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The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson

Book Review by Patricia Mudoy


One of our innate desires is to be happy and yet, so many of us don’t have a clue of how to obtain it. @Patricia Mudoy finds many of her coaching clients in this quandary so she read a number of books on the topic. The following is her review of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life by Mark Manson. In Patricia’s summation, you will find where happiness comes from, what it takes to obtain and sustain it. She also highlights how to apply the information to coaching clients. It is a quick and easy read for anyone seeking additional resources to add to your coaching toolbox. Book Review: by Patricia Mudoy, Certified Life Coach Practitioner Title: The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life Author: Mark Manson Key Points: The core message of the book is to help answer questions around happiness and fulfilment: What brings happiness? How do you live a life worth living? The author proposes: ● Happiness (or fulfillment) comes from Purpose and Meaning. - Purpose comes from choosing what to care about, where to invest our limited resources (energy, effort, time), and actively and purposefully let everything else go. Those things that we choose to focus on must be aligned with our core values - Meaning comes from how important our selections are to us. We will measure importance by our willingness to invest on those selections and by what we consider a success. In turn, the meaning we put on what we do, provides fuel to sustain the effort required to overcome the obstacles in the way. ● “Happiness requires struggle” but “there is no value in struggling (suffering) when it is done without purpose.” ● Happiness (or fulfillment) is greatly impacted by cultivating Depth vs Breath ● Or in Mason’s words: the key to living a good life is not giving a f*ck about more things, but rather, giving a f*ck only about the things that align with your personal values. A great contribution of this book is the discussion about the paradoxes of modern lifestyle, where more information and choices, and more material wealth (beyond the satisfaction of basic needs) have failed to make us happy. All the contrary: Modern lifestyle has brought systemic obstacles that we need to overcome as we try to live a purposeful and meaningful (i.e.: happy) life.

  1. Frame of Reference: excess of information of people on the extremes of the Bell curve – exceptionally talented, extremely successful, uniquely purposeful, amazingly overcoming of the odds. Unique and extraordinary become the parameters to measure ourselves against, however, most likely, we will be way below. Comparison is a dangerous game.

  2. Product, no process: We get to see admire (and envy!) the results, without understanding the investment, sacrifices and struggles needed to achieve them. We want the end product, but skip the process. For example, the thousands of hours put to cultivate the skill, the pain of the odds that were overcome, and the sacrifices made.

  3. Too much focus on (entitled) self-esteem: We all deserve to feel good about ourselves, yet we are shortcutting/overlooking the effort to work for and earn feeling good about ourselves. And, very important, avoid pain at all costs.

  4. Too much choice: Choice is empowerment, there is no doubt about it! (In fact, point number one of this book is about choosing what to care about) But too many choices get in the way of being truly happy:

