The Subtle Art of Not Giving A Fuck: Mark Manson’s Refreshing Take on Life

The Subtle Art of Not Giving A Fuck is a book by Mark Manson, describing a counterintuitive approach to living a good life. Although counterintuitive, it actually makes a lot of sense. Here’s why:

Manson raises the idea that the self-help genre always fixates on what you lack. By dreaming of riches, the perfect intimate relationship, or a billion dollar business reinforces the fact that you don’t already have all those things. And giving too much of a fuck that you don’t already have those things is bad for your mental health.

Living a good life is giving a fuck about only things that are truly important, knowing that you’re going to die one day, choosing the values in life that mean the most to you, and living those values.

Manson then introduces the idea of the Feedback Loop From Hell. Because human beings have the ability to have thoughts about our thoughts, we can get into a right pickle when we compound our negative emotions. We are say sorry about saying sorry, feel sad about being sad, guilty about feeling guilty. We get angry at ourselves for getting angry, anxious about being anxious and the vicious circle gains momentum.

We need to understand that feeling negative emotions is okay, frequent and normal. But if we keep going round the vicious circle that is the Feedback Loop From Hell, it’s going to make it far worse. So how do you end the feedback loop? Simply: Stop giving a fuck that you feel bad. This short-circuits the loop and you can start again from a blank slate.

Once you accept the negative experience you are having, it in turn becomes a positive experience. And paradoxically, the desire for a positive experience becomes a negative experience. Knowing this, the plight of the world may just simply be that our expectations are too skewed to be happy.

Manson simply tells us: Don’t try. When you stop giving a fuck, everything seems to fall into place. If you’ve ever been in the Zone while doing a task, you’ll notice that you’re not really trying at all, you’re just doing it and the results are coming. When I work as a salesman, the more I try to get people to buy my product, the more they’re deterred from actually buying it.

The avoidance of suffering is a form of suffering. The avoidance of a struggle is a struggle. So our only option is to embrace the suffering and the struggle, and give less of a fuck about them. One of Manson’s most prominent ideas in The Subtle Art of Not Giving A Fuck is the entitlement culture in the world today. Mediocrity is the new standard of failure, because at least if you’re terrible at everything you can tell yourself that you’re special and deserve to be treated differently. Entitlement culture means that we flip-flop between feeling amazing and feeling terrible (but at least we’re getting the attention that we’re looking for).

In a recent Paddy Power advert on TV, football manager Jose Mourinho describes how special he is and how special Paddy Power’s jackpots are. He then gets rudely brought back to reality when a taxi driver interrupts him mid-speech. “That’s not special, someone wins that jackpot every single day!” That’s how we should view our problems. They’re not unique. You’re not the only person in the history of the universe to have experienced the problem you’re going through right now. The person sitting next to you might be going through the same thing. You just didn’t care to ask because you were too self-absorbed in your pseudo-specialness.

Most of the problems we have are not only common, they have simple solutions too. The more that we debate our choices in our minds, the more blind spots we accumulate, when in fact if the same problem was translated to a third person and we’re tasked with giving advice to them about it, we’d say something along the lines of: “Shut the fuck up and do it.”

Manson suggests that happiness comes from you solving your own problems. Of course, the problems never end, it’s just about choosing better problems all the time. Solving the problem of finding a job you like brings the new problems of how you’re going to fit in with your work colleagues, how to meet the deadline you’ve just been given and how you can make a positive impact in what you do.

Manson brings some hard-hitting truths in the course of the book. Words like: Your actions don’t matter that much in the grand scheme of things. The vast majority of your life will be boring and unnoteworthy and that’s okay. We don’t actually know what a negative or a positive experience is in relation to the total timeline of our lives. The worst thing to ever happen to you could end up being the best. Instead of looking to be right all the time, look for things that prove we are wrong.

Manson tells us that meditating on mortality is one of the best antidotes for life. Avoidance of what is painful and uncomfortable is the avoidance of being alive at all. He quotes Mark Twain: “The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.” You too are going to die and that’s because you too were fortunate to have lived. Now shut the fuck up and do it.

Relentless: The Mindset You Need to Consistently Win

I recently read Tim Grover’s Relentless: From Good to Great to Unstoppable. Grover was the physical coach of the biggest basketball stars in the world such as Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. The book explains the mentality these unstoppable athletes had, and what separated them from all the other competitors. It’s a fascinating read, and is much more hard-hitting than a typical self-improvement book, similar to David Goggin’s no-bullshit style in Can’t Hurt Me.

