Have you ever felt like your negative emotions are ruining your life? Have anxiety or fear ever held you back? Well, Mark Manson (#1 New York Times Best-Selling Author of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck) actually thinks negativity is a GOOD thing and makes a convincing case for why negative emotions are the key to having a positive life.
But let’s rewind for a second…
A few months ago, some of my college buddies and I had just finished an impromptu philosophical discussion about books and life and we were hankering for more conversations like that. “A book club!” we thought. And so we started one with a handful of friends.
Our first meeting was with just four book-readin’ buddies (we now have almost 20 people in our crew!), and we chose a rebellious title as our inaugural book — The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson. We’ve read several other books during the lifetime of this club, and I’ve read many more on my own, but I can tell you without a doubt that this book is my favorite read of 2017 so far.
Mark has a way of using story-telling to explain complex and emotional ideas with ease. He’s also just the right amount of philosopher and badass and shares tons of useful and practical personal development tactics that I know I’ll be reading and re-reading this book for years to come. It was an honor to be able to interview him for this podcast, and we jammed on plenty of my favorite topics from the book.
In this interview, you’ll learn about Mark’s “Do Something” principle, the secret to feeling motivated more often, what your negative emotions are telling you to do, and how to know which relationships and friendships are worth sticking around for… and which ones you should let go of.
This interview is packed with wisdom, actionable advice, and a few well-placed curse words. 😉
Check out the episode below:
In this episode, you’ll hear about things like…
- Why people are so bad at choosing the RIGHT goals – and how we can start setting better ones that will actually bring you happiness and growth.
- The secret to motivation (and how to get more of it).
- What your negative emotions are trying to tell you (and how to get past them).
- His tips and strategies for making deeper connections with others rather than surface level relationships.
- Mark’s predictions for the future of blogging and online content creation and the unique way he’s monetizing his popular blog.
Links from the interview:
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Thank you for listening!
TranscriptRead the Interview Transcription Here
Before you get started with today’s episode, I just want to let you know that this one contains a bit more profanity than you’ll usually find on this podcast. So if you’ve got little ones around, you might want to wear headphones. Now that’s because today’s guest is Mark Manson, author of The New York Times bestselling book, “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F**k”. I was introduced to Mark’s work earlier this year when a few friends and I formed a book club, and decided to read this as our inaugural book. We all loved it, and honestly, it was a pivotal read for me at that time and just really solidified a lot of the things that I was feeling about my life and my business. Now Mark captures self-development in a way that is fun, fresh and extremely insightful. He also authors a blog that’s read by millions of people every single month, covering topics that range from relationships to habits. During today’s episode, we talk about things like getting a grip on your negative emotions to have a positive and fulfilling life, and why negative emotions are really not all that bad. We also talk about the “do something” principle that’s the solution to almost any problem, and a new kind of business model that Mark is using to monetize his blog. This episode is packed with life insights and actionable advice that I know you’ll love. Let’s dive in.
Melyssa Griffin: So you give an example in the book about how someone might select a goal of like owning a Bentley. That’s their goal, that’s their inspiration for why they want to start a business or do something with their life, when really they should be reframing that and trying to dig deeper into why they’re setting the goals that they are and ask them something instead like why do I want to be rich in the first place. I found that this is a problem that a lot of entrepreneurs run into, where they’re like I want to make six figures or I want to grow a business that has X amount of subscribers, when really they should be asking themselves why do I even want that in the first place, or what do I really want. So why do you feel like people are so bad at choosing the right goals?
Mark Manson: I think people often choose what I guess we would call bad goals here, or in the book, I call them bad values. I think I call them shitty values. I think people choose stuff like that, like Bentley or making a million dollars or whatever, because those external goals tend to be a) they’re very easy to conceptualize in your head, like it’s very clear whether you made a million dollars or not. It’s not clear whether you’re adding value to society or not. And so, one question is very easy to answer, the other one is very hard. So immediately, it’s much easier to set very tangible goals like that, but also it’s sexy. It’s fun. It’s exciting. It’s exciting to write down on a piece of paper, “I’m going to make a million dollars by the time I’m 35 or whatever.” And so, I think that gets people really jazzed up about it. The problem is, is that in the long run, it’s not necessarily the most effective way to go about goals and it’s not – I would argue it’s not emotionally healthy.
Melyssa Griffin: Right. How do you think we can choose better goals or values as you talk about them…?
Mark Manson: Sure. So there’s like a seeming dichotomy between these like, I guess I’ll call them internal and external goals. So like say the Bentley and adding value to society. I think it’s fine to want a Bentley. Everybody wants a million dollars. There’s nobody who’s going to sit here and be like, “I don’t want, I don’t care if I have a million.” All things being equal, we all want money, we all want a nice car, nice things. So there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s nothing wrong with creating, I guess markers to kind of signal to yourself like “hey I’m doing well”, but at the same time, you can’t let those external things define how you feel about yourself or how you see yourself.