o When facing too many choices it becomes difficult for a person to properly weigh all options, it might create anxiety, or be agonizing. After the decision is made, a person might think about the roads not taken, “what -if?”, the feeling of “missing out” of the other options, perpetuating the cycle of anxiety. o Also, too much to choose from might prevent full commitment to the chosen option (“if I don’t like it, I have other options”, “why stay I here… I could do better.” “Let’s try another option”) o Diminishing returns of the next experience - numbness. If we continuously are looking for the next big thing not only we don’t invest and enjoy the benefit of the choice made, but the novelty will wear out... Constantly looking for the next excitement, brings a little less, every time, until leaves with boredom and dissatisfaction. “This used to bring me pleasure, what can’t I feel anything now?” let’s try something else”. Excitement wears out. Life wears out Nuggets I want to remember about this book: - Choose your F*cks and choose the ones that matter most. Don’t wish a life without problems. Hope for a life with good problems you embrace. Don’t compare yourself to others. - Happiness Requires Struggle: Happiness comes from solving problems. When we struggle for something we value, we get vested. Accomplishing it will be more valuable, more satisfactory. If you choose to compare yourself to others, consider both the product and the process (the struggle.) - Emotions are signals: Emotions are biological signals designed to nudge us in the direction of beneficial change. They could be a call to action. Don’t avoid emotions. But understanding emotions takes self-awareness. Acknowledge them. Embrace them. - Do Something: Start somewhere, just start. When you are not motivated: start. Action will create motivation. Action will break the inertia. - Take ownership - When you want to look at the big picture, contemplate your death it will put things in the perspective and separate what’s important from what’s not - Depths vs. Breath: Choosing to chase too many things in life prevents us from fully committing to few. More satisfaction comes from fewer, more in-depth that from breath of shallowness. The style of the book is intentionally shocking – from the F*CK on the title to the often-cynical humor. The author is an imperfect guy, that made plenty of bad choices, chasing the next shiny object, until he figured out how none of this was bringing him happiness. He is relatable… to a certain population. It probably will do well with a younger and younger-at-heart audience. The language, the humor, the ridiculous metaphors (“the VCR questions!”) lowers your guard before delivering a punch - alternating lightness and seriousness - and makes his proposal. Some other books on this subject sound preachy, academic or formulaic. You might like him or hate him. But you won’t be indifferent. Applications to Life Coaching The idea of “choosing your f*cks” could be used coaching (sans the language): “Learning how to focus and prioritize your thoughts (actions, goals) effectively: how you choose what matters or not to you based on finely honed personal values, and what to do about it: owning them and doing something about them.” - Choose your F*cks: Goals, Alignment with Values & Exploring importance o Specifically, in the Discovery Session, on the Intention, (and probably when someone is stuck) the question “What are you willing to struggle for?” might shed light on the importance of the goals. Say, if everyone thinks something is important but I’m not willing to struggle for it, then it’s not important for me, So, spending time and effort on it will not be fulfilling. It won’t be worth it. o This question also brings attention to prioritizing one goal vs another, or determining if it is the right. The struggle makes us ponder about the economy of resources: I only have so much time, money, etc. Where am I willing to put them now? “Whether you realize it or not, you are always choosing what to give a f*ck about.” The key is to gradually, alternately and constantly prune our lives, so that we only care about what’s truly important. o This question is in the family of another question we use often: “What are you willing to sacrifice to achieve _______?” - Happiness requires struggle o Struggle provides meaning (provided we are struggling for the things that matter – see point above. We are willing to struggle for things we value, and we value things that we have worked for more. The more meaningful something is (a career, a relationship, a job promotion, education of our kids), the more we are willing to invest in it. Conversely, the more vested we are because of the struggle, the more meaning we attribute to it, the more satisfaction we derive from it. Application within my Coaching In coaching, I’ll spend more time in the struggle (provided is not trauma): in the investment of effort, time, energy put on it, before we move on. We will spend time not only on the resources they have already spent/invested, but on the willingness to continue investing. This could help clients discern things that are worth pursuing (continue trying to get the GED in the evening) vs those are not (continue a toxic relationship just because they have already been together for a while.) “Happiness requires struggle” but “there is no value in struggling (suffering) when it is done without purpose.” - Emotions are signals: In general, and naturally, we try to avoid negativity and pain in our lives at all costs. When we can, we will try to avoid negative emotions. But emotions are signals that we need to pay attention and that something is off. Avoiding them prevents us from learning from them. Understanding emotions takes self-awareness. “Self-awareness is a like an onion.” First level is acknowledging our emotions, then understand the source of the emotions, and then the effect they cause in us. This sequence of delving will allow the client to see emotions with a purpose, and might be able to get some control over them to avoid being overwhelmed, and eventually do something about them. We can also bring attention to how those emotions relate to their values: This emotion (happiness, fear, sadness) what value is honoring? What value is being compromised? How am I choosing to measure myself? By what standard am I judging myself and everyone around me? - Self-awareness is important - Sometimes our body feels the signals before our mind does. – We tense up, rapid heartbeat, sweaty palms. During coaching, we can bring attention to how the emotion manifests in the body - “where do you feel that emotion?” Do Something: I personally love the deceiving simplicity of this one. It’s not unlike the question “what is the smallest step you are willing to do to …?”. What I like about how it’s proposed in the book is that it breaks the perceptions that inspiration brings motivation which brings you to action. So, the proposal is like this: Start somewhere, start anywhere. Once the inertia is broken, you will find the motivation and inspiration to keep going... So since the process is not a linear one, this form illustrates it better: The idea is that conquering small wins breaks the inertia and provides clients with evidence of their own capabilities. When clients set up their homework a place emphasis on the “smallest” part. When they say “I’ll be a better listener this week”, “I’ll focus on being more present”, “I won’t’ fret over small things” I challenge them to make it concrete, to make it smaller, so small that it’s hard to find a reason not to do it. They come back the following time having gained more than what they expected. - Depth vs Breath: This summarizes everything. Many of our clients tell us that they feel they are stretched out too thin. I try to help clients to re-focus the resources they have (effort, time, money) from what’s less important and into fewer but fundamental priorities, by bringing attention to values and priorities, switching between short term and long term demands.

There are a couple of aspects of this book that caused a visceral reaction on me because of the way they felt when I saw them thinking of our clients at the Center. The Author proposes that “we are no longer facing a material crisis (we have plenty of stuff that we don’t need), and that the problem we face is existential and spiritual. He says that we have so much stuff and so many opportunities that we don’t know what to give a f*ck about anymore. What bothers me is that it oversimplifies the challenges of people that face real challenges. Many of our clients DO have material, financial, AND existential crisis. Many come from backgrounds and have hardships that we can’t even imagine. The current world with too much stuff only accentuates the gap to what they don’t have and what everyone else does, the many more ways in which they are poor, all they lack. In the case of these clients is not a matter of a material vs existential/spiritual crisis. It’s all of the above, exacerbated by the change of the frame of reference. “Accepting responsibility for our problems is the first step to solving them.” – I understand what the author means and who his intended audience is, so I agree with him on those cases. But this is an overlook especially for those who have experienced trauma or abuse. These women that did not choose their problems - to be sexually abused as kids, or be physically assaulted or to live in fear. When trauma is involved, the idea that we can “choose our problems” and “accepting responsibility for it” is a disrespect to them. I understand that there will never be a book, advice, lens, that will apply to everything. And I also understand that this was not the intention of the author.


Favorite Quotes:

“Our struggles determine our successes.”


“Don’t hope for a life without problems but for life with good problems…. Happiness is found in solving problems, … when you find the problems you enjoy having and enjoy solving.”

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