The Complexity of Giving Zero Fucks
(Warning: no fucks are given during the writing of this post but plenty of fucks are used so apologies if you’re offended)
My problem has always been I give way too many fucks. I care too much about certain things. Call it sensitivity, perfectionism or even low self-esteem (call it that and you’ll be in a minority :-)), it is what it is. Caring about stuff has its advantages and disadvantages. Even take the title of this article. I know there are some people who will be offended by my use of the term ‘fucks’. I don’t like that some people may be turned off by that, get angry or disappointed but there are certain times where a certain word makes so much more of an impact than any other time.
I read an article recently which described the downsides of having too much empathy. I get it. I know years ago when I was doing therapy, it was extremely difficult handling all the emotions I was experiencing when helping people with their problems. Sometimes I couldn’t help and I would feel massively guilty. I dealt with suicidal phone calls, stalkers, violent clients and those with tragic, tragic stories.
My DNA certainly has a strong emotional and sensitive component to it. Sometimes, I’m embarrassed by this. In some relationships, I’ve hated it. But there really is nothing I can do about it unless I decide to live as a fraud. As a psychologist I can think of a million explanations for this that stem from my childhood. None of them really matter. What matters is that it is part of who I am.
Sometimes people quote the Buddhist practice of the importance of avoiding attachment. The idea is that attachment leads to suffering. Some people can sometimes get attached to the idea of detachment and are always chasing the meditative experience of nirvana by practicing meditation. Each to their own. Certainly I’m not having a go about meditation. It’s great. (There I go again giving a fuck about how people interpret my thoughts on meditation)
If we bring this idea of attachment into the idea of zero fucks, we can see the irony of giving a fuck about giving zero fucks. Indeed, Mark Manson has a terrific article on his website called the The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck and a book by the same name. The idea is that we only have a certain amount of ‘fucks to give’ in our lifetime and we need to choose what to give our fucks about.
From my point of view, I want to explore something different. Why do we care about what people think? Well, from an evolutionary point of view, we are genetically designed to want to work well with others for survival. At the same time, some of the greatest leaps of achievement came from people who didn’t give a fuck about what anyone else thought.
Then you have the distinction between caring what people think and how people feel. I used to say I don’t care what people think, I care about how they feel. However, even that was neither accurate nor useful. You have to decide, I believe, to measure how much a fuck is worth from a certain person in a number of different contexts.
For example, are they close to you? Will what you’re doing affect their life? Do they know what they are talking about and should they be listened to? Have they another agenda? How many other people feel that way? Do they feel that way because they have been through what you have or do they feel that way because they intellectually protect themselves? All of these are some of the questions that can help you understand when to give a fuck and when to give zero fucks.
Another useful way of thinking about it is to measure life events in fucks to give. So, some require a lot of fucks, some require one fuck and some require zero fucks. The aim is to give the appropriate amount of fucks to the appropriate events. This also keeps in mind the idea that, when you do give a fuck, you know why giving a fuck will help you. For example, giving a fuck means you have active amounts of energy. You still need to point that energy toward action of some form. Simply complaining from the fucks you give isn’t a very healthy or effective way of using them.
So, in conclusion, the first key is to give the right amount of fucks to the right situations in the right time with the right people under the right circumstances. This is dependent upon who else is involved and impacted by you, how your thinking weighs up in comparison to external evidence and how is caring affecting you. The second key is to make sure you use every necessary fuck to take intelligent strategic action that gets you the results you desire and makes your life better. I do give a fuck that this makes sense to you and hope that you find it helps in some way.
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