Melyssa Griffin: Like attaching your self-worth to your kind of tangible level of success.
Mark Manson: Exactly.
Melyssa Griffin: I feel like a lot of people do that. I have definitely done that as well.
Mark Manson: Yes, yes. It’s hard not to. For me, it’s not an either or type thing. You need to have both. I think a lot of people – I think society pressures us to focus on the external stuff. I think a lot of business and entrepreneurial like self-help material focuses on the external stuff. And again, it’s because it’s easy and sexy, but you need that internal stuff there too or else you’re just going to become like a superficial dick.
Melyssa Griffin: Yeah, you look back on your life and you’re like is this it, like this is what I worked so hard for?
Mark Manson: Yeah, I mean you’ll turn into like an Enron guy or something. I’m serious. It’s important to keep that internal stuff there too. It’s like am I contributing to society, am I my growing or creating value in some way, am I my making my life and other people’s lives better – those abstract, kind of internal goals need to always be there as well.
Melyssa Griffin: Right. What would you say if somebody was listening right now and they were like, “That sounds great, but I’m definitely the external person. I have this job that is making me feel successful. I’m doing these things that are making me feel successful or sufficing these external goals, but how do I change things? How do I make those life changes to create value in the world or to do something that feels more purposeful?”?
Mark Manson: What often happens is people, when they start out, they go for the external stuff which makes sense, because if you’re starting at zero and you have nothing, like you’re just starting your first business, you’re kind of like. “F**k it, I want to make money anyway.” I don’t want to starve, so yeah I’m going to sell anyway I have to. It’s usually once people have kind of gotten to a point where they’re financially stable or there’s some sustainability going on, that’s when they kind of stop and ask these questions. They’re like. “Wait a second, I don’t want to be selling penis pills for the rest of my life. I should stop and think about what I’m doing with my career.” And so, I would say again, for people out there who are starting out or you’re in a situation where you’ve got a business or a project you’re not making any money, obviously you’re going to put a lot of focus on the external stuff to begin with. So my advice would simply be to pay attention to this internal stuff, like make sure – because just over the years, I’ve met a lot of internet business people who have started out with maybe a little bit of like a sleazy business going, and they’re like you know what, I’m just going to use this to make money and then I’ll do what I actually care about later. The problem is, is that they get trapped*. They build this whole big monster and they have to keep running it to keep the money coming, and it gets to be six, eight, ten years down the line. They’re like oh my God, what am I doing, why am I still doing this? So it’s important to keep just – like to think about this stuff from the beginning even if it’s not necessarily – even if you’re going to chase like the first…
Melyssa Griffin: The external stuff.
Mark Manson: The first $1000 a month or whatever you need to get off the ground.
Melyssa Griffin: Right, right. Yeah that makes total sense. I think that that is helpful for people who are starting out, who are like I need to make money but I also don’t want to be a selfish jerk about it. Kind of giving them that permission that you can kind of start out having these external goals, and then once you feel a little bit safe and comfortable, kind of switching that mindset and checking in with yourself on a regular basis. I love that. So there is another part in the book that I feel – I feel a lot of the book is so relevant to entrepreneurs. It’s a fantastic book. I know we were talking a bit before the interview, but it’s one of the best books that I’ve read this year. I just loved it. One of the things that you talk about in the book is this thing called the “do something” principle that I feel a lot of entrepreneurs kind of struggle with. Specifically, you say if we follow the “do something” principle, failure feels unimportant when the standard of success becomes merely acting. When any result is regarded as progress and important, we propel ourselves forward. I love that distinction between like the goal should be to be successful versus your idea that the goal should be to just do something, and then you’ll find what’s successful along the way. So why do you feel like so many of us suck at this? Why are we so bad at framing our goals in this way?
Mark Manson: I think a lot of it has to do actually with the education system, because I think – if you think about how we’re raised in school, it’s basically there’s a test you have to prepare and have all the right answers beforehand, before you actually like go do the thing. If you go do the thing and you’re wrong, then you’re punished for it. And so, it kind of creates this mindset or this approach to life in general of like oh I need to know what’s right before I actually go and try it or go do something. The problem is, is that in a lot of areas of life and particularly with starting a business, that’s the complete wrong way to go because you’re never going to be right when you start. In fact, the only way you figure out how to make a business work is your first like six ideas fail, and then you learn from each of those failures what something a little bit better will be. That just rattles a lot of people. I think there’s almost – there’s like a desensitization period when you start out. It freaks people out, like oh my God, I’m actually going to do this thing and I have no idea if it’s right or not. That keeps people up at night. Once you do that a certain amount of times and enough time goes by, you realize that not only is the sky not falling, but you’re better off for it. Your business is actually getting better for all these things that you tried and they didn’t work, then you can kind of chill out and become more comfortable with it.
