places, or things.
And that’s the Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, through the DAO lens You can also watch the summary by the author himself, here:
And one of many good videos summarizing the concepts, here: