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

“Most of our life is a product of our own choices,” Mark Manson says. His book sets out to help you consider these choices and their consequences, where your life is heading, and why and what you need to change to resolve problems or challenges.

At the heart of this book are two key questions: What is worth caring about, and what is not? In other words, what are you choosing to give a f*ck about, and what is not worth your time or attention? As the title suggests, the journal is a companion to Manson’s best-seller “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck”, which also aims to help you prioritise how and where to spend your energy. Both books can be read independently – it’s not necessary to have read one to benefit from the other.

Manson uses guided prompts and written exercises to cover topics such as goal and vision setting, management of emotions, and whether values align with behavior. If you’re familiar with other self-help strategies you’ll recognise some of the techniques Manson recommends, such as practicing gratitude, and meditation. As the book is intended to be used as a journal, there are many blank pages scattered throughout on which you’re expected to write down responses to Manson’s questions, as well as any other insights or realisations. Among other topics, the book addresses how to recognise and respond to cognitive distortions (negative thoughts that lead to expecting the worst possible outcomes). It encourages you to articulate your personal values, and to explore what you can learn from challenges you’re facing. Action plan templates will assist you to define realistic daily, weekly, monthly, yearly, and longer-term goals.

You’ll need to be okay with the f-word as it’s liberally sprinkled throughout. Manson acknowledges on his blog that many people consider his work to be crude and unnecessarily confrontational. Many of the examples in the book seem to assume that readers are men of a similar age to him, with a similar vocabulary and outlook on life. The scenarios include key-board smashing, pools of vomit, and all-night benders. You’re invited to identify the “dumb bullshit” holding you back, including the “shit made up in your head”. “Cut the emotional crap,” he bellows. Although this approach will not appeal to everyone, anyone who doesn’t mind Manson’s blokey and in-your-face tone could benefit from working through this journal.

The language is reasonably accessible, the activities are well-sequenced, and the chapters are short and well laid-out – though I’m not a fan of the handwriting font used for many of the examples. The table of contents is a bit sparse, although it’s easy enough to flip back and forth to find content of particular interest. The brief “interlude” sections between some chapters seem somewhat random.

There are many approaches to keeping a journal, and journaling may need to be done regularly to be effective. As with workplace performance objectives, personal goals need to be reviewed to ensure that you’re staying on track. Completing this journal may be a good first step but is unlikely to result in long-term sustained change unless you follow Manson’s suggestion to refer to your journal at least annually to re-evaluate your progress.

These days there’s an increased focus on mental health and the importance of considering our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. This book will help you to reflect on what’s going well for you and what areas of your life need change or attention. Manson stresses the importance of recognising what you can and what you can’t control – such as the past.

Manson says that establishing only one new habit at a time is the best and most realistic approach, rather than attempting to tackle a raft of changes at once. He urges patience: “Take your time…be flexible and adapt as you go along…don’t be hard on yourself if things don’t go as planned.”

He recommends apps such as Headspace and Calm, and includes a few references to other people’s work, although there are no reading or resource lists provided. If you want to learn more, you can sign up for his online Subtle Art School which has monthly live webinars and other activities, as well as videos and workbooks.

The bold black, white and orange colour scheme is eye-catching. It’s a conspicuous book that practically screams to be picked up – so if you complete the written exercises then you might want to keep your journal tucked away.

Reviewer: Anne Kerslake Hendricks

Macmillan Publishers