Melyssa Griffin: Right. How do you feel like we can get over that hump? Because I totally agree, where it’s like once you start feeling a little you’re like this is actually not so bad and it’s leading me in the direction I wanted to go in anyways. That first failure before that happens, you’re just like I don’t ever want to fail. I’m just going to wait to release this thing until it’s absolutely perfect, and then that’s just going to be the story. So how can we get better at getting over that first initial hump or failure?
Mark Manson: I generally recommend that people start small. Be willing to fail with some small things first and then you can build up. One thing that happens – and this happens with just anything, not just business, like whenever we become anxious as humans, our mind immediately starts like aggrandizing things. So we assume that if we’re nervous, like if we go to a party and we’re a little bit nervous or awkward, we assume that like oh my God, everybody here thinks I’m a loser. Things just get blown way out of proportion in your head. And so, I think in business, people are like God, I have to know exactly – like how am I going to train my sales staff five years from now if like I can’t even – it’s like no, no… Do a little thing first, try it for a week, see what happens. If it goes well, then you could scale it. If it doesn’t, you can try again, readjust. It’s like bring yourself back to reality.
Melyssa Griffin: Yeah absolutely. I like that. I like that a lot. I like just your whole kind of philosophy about how it should be more about just taking some sort of action versus going for some sort of big success. It seems like something we use to make ourselves feel valued in the face of other people or in society versus what kind of value we feel about ourselves internally. So I like that you share that. One other thing that I really liked was – and it’s still kind of talking about taking action, how a lot of us will start off feeling extremely unmotivated or just like maybe I’m not cut out for this because I’m super unmotivated or unproductive. When your advice in the book is to take action first, and that’s where you get motivation from. So I love that piece there and I’m curious a little bit of more of your thoughts on that.
Mark Manson: Yeah, I think a lot of people think of motivation as like an on and off switch. I would characterize it more as like a snowball or like a ball on a seesaw or something.
Melyssa Griffin: Great visual.
Mark Manson: Yeah, I agree with that. My analogies are on point today. There’s momentum to it basically, like there’s an inertia and it goes both directions. So kind of the more lethargic we get, the more we will tend towards being lazy and sitting around. The more action we take, the more momentum we develop. It almost becomes more difficult to stop doing something than it is to start in the first place. And so, the idea – one of the, I guess applications of the “do something” principle again, is like starting small things. If a project seems like very overwhelming and just too big for you to handle, if you just take like the smallest, simplest component of it, just be like alright you know what, I’m going to work on that this afternoon and just see what happens. What ends up happening is through the process of working on it, not only do you build motivation to keep going, but suddenly, everything – your brain starts to kind of see everything as more manageable. It creates less pressure on yourself. So it’s like you almost – you bring the bar of expectation down. It’s like you know what, I just got to do this little thing. There’s a famous saying with writers, it’s like write 200 crappy words. Because if you sit around trying to think you have to write a whole book like today, you’re never going to do anything, but if you like alright 200 crappy words, anybody can do that. It’s like you get the 200 crappy words out, and you’re like well I want to keep going now because I’ve got this thought and I want to keep expanding it. So you trick yourself to actually writing a chapter.
Melyssa Griffin: Yeah, it’s funny how that works. I recently have been trying to get back into better, just daily routine of kind of like personal development. Originally, I was like okay meditate ten minutes a day, read for thirty minutes. Do all these things that were adding up to like this two hour routine that I thought was a really good idea and I’d really like to do it, but I just was not doing it consistently because it was just so much of my time. So I lowered it to meditate for one minute a day, read like three pages. I find myself doing way more than that, but because the threshold is so much smaller, it’s like oh meditate for one minute, I can do that. And then you just end up doing it for longer, but it’s kind of that same principle of start with the smallest thing.
Mark Manson: It’s pressure. It’s intimidating as hell, like God, I’ve got to read for thirty minutes.
Melyssa Griffin: Exactly. Are there any habits or daily routines or anything like that, that you’re working on or that you do on a consistent basis?
Mark Manson: It’s funny, I’m terrible with routine. I almost feel like I kind of thrive without it. So I guess my answer is no.
Melyssa Griffin: Yeah, your answer is like the opposite answer which I like.
Mark Manson: Yeah, I feel I just – every time I try to adopt a routine, I feel very stifled. So whenever people – sometimes I do interviews like about productivity and they’ll start asking me about my morning routines. I’m like I am the wrong person. You’re not going to like any answer you get from me.
Melyssa Griffin: Which is kind of like a nice thought too. I’m sure there’s people listening here who are like, all these people are telling me if I want to be successful I need to meditate for like 30 minutes a day and do all these crazy things, but…
Mark Manson: …4:30 and run six miles. Like no man.
