The biggest lesson I learned from “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck”

How a simple message in Mark Manson’s bestseller completely changed the way I react when things don’t go to plan

Back in 2019, I was at Gatwick Airport about to catch a flight to Barcelona. I’d forgotten to bring something to read, so I went into Smith’s. At the time, I’d never heard of this book, but looking back, it doesn’t surprise me that it’s the one I chose.

It was a time in my life when admittedly, I was struggling mentally. I had just had a voice operation and as a result, my plans for the year had completely changed. On top of that, losing the use of my voice as I knew it for a while, was the equivalent of an athlete temporarily losing the use of their legs. I used my voice to do everything I loved. And without it, I felt useless and unhappy.

So, I probably bought it for the same reason as anyone who reaches for a self-help book – I felt I needed help, but I wanted to do it myself.

Since then, I’ve seen it everywhere and it’s constantly being recommended by people in the spotlight as something you must read. And I completely agree.

The book

Manson markets this book as “a self-help book for people who hate self-help.” His ideas aren’t completely new. But it’s the way he delivers them that stuck with me.

Although it was written years before, everyday life post-Covid is the ideal context for this book. This is because now more than ever, things keep going wrong. The reality is, we’ve had enough cancelled plans to sink a ship at this point. That said, we would probably still be annoyed if the ship didn’t arrive on time.

That’s because it bothers us when things don’t go to plan. We feel out of control, hard done by, infuriated at life and at ourselves.

This is normal. But it doesn’t make us happy. What Manson is suggesting, is adopting five values that go against our intuition, but that will ultimately change the way we deal with problems. Here’s how one of these values has continued to shape the way I respond whenever things go wrong.

The value: Taking responsibility for everything in your life, regardless of whose fault it is.

The lesson I’m referring to can be found in chapter 5, which is entitled: “You are always choosing”.

Manson says: “… if you’re unhappy with your current situation, it’s because you probably feel like some part of it is out of your control – that there’s a problem you have no ability to solve or that was thrust upon you without your choosing.”

He goes on to say: “When we feel that we’re choosing our problems, we feel empowered” – this is essentially the basis of the lesson. “The more we choose to accept responsibility in our lives, the more power we will have over them.”

He takes care to differentiate between responsibility and fault. He points out that where ‘fault’ is in the past, ‘responsibility’ is in the present. “It results from the choices you’re currently making all of the time. You are not in control of everything that happens, but you are responsible for how you see things, how you react, and how you value things.” Put simply, it may not be your fault that you see things one way, but you are responsible for it.

How I incorporate it into everyday life

A simple example is one that happened to me a few weeks ago. I planned to go to Bristol to visit some friends, which involved a few train journeys there and back. These tickets weren’t cheap, so God forbid anything went wrong.

Lo and behold, on my return journey, the first train was delayed. Then, when it eventually arrived at the station, the ticket officer informed me that the connecting train was one that “hasn’t been running for months”. What was supposed to be a 3-hour journey took nearly 6. This meant I was also a few hours late for starting work.

Before reading the book, this would have annoyed me beyond belief. My thought process would be like a whirling ball of resentment, with the drone of Neville Longbottom’s “Why’s it always me?” playing on repeat.

Except, it didn’t annoy me. I simply pretended I was always supposed to arrive at 6 o’clock. I pretended to myself that the train I ended up getting was always the one I was going to get. Instead of being annoyed about what went wrong, I took responsibility for the way I interpreted it. I changed my approach. When I got home, I even applied for a refund and got all that money back.

A sceptic might say yeah, but what if you had something important to get back for? But that isn’t the point. The point is, that being resentful would only hold me back. It would inhibit me from doing anything to solve the problem. I would sit in a state of anxiety and let my brain frantically analyse whatever went wrong. Even though that’s the natural reaction, it doesn’t help you to keep moving. But taking responsibility does.

Claiming ownership of every setback, even if it wasn’t your fault, can mean you are able to respond, instead of simply reacting.

I find myself using this method so much that it has become my natural way of reacting when things don’t go as planned.

For Manson, it’s not about being indifferent towards everything, but rather, being selective when choosing what to care about. His language is a bit more colourful of course, but you get the idea.

2 responses to “The biggest lesson I learned from “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck””

  1. Oh yeah, sometimes it’s important to note that we are NOT our thoughts and feelings, and it is possible to separate ourselves from the. So when the bad things happen, we don’t need to react. I like Mark Manson’s stuff too. Anyway, thanks for this post!

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