Grover outlines three character archetypes – coolers, closers and cleaners. He describes in detail the different responses of these archetypes in different situations throughout the book, allowing the reader to identify with at least one of the archetypes, and maybe to strive towards the rare, ultimate title of ‘Cleaner’.

Coolers let others decide whether they’re successful; they do the job and wait to see if you approve. Closers feel successful when they get the job done. Cleaners never feel as if they’ve achieved success because there is always more to do.

Here’s the 13 characteristics of a cleaner:

You keep pushing yourself harder when everyone else has had enough.

You get into the Zone, shut out everything else, and control the uncontrollable.

You know exactly who you are.

You have a dark side that refuses to be taught to be good.

You’re not intimidated by pressure, you thrive on it.

When everyone is hitting the “In Case of Emergency” button, they’re all looking for you.

You don’t compete with anyone, you find your opponent’s weakness and you attack.

You make decisions, not suggestions; you know the answer while everyone else is still asking questions.

You don’t have to love the work, but you’re addicted to the results.

You’d rather be feared than liked.

You trust very few people, and those you trust better not let you down.

You don’t recognize failure; you know there’s more than one way to get what you want.

You don’t celebrate your achievements because you always want more.

As I read the book, names of cleaners would pop into my head, mainly from the world of professional football – Roy Keane, Sir Alex Ferguson, Jose Mourinho, Bruno Fernandes, Steven Gerrard. The media typically describes these types of people as ‘natural-born leaders’ or ‘serial winners’. Roy Keane literally got fired from Manchester United because he was so ruthless when analyzing his teammates after a drop in standards; Sir Alex Ferguson would play mind games with his rival managers and referees to get the edge needed to win; Mourinho infamously poked a rival manager in the eye during a big game; Bruno Fernandes can be seen instructing his teammates what to do all game; Steven Gerrard dragged his less-than-fantastic Liverpool side to win multiple trophies in his career.

While reading Relentless, I realized that cleaners are few and far between – it’s tough to have a mindset like that. In the end it could be summarized by saying a cleaner is someone that is 100% secure in themselves, is never satisfied, and isn’t afraid to upset their teammates or anyone else in order to get what they want.

Do you think you can be a cleaner? If so, would you? If you could, would you hire a cleaner in your team?

Let me know in the comments below!

How Solskjaer Has Used a Navy SEAL Management Strategy To Lead Manchester United to Success

A hero’s return

In the last two months Manchester United have gone from European laughing stock to a team that is genuinely feared by each opponent it faces. On December 18th 2018, Jose Mourinho was sacked as manager after a disappointing run of performances, epitomized by the embarrassing defeat at the hands of arch-rivals Liverpool. Former United legend Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was appointed until the end of the season and since then the team have won 11 matches, drawn one, and lost one. This is title-winning form. United have beaten Tottenham, Arsenal and Chelsea away from home – all formidable opponents.

Pundits from all over the world have speculated on what has happened behind the scenes for this dramatic shift in fortune. Common quotes like “he’s put smiles back on the players’ faces” and “he has got the best out of Paul Pogba (widely considered the best player in the team)” are true, but how has he actually done that? Here is what I think is a key change in the way the team is managed.

Has Solskjaer been studying US Navy SEALs?

Decentralized command has been made popular in recent years by the book Extreme Ownership by former US Navy SEAL Officers Jocko Willink and Leif Babin. It is a leadership and management technique whereby more responsibility is placed upon individuals lower in the chain command to achieve success in a particular mission. On the other hand, centralized command (which Mourinho preferred) places the responsibility on one leader to make sure that everybody does their job correctly. In decentralized command, the team is split into several smaller teams, giving the chance for individuals to take more control and find effective solutions themselves. These individuals become empowered by the responsibility, and the resulting sense of importance adds more drive to achieve success in their mission. Any idea that is believed to be their own will be executed with vigor, conviction and wholeheartedness – nobody likes their idea to result in failure.

Mourinho the control freak

“I was thinking for him, when to close inside, when to open, when to press the opponent, I was making every decision for him.”