Melyssa Griffin: Yeah, you can really just do you and that’s okay too. So you give an example in the book about one of your friends who’s an artist. They wanted to quit their job, wanted to become an artist and never did. What you said about that experience was that it’s basically about how success is just as scary as failure, and how it’s easier to be an artist that no one’s heard versus an artist that nobody likes. I feel like a lot of people listening probably can relate to that and are probably like whoa* right now. So how do we get over that, especially as entrepreneurs?
Mark Manson: It’s scary because – and I think it’s not just other people. It’s always scary. If you’ve been talking about a project you want to do or something you want to put together and you’ve been talking about it for years, and the moment where it comes to actually do it, it’s scary to think about like what if I fail and what will the other people think. Also, more importantly, it comes back to ourselves. If you’ve been walking around with like a business idea or something for years, and that business idea, it makes you happy in a way because it’s this potential reality that you could one day have. It’s like a dream. It’s like wow. If I just started this business, I could live like this and do this and this and this. As long as it’s just still in your head, it feels good all the time, because it’s a fantasy and you can control it perfectly. As soon as it comes out of you and you start trying to work on it, you lose control over it. You don’t get to decide how successful it is anymore. You don’t get to decide if your ideas spark or not anymore. You don’t get to decide if people want what you’re trying to sell anymore. That’s just terrifying. You’re losing something that you’ve kind of been using to make yourself feel good for a long time. You are risking a lot of what you feel thought to be true about yourself, what you thought to be true about your abilities and things like that. So it’s an incredibly intimidating thing. And so, yeah a lot of people are just more comfortable sitting with that dream and that fantasy because it will always feel good to a certain extent to say like I could have done this if I wanted to.
Melyssa Griffin: Right, right. It’s like the fantasy of the dream or it’s like you have this celebrity in your mind that you admire, a role model or something. And then it’s almost like when you get the chance to meet them, you almost don’t want to because you don’t want that vision of who they are to be shattered. It’s kind of how we feel about ourselves from what you’re saying, when we want to start something new, it’s like do I want that vision of who I am now to be just completely distorted in the future. So I feel like it becomes this kind of difficult thing for people to start their own business. From what we talked about before, I feel like your advice is kind of just take the smallest action and do something small and let* that – don’t make it this big thing where your worth has to be defined by your success, but just like doing stuff and having fun.
Mark Manson: Right. Yeah, I mean I say all the time that my advice is not – it’s very simple. It’s just like very hard. There’s a difference between – like I think a lot of people, when something feels difficult to them, they assume that the solution must be very complex and they have got to read like twelve books and attend a seminar to figure it out. My experience, the opposite is actually true. The solution is actually incredibly, incredibly simple, but it’s just really, really painful and difficult to endure. And so, most people avoid it.
Melyssa Griffin: Right, to actually like go through with it. Yeah I totally get that. So as we’re kind of talking about emotions and how we feel about things, one thing that you talk about is that you don’t agree that we should be positive all the time. I think there’s kind of this culture right now that’s like positivity, you should be happy, you should be striving for all these great things, but you kind of disagree with that. You say that negative emotions are a good thing. So what do you mean by that?
Mark Manson: Negative emotions, they exist – first of all, they exist for a reason. They exist for a very important reason, is that they define for ourselves, our limitations like when things go wrong, when there’s a problem. And so, if we kind of train ourselves to avoid negativity and our negative emotions, they might feel good for a while, feeling like there are no problems anywhere, but the truth is that there are problems. We’re learning how to ignore them. If you’re ignoring problems, then you’re never going to grow or progress in any way. That’s especially true with business. Yeah, you’re just going to cave in if you don’t put out the fires. And so, I mean it’s nice. All the positivity stuff is nice, but one of the reasons I wanted to write this book, I wanted to make a very strong argument for the value of negativity. Not just negativity, but the ability to endure negativity and negative emotions, because everything we’ve been talking about in the conversation so far, getting the motivation to try something new, being willing to fail, being willing to embarrass yourself, being willing to have your dreams not come true. This is all painful, scary stuff. The one string that ties it all together is our willingness to live and confront those negative emotions and those fears. And so yeah, if we’re not able to do that or if we’ve kind of lived our whole lives avoiding those feelings, then yeah, we’re going to be really unequipped to emotionally handle what’s necessary to face all these challenges.
Melyssa Griffin: Right. Yeah I totally agree, and you said – which is so interesting. It’s like most of the biggest decisions in our lives have some sort of negative string in them where there is a choice where we kind of have to endure, like you said, negative emotions, but everything in our life has kind of prepared us for just positivity and enjoying life and be happy. One thing that you say is that (in the book) is that negative emotions are feedback and they’re telling us that we have to do something. They’re like a call to action which I thought that was such a good way to frame it, where it’s not just like this negative emotion that you have to just sit there with and mope about and just like feel it, but it’s actually this thing in your mind that’s saying you should probably go do something about this or fix it in some way and use that.
