I had a friend at University called ‘Ed’ – I can’t remember his last name but I remember his philosophy on life very clearly. Ed used to say in a broad Lancashire accent, “I don’t give a f**k about anything, me”.
I couldn’t help but admire Ed’s philosophy on life because at the time I personally gave a f**k about everything. Gripped by the irrationality of extreme OCD, everything seemed life or death to me.
Everything I did had to be perfect – from how I washed my hands, to how I looked, to how people perceived and reacted to me, to the work I produced for my degree. I attached a potential catastrophic consequence to every slip up and every failure; all to the point where I lived a life filled with crippling anxiety.
But whilst I cared desperately about everything I did and everything I was trying to achieve, my life was a dysfunction mess. Nothing got done and I never progressed; in fact, most of the time I didn’t just stagnate, but actually regressed. I was simply unable to function.
Ed on the other hand, who simply didn’t give a f**k about anything, achieved exponentially more. He flew through assignments seemingly without a care in the world, he sailed through his degree, he had a great social life, tons of female attention, and didn’t give a f**k if he remembered to wash his hands or not. I don’t think he’d have really lost a great deal of sleep if he’d found out he had some rare terminal disease.
It used to frustrate me to the point of insanity at the time. How could someone who simply didn’t care about anything achieve so much, whilst I achieved so little despite my massive emotional investment? As far as I was concerned it just wasn’t fair.
Although it took more years than I care to admit to sink in, Ed’s philosophy on life is probably the most valuable lesson I’ve ever learned. Caring about anything too much is a recipe for disaster – one that puts you under such insurmountable pressure to perform that you simply can’t…perform.
Anxiety, stress, frustration, insecurity, self-doubt, despair swamp your thoughts; and procrastination and avoidance tactics become the norm around which your life revolves.
Paradoxical though it is, we really do achieve our best when our approach to life is, “I don’t give a fuck about anything me”; and if you can say it to yourself in a broad Lancashire accent too…well then, the world really is your oyster.
Lowering the bar to care free indifference not only provides you with peace of mind, but in turn that peace of mind bestows a host of mental attributes that boost performance in every area of life – creativity, ingenuity, persistence, resilience, enthusiasm, lateral thinking; the list of positive, performance boosting virtues is almost endless.
It’s a sad quirk of the human mind that not a single one of those innate human virtues gets a look in when you give a f**k; it’s only when you’re relaxed to the point of indifference do they kick in.
Some of the things I regularly remind myself to not give a f**k about, particularly when I start to feel my anxiety levels rising include:
Performance – Walk the length of a foot wide plank of wood a few inches above the ground and you’ll finish the task without the slightest hiccup or sense of strain. Raise the same plank of wood to 100 metres and the task becomes near on impossible – even the skill of walking is likely to evade you. Yet nothing about the task has objectively altered; your ability to perform has simply been affected by the perceived significance of failure.
Just like walking that plank of wood plank, surely therefore it’s equally prudent to let go of that life or death mentality when approaching your tasks and goals. Let go of the expectation of what you want to achieve and likewise, let go of your fears of what will happen if you don’t live up to those expectations. Focus purely on the task at hand and never, ever strive for perfection.
When you say to yourself’ “I just don’t give a f**k about this, me” all that performance related baggage just melts away; you’re able to walk the plank again with next to no effort and to do so flawlessly.
People – What they think of you and the expectations they place on you, it’s liberating to let those concerns go and to simply not give a f**k.
Whilst our default setting seems to be more concerned with how we’re perceived than with what we actually do, it’s always counterproductive.
Take the classic example of a driving test. It’s not the driving that puts you under pressure; it’s the need to look as if you’re doing everything right. It’s that fixation and focus on what someone else thinks of your performance that causes the problems – that leads you to try to act too perfectly, to overreach your abilities, to attempt to cover up your flaws, to fear making mistakes and consequently and paradoxically, to make mistake after mistake after mistake.
Take away that third party scrutiny and all of a sudden, you can drive perfectly again.
Two things I’ve learned are that firstly, you can’t control what people think; and secondly, that trying to do so by any attempt to impress creates such artificiality in the way you act and think that your performance will always suffer exponentially.
Whether that’s being concerned about how other people perceive your performance at work; what they think of you as a person – whether you’re able, intelligent, likeable or whatever – it all fundamentally detracts from your ability to perform.
So just stop caring what others think of you; and again, focus exclusively on your actions. As long as you act in accordance with common standards of fairness, respect, consideration and cooperation, how your actions are ultimately construed or misconstrued by others is entirely irrelevant; as are other people’s expectations or impressions of your performance. Being preoccupied or worrying about these things will only ever hinder you, so simply let them go.
Holding On To Stuff – We all value what we have and what we’ve achieved, that’s perfectly natural. But caring too much about what we’ve acquired in life – be that our material wealth, our status, our careers, our relationships or whatever – has the potential to invoke such an all-consuming fear of loss that those very things we consider to be so precious become self-destructive crosses to bear. In so doing they hold us back from achieving all that we can and from experiencing all the joys life has to offer.
I used to be so concerned about protecting my business and the wealth that it had generated for me that I’d simply be consumed with anxiety the second I sat down to work – a bit of a problem in any industry that revolves creativity and originality. The upshot was that I run the business I so desperately wanted to protect into the ground and pretty much bankrupted myself in the process.
Had I, on the other hand, thought to myself, “I don’t give a f**k, me, about what I’ve achieved or acquired” then in all probability I’d I’ve just got on building the business without a care in the world. My natural drive and enthusiasm for life would have been more than sufficient to propel me forward; and I’m pretty sure the business would have gone from strength to strength.
The truth is that the all-consuming importance we place on whatever we value or treasure too much tends to be our undoing. It’s like the jealous, suspicious and overly possessive partner who drives away the person they love through their insecurity; the importance they place on the relationship leads to its breakdown.
Far better to let go of that over protective mindset and to simply enjoy what you have while you have it, and to proactively work to improve it rather than defensively attempt to protect it. That goes for business, relationships, the skills you possess, health, everything – don’t fear loss, always look to build and improve.
Check out my friends CJ and Tammy’s new book The End of Wishing Our Days Away on Amazon; which is sure to open up your eyes to the truth that there’s more to life than being a slave to the rat race; and will undoubtedly inspire you to escape. You can also visit CJ and Tammy’s site at The Great Jolly Hoombah for some fresh, quirky and entertaining perspectives on life.