Mourinho was an egoistic puppet-master while managing at Manchester United. If they won, he would take the credit for masterful strokes of tactical artistry. If they lost, he would simply blame his players for not being good enough to follow his instructions, complaining that he needed more skillful and obedient puppets. The thing that Mourinho failed to understand is that the volumes of instruction and excessive micromanagement he was giving the players was overwhelming and paralyzing them. They played in a confused and fearful manner, unable to see the bigger picture that the overall mission was simply to win a game of football. They were bogged down in whether to attack or defend, press or sit deep, and whether they were in their correct defensive positions. I was alarmed in April 2017 when Mourinho told the press of an example of this excessive micromanagement of left-back Luke Shaw: “I was thinking for him, when to close inside, when to open, when to press the opponent, I was making every decision for him.” Mourinho gave no freedom to his players which came back to bite him – there was no-one else to blame for the defeats because he controlled everything his team did. On top of that, his players took no responsibility for their moves on the field because Mourinho gave them no freedom to find their own solutions. “I just did what you told me to do boss”, they would think as they trudged back to the changing rooms after another defeat. The disjointed performances led to lots of goals conceded and not many scored – a recipe for disaster, and a managerial sacking.

Ole’s at the wheel… or is he?

“They are good players and it’s up to them to use their imagination, creativity and just enjoy playing for this club”

What Solskjaer has done differently is give control back to the players. Players are now given the freedom to find their own solutions on the pitch. They now attack each game with enthusiasm, as opposed to the dread which filled the chests of the players each time they took to the field under Mourinho. This is where the “smiles back on faces” quote that every pundit is saying comes from. Solskjaer is giving the chance for each player to be a leader by splitting the team into smaller units. Smaller units like the combination of Martial, Pogba and Shaw on the left side has led to more cohesive combinations on the ball, while the defence looks improved under the new increased responsibility of each player to contribute to the collective mission. With Solskjaer, the mission is clear – win the game simply by scoring more goals than the opposition team. The players are trusted to create their own ideas on how to win the game, and to own these ideas. The players are much more invested in these ideas because they were the ones that created them instead of the manager, and therefore they are trying much harder to make them work – it will be their fault if they don’t. There is no coincidence that Manchester United went from the team with the least to the most distance covered per game in the Premier League once Solskjaer came in as manager. The execution of decentralized command is visibly shown on the touchline at Manchester United matches now too. Solskjaer spends the same amount of time – maybe even less – in the technical area than his assistants Michael Carrick and Mike Phelan, demonstrating that he has used this strategy with his staff too. When United score now, the whole matchday staff team jump and celebrate in unison because they all know that they contributed their own ideas and creativity to the success. Solskjaer has shown humility by looking up to the United Directors’ Box for advice from Sir Alex Ferguson, something Mourinho never did in his two and a half years in charge. Last month Solskjaer was quizzed by the media about the squad at Manchester United – the same squad that Mourinho would publicly criticize with worrying regularity. He said: “They are good players and it’s up to them to use their imagination, creativity and just enjoy playing for this club”. Contrary to the song all the United fans are singing, Solskjaer is letting his players take the wheel.

United have the mentality of a top team now.

Under Mourinho, Ander Herrera was used in matches against Chelsea as a man-marker for the dangerous opposition winger Eden Hazard. His instruction would simply be to follow this player on the pitch for 90 minutes. This strategy was worrying for many reasons. This sent a message that United thought that Chelsea’s players were better, and also it was too simplistic to think that just by stopping Hazard, it would lead to a United win. It would only take one individual duel that Herrera lost to potentially result in a goal too, and the role as a man-marker took away from Herrera contributing more to the game when United were in possession. In the same fixture under Solskjaer, Herrera was an influential member of the team – making tackles and interceptions, passing the ball and scoring a brilliant goal. Now under Solskjaer, it is the United players that are being man-marked. Paul Pogba was marked by Calum Chambers of Fulham recently – Pogba ended up still scoring two goals in a 3-0 win.

No, Paul Ince couldn’t have done it.

It is important to note that Solskjaer has not just simply turned up and told the team to play football, and sat back to watch the wins come in (like a certain ex-United and Liverpool player may think). Solskjaer has used clever gameplans in his various matches in charge. Against Cardiff, Huddersfield and Bournemouth his team dominated possession and attacked quickly, mainly on the inside left channel where Pogba is positioned. Against Arsenal, Tottenham and Chelsea he opted for the counter-attack strategy employing wide strikers and was happy to concede more possession of the ball in order to defend more compactly. He has identified weaknesses in certain areas of opposition teams such as the left side of Chelsea, where the attack-minded Alonso would vacate space in behind for midfield runners like Herrera and pacey attackers like Marcus Rashford. Unlike Mourinho, Solskjaer is not obsessed with details, but places the correct amount of importance to them. The most crucial point of all is that his players have bought into the vision that Solskjaer has championed – winning.


How can you implement the above strategies to get more out of your team and your life? Let me know in the comments below!