Mark Manson: Yeah absolutely. The other thing I say in the book is I say everything sucks some of the time, which I think is relevant with kind of the entrepreneur thing. Because I think it’s important to understand that people, especially people starting out, it’s like if you create a really successful business, even if you create like a super successful business (you’re making tons of money and all this stuff), you’re not necessarily getting rid of your problems. You’re just trading in your problems for different and hopefully better problems. It’s like that old Notorious B.I.G. song, “Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems”. I’ve got some friends here in New York who run like eight, nine figure businesses, and I go out for drinks with them. They spend half the time griping about like oh God, staff is such a pain in the ass and I got to hire six new people. The stress is still there. It’s just the reason behind the stress has completely changed. And so, I try to be really realistic of like again, let’s get out of fantasy land and talk about how like it’s – what we’re dealing with here is you are choosing a certain set of challenges to deal with for the rest of your life essentially.
Melyssa Griffin: Yeah, like nothing is ever going to be perfect. One of the things that was interesting and kind of surprising to me is when I was first starting my business, I kind of had that mentality where if I get to this level or do this thing, then I’ll be happy or be fulfilled and all these kinds of mindset issues will be gone. What I found – and a lot of people starting businesses have certain kinds of mindset issues that are holding them back. What I found was that seven, eight, nine figure business owners all have their own set of mindset issues or kind of beliefs about themselves that are holding them back. They might just be different than before. Have you found that too? Everyone just has something that they’re working on.
Mark Manson: Nothing’s ever great. I mean things are great but there’s always problems. There’s always problems and there’s always stuff that you’re not satisfied with. I imagine that goes all the way. I mean you go up to Elon Musk and Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, like it’s probably still true up there too. The problems never go away, they just change shape and change quality. I talk about in the book, I say it’s like the only difference, Warren Buffett has money problems, a homeless guy has money problems, it’s just we all prefer Warren Buffett’s money problems. They’re much better problems.
Melyssa Griffin: Yeah, good problems. Right. So what do you feel like, for people who are feeling this way about their negative emotions or they’re listening right now and they’re just kind of in a funk or they’re unhappy, how do you feel like they can experience their negative emotions in a way that’s leading towards progress versus just feeling negative and sad?
Mark Manson: Sure. The first step is to not avoid or fight against it. I think a lot of people – in the book, I call it the feedback loop from hell. What happens, any time you resist a certain emotion, it just makes it worse. So if you’re angry and you’re trying not to be angry, you’ll start to get angry that you’re angrier*. You’ll get sad because you’re sad all the time, or you’ll feel guilty because you feel guilty all the time. And so, the first thing is just feel like it’s okay, I’m allowed to be angry or I’m allowed to be sad. The immediate question becomes like okay that’s fine, I have this emotion, wow what does that mean? We all get to decide what our emotions mean for ourselves. I think when we’re not really used to – when we’ve not let ourselves experience our negative emotions before, we’re very bad at determining the meaning, either we blame somebody else or we blame ourselves. The truth is just like shit happens. It is your responsibility to decide like okay I’m really frustrated and upset with how things are going, but what does that mean for me. What does that mean for my future? What does this say about what I’m doing or whatever? That will inevitably lead to some form of action, because if your business isn’t panning out the way you hoped and you’re really bummed out about it, you can sit around and be like oh well, my customer sucks and it’s all their fault. They’re so selfish. If you attach that meaning to it, then you’re just going to be stuck. Nothing is going to get better. Nothing is going to change. If you maybe take a different meaning, like maybe I misjudged something, maybe my strategy was wrong or maybe I screwed up somewhere along the line and I didn’t realize it. If that becomes your meaning, suddenly you have opportunities to start looking for something to do. Action is what pulls us out of whatever emotion we’re in. It’s like whether you’re angry or sad or happy or lazy or complacent or whatever, it’s like if you go out and do stuff, your biochemistry will change and emotions will change with it.
Melyssa Griffin: Right. I like what you were saying about kind of taking responsibility for your emotions versus passing them off to somebody else. I feel like that too is really actionable, where it’s like well what if it is their fault, all these other people are to blame for how I feel. What if you just, like you said, just took that moment and you’re like what could I have done differently or how can I take responsibility for this situation, and using that to propel your action forward? So I love that.
Mark Manson: I mean even if your customers do suck, you should just find a product that has customers who don’t.
Melyssa Griffin: Yeah, there’s always something we could be doing. Yeah, yeah I love that. You kind of talked a little bit about this a second ago, about how what we feel is our choice. You give this awesome scenario in the book that I was looking at my notes today, and it was just like love this part of the book, in the little margin there. You give this scenario where it’s like if somebody came to you, put a gun to your head and said, “You have to run a marathon.” That would be a terrifying, horrible, painful experience. But if you were like I want to run a marathon, you went and bought running shoes. You trained for it and you did it, and your family was there cheering you on. That would be potentially one of the best experiences of your life. You made this distinction between how every – like it’s the same situation, we’re doing the same thing, but it’s really how we frame how we feel about that situation. I love that.
Mark Manson: It’s the meaning we put on it.
Melyssa Griffin: Right. Yeah, it’s like every emotion or experience that we have in our life is really up to us to interpret what we want that to mean. So what do you feel like we can do to make better choices about how we feel about the circumstances of our lives?
Mark Manson: Oh man…
Melyssa Griffin: Basically just – I’m just thinking here, like I think a lot of us can kind of relate to this, where we’re like this shitty thing happened to me and I’m just going to feel upset about it, or I’m going to define it as this negative experience when it could actually – we could choose be to see it as this positive thing. So how do we get better at that?
Mark Manson: Yeah, so I mean one of the things that I talk about in that chapter, that is a big part of it. I think what gets people hung up a lot is false and like a sense of deserving something. Everybody, all of us, we have something bad happen to us that we feel like we didn’t really deserve or that it’s not our fault. And so, a lot of times we get caught up with that. We’re like well, it’s not my fault so I shouldn’t have to deal with this. That just kind of makes us feel like we deserve to not have to deal with our problems. One thing I talk about in the book is there’s a difference between responsibility and faults. There are things that can happen to you that are not your fault, but you’re still responsible for them. I make the argument that you’re always responsible for your situation no matter what, even if everything that’s happened is not your fault. The example I use in the book is if somebody left a newborn baby on your doorstep, it’s not your fault, but now you’re responsible. You didn’t get to choose that, but now you have to choose what you do going forward. And so, I think just an understanding of decoupling those two things, the responsibility and fault, and that you are still in power to always make a choice even when the world serves you a bad hand, makes it easier for a lot of people. I think once people start doing that and realizing that, they realize how empowering it is. Once you realize you have a choice in these bad situations, things immediately get better, you immediately feel better about the situation. You no longer feel like this hapless victim.
Melyssa Griffin: Because it kind of puts you back into control if you’re taking responsibility for your emotions.
Mark Manson: Totally. And once you feel that, it becomes a lot more bearable to deal with these things.
Melyssa Griffin: Right. So kind of shifting gears a little bit. I know that you have on your site, a connection course that you sell. I love the description for it, where you say that it’s about learning to connect with others in deeper and more meaningful ways, which I feel is a big part of why I wanted to start this podcast and just what I feel like my mission is here too. I’m curious. What are some tips or strategies that you teach in the course that you’d be willing to share, or that you think can help people create those deeper, more meaningful connections?
Mark Manson: Yeah. So a big focus of the course is kind of getting people out of small talk land. One of the first things that I talk about in the course is looking at the intentions behind things rather than the things themselves. So for instance, you just said your intention behind starting the podcast. It would be easy for me to sit here – like if you and I randomly met on the street or something, and you were like hey I have a podcast, it would be very easy for me to sit here and be like oh so what’s it called, how long have you done it, who do you interview. It’s another thing to say like so what excites you about the podcast, what motivates you and why does it drive you. Suddenly, you end up in this very personal conversation about things you feel passionate about or a goal that you have to contribute to the world. That immediately makes people feel – well for one, it just makes the conversation way more enjoyable and memorable. When people say like oh I feel like I really got to know this person, it’s because conversations like that happen. You didn’t just sit there and talk about like sports scores and the weather.
Melyssa Griffin: Yeah, if you’re meeting someone for the first time or maybe you have some friends that you like meeting up with, how can we get to a place where we’re asking better questions versus like hey, what’s your name, what do you do for a living? How do we think of better questions?
Mark Manson: It takes some practice to kind of learn how to look for those things. Just a quick little tip. Back in the day, like six years ago back when I was single, one of my favorite things whenever I go on a date with somebody, one of the first things I would ask, I would say, “So what’s your favorite thing in the world?” They would say whatever and then I would immediately say, “Okay. Why is that your favorite thing?” It kind of accomplished two things. One, it just got the person talking about their favorite thing, which is always a great way to get to know somebody, but also it got into kind of like that more personal intention. So I could easily sit here and be like oh my favorite thing in the world is music, but it’s like okay, why is music your favorite thing. Now you’ve got like, I got to think about my childhood and I got to talk about my dad, my relationship with my dad and how he used to play music in high school and how it was a big part of my identity. Suddenly, you have this 20 minute personal conversation that opens up all these opportunities to kind of share yourself in return.
Melyssa Grififn: Right. It sounds like the foundation is kind of just asking more why questions. When somebody says that they’re doing something, why are they doing it or what’s important to them about that thing.
Mark Manson: Yeah, it often comes out as a why question. Although at the same time, you don’t want to be like that six-year-old who’s like why is the sky blue. It’s looking at people’s motivations, not purely their behavior or what they say. It’s looking at okay, why do you feel that way, why do you like your job, why are you passionate about this subject.
Melyssa Griffin: Right. That seems like good advice for like romantic relationships too, where it’s looking at somebody’s intentions versus just their behavior or what they are doing. You’re kind of looking at the deeper side of things.
Mark Manson: Well yeah, that was how I got my start – my business was originally a dating advice business.
Melyssa Griffin: Oh, was it really?
Mark Manson: Yeah, that connection course actually started that way. Now it’s kind of generally applicable, whether you want to make friends or whatever.
Melyssa Griffin: Right. Well that’s so interesting. That’s interesting how it’s basically like the same tactics that you can use to make friends, that you can use to strengthen romantic relationships too. One question I’m curious about is – so you talk about a lot in the book, like how to decide what to give a f**k about in your life, and how do you know that a friendship or a romantic relationship is worth giving a f**k about. How do you know that it’s something that is meaningful and important versus just something that’s like frivolous friendship, it’s not important, or a relationship that’s maybe not something that’s going to work out?
Mark Manson: Wow, I wish I had a really easy answer for this.
Melyssa Griffin: You’ve been doing great so far. You have to think on one question.
Mark Manson: Well I’ll say this, it’s hard to know. I’ve been telling people, everybody with the title of the book, everybody focuses on the F word, and I always tell people, I say the most important word in the title is the “subtle” because it’s actually incredibly difficult to actually know what your values are and know what’s worth caring about and how much you should be caring about it. It’s not clear at all. The immediate answer that comes to mind of like how much you should value something, is immediately envision losing it and what that would actually mean, like what would your life look like. Because kind of coming back to the Bentley and the million dollars or whatever, a lot of us get very hung up on that, but then suddenly if you sit there and sort of imagine your life without a Bentley, you’re like wait, it’s actually not that bad. That’s kind of the moment where you’re like oh I’m like completely twisting myself in knots for nothing. I think in Stoicism they call it negative visualization, like instead of visualizing things you want, visualize losing things you have to understand what’s actually worth caring about. That’s the thing that immediately pops to mind.
Melyssa Griffin: Right. I like that advice. That’s really helpful and practical too. So kind of shifting to a little bit more of a business question. I know you’ve talked a lot about more personal development, but on your website, you have tons of articles and amazing information on your blog. One thing that I notice you do is you have a subscription feature where most of your articles are free, but people could pay three or four dollars a month to access these subscriber-only articles that paid members can visit. So I’m curious kind of how long you’ve been doing that. How’s that been going? Would you recommend that to people?
Mark Manson: Sure. So I launched the membership last, little more than a year ago, about fourteen months ago. At the time, a lot of my friends thought I was crazy.
Melyssa Griffin: It’s not something you see on a lot of blogs.
Mark Manson: Yeah. I reached a point – so I’ve been blogging and I’ve been selling stuff online since 2007. I’ve kind of gone through all the – I did consulting, I did affiliate stuff, I did info* products, I self-published a book and I conventionally published book. I reached a point where I just felt like – I realized in my business like a) all I want to do is write and b) 99% of the people who come to my site, all they care about is what I write about. They don’t want an audio course on blah… They just want to read more stuff. So it struck me as despite kind of like the taboo around charging for digital content, it just struck me as like something that I feel like the internet, like things are going to have to go in this direction. I think a lot of these other ways of monetizing content online are becoming less and less lucrative each year. Advertising is becoming less lucrative each year. It’s becoming more and more difficult and more expensive to create good content, and like compete. And so, I think it’s just – I mean you’re already seeing a lot of newspapers and magazines, like they’ve had to go this model. To me, it’s a no brainer that if a blogger is going to operate at a very high level and make a good living to keep it going, at some point, you’re going to have to adopt this model. Being like one of the larger blogs out there, I kind of felt like hey I should set an example and go first.
So speaking of all this stuff about like fear of failure and feeling like an idiot, went through all of that as we launched it. It was like very ambiguous what it was. A lot of readers were like what the hell man, you’re charging for four bucks. This is bullshit. There was just a lot of kinks to iron out. We didn’t really know how to market it at first. It was an ugly mess for the first three or four months. And then around month six, we kind of got a good handle on how to position it and how to market it. A lot of people were starting to sign up. Yeah, at this point, it’s going pretty well. I enjoy it too because it allows me to – there’s like content for everybody, but then sometimes I want to get like really nerdy about a subject. I’m like well the only people who are actually going to care about this are like the super fans. It’s like well now I can just write for the super fans. It’s made my life easier as well.
Melyssa Griffin: Yeah, that’s awesome. You have this community of people that you know are – they just raise their hand and they’re like I love you so much that I want to pay you monthly to read more of your articles, which is really cool. I like how – it sounds like you think that this is the direction blogging is heading in for everyone. Does that ring true for you?
Mark Manson: I don’t know about everybody, but I think once a blog gets to a certain size, I think this is – it’s kind of inevitable in some form or another. I think you’re starting to see that with a lot more blogs, and a lot of podcasts are starting to do it too. So they’ll do like the 45 minute normal episode and then they’ll have like a 60 minute episode for members and you’ve got to pay a few dollars a month or whatever, or they’ll do like a special episode like once every few months just for supporters. So you’re starting to see this pop up in more places. And so, yeah I think it’s anybody with a large audience. Because look, once your audience gets like into the millions, I mean you’re looking at like thousands and thousands of dollars a month just in like web hosting, email hosting, like software, all this stuff. If you’re not getting paid for any of it, it’s just the same, either you have an amazing backend or you got to ask for people to subscribe. There’s not really any…
Melyssa Griffin: Right. Sometimes subscribers see it as like why would you charge us now for this thing that you’ve been doing for free for so long, and it’s like I have bills to pay.
Mark Manson: Yeah. I mean because it’s either this or it’s like – I mean you can’t even really put ads up. I told my readers, I’m like look it’s either this or I start promoting and advertising shit, because I don’t want to do – because in the space that I’m in – so I’m in the self-help space. The only alternative to this was to build out a really big backend, like a big funnel backend, like do a Tony Robbins type thing, where it’s like alright you push people into a big expensive course and then you push them in the seminars and conferences, and start charging thousands and thousands of dollars. That route was open to me, but I really didn’t want to do that.
Melyssa Griffin: Why didn’t you want to do that?
Mark Manson: Both for personal reasons, I just didn’t think it would be fun, as fun as writing. Also, I’m very skeptical of the utility of the big self-help seminar, where everybody’s like rah, rah, we love ourselves…
Melyssa Griffin: Yeah, come out on stage with a drum.
Mark Manson: Yeah, I don’t see myself as that guy. I’m not a Tony Robbins guy. He’s amazing at what he does. That’s just not me. I’m a writer so that’s what I should be investing myself in. So yeah, that was – so if I don’t do that, it’s like alright either I hide my website that’s like bleeding money. It wouldn’t be bleeding money, but it’s like a lot of overhead and I got two guys who work for me just to run the whole thing. So it’s a lot of overhead, I got to pay two people. It’s a lot of work just for something that’s like not really producing a whole lot of income.
Melyssa Griffin: Right. I like how you – because I think a lot of us will have that problem or something similar, and then we’ll think okay what did this person do that was really successful or who’s this role model that I can copy. What you did instead was you were like that model doesn’t feel good to me, so I’m just going to do something that no one else is really doing right now, and you made it your own. So I love that and that kind of advice behind it too. So I have one final question for you that I like to ask all of my guests, and that is: what do you feel like entrepreneurs or humans in general could do to live more meaningful and fulfilled lives?
Mark Manson: You’re just hitting me with all the hard questions…
Melyssa Griffin: I like to build up to the…yeah.
Mark Manson: I think it comes back to the why thing. I mean it’s like really – I’ve got a little exercise in the book, I think it’s chapter three or four. I call it the self-awareness onion, really digging down in terms of asking yourself why you’re inspired and motivated to do the work that you’re doing, I would even, for the entrepreneurial people I would ask, like remove money from the equation. Let’s assume that no matter what I work on, I’m going to make a bunch of money and I’m going to be happy with it, like what would I want to work on. Sometimes questions like that produce answers that kind of surprise you. That was the other thing with the whole pursuing the big funnel and doing the big conferences and seminars and stuff, it’s like I could have done that and probably produce like an eight or nine figure business if I really busted ass and worked on it for like ten years or something. I could make a shit load of money, but then I ask myself, I’m like well if I’m already making good money just writing, why would I do that to myself. And so for me, it was like alright I’ll be happy with a very good income and making a really good amount of money doing what I love instead of making like F you money, working 60 hours a week and traveling every weekend, building* out a staff of 20 people. It just doesn’t sound fun.
Melyssa Griffin: Right. I love that advice where it’s like – because I think so many people get to that place or that mindset and they choose the money or they choose the fame or success. If you’re already successful in what you’re doing or you’re feeling happy and it’s fun, then asking like why do you even need that, why does that even need to be part of your life. So asking more why questions, love that, and I think that’s super valuable. Just everything that you shared today has been so valuable. So thank you, Mark, awesome to chat with you. For everyone listening, definitely go out and get “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F**k”. It is truly one of the best books that I’ve read this year, and just has a lot of great insights from Mark in it.
Mark Manson: Great. Thank you.