Once you've made the leap to saving your precious mental energy for only the things you're enthusiastic about, the results can be powerful, says author Sarah Knight. Photo: Stocksy
While organisational guru Marie Kondo has turned millions of people on to the importance of 'sparking joy' by tidying up their physical space, a new book is turning attention to the need to declutter one's mental space.
The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F--k is a self-help book for people who don't do self-help books, a lighthearted and profanity-laced guide on how to stop expending time, money and brainpower on things one doesn't really care about. Author Sarah Knight describes herself in the introduction as someone who "gave way too many f--ks for far, far too long". (Things she no longer gives a damn about include being a morning person, feigning sincerity and Taylor Swift.) The concept came to the 37-year-old after last year quitting her high-powered job as a senior editor in a publishing company.
"I had been really dedicated to my career for 15 years. I had poured everything I had into building a great reputation and being successful - to the detriment of a lot of other aspects of my life," says Knight on the phone from Brooklyn. "I wanted to make a change that would allow me to live my life the way I wanted to live it."
Author Sarah Knight.
For Knight, that adjustment came in the form of only doing things she genuinely wanted or needed to. The basic premise of the title is that almost everyone spends too much time on things they don't truly care about or actively dislike - whether that is feeling obligated to constantly keep up-to-date on Facebook, attending the budget-destroying destination wedding of a distant friend, or feeling like one has to understand the finer plot points of Game of Thrones or else risk being deemed a pop cultural idiot.
"No one gives a f--k about so many things," says Knight. "The reason why the book is doing so well both in the US and abroad is that I think I gave voice to this thing that so many people think and have either been unable to admit to themselves or afraid to admit out loud to other people."
In the book, Knight paints a picture of the mind as a giant barn cluttered to the brim with both passions and obligations, all vying for a prime position in our thoughts. "I think there are probably very few people on this planet who couldn't use a little mental decluttering," says Knight. "Sit down, take a breath and just think about all the demands on your time, your energy and your bank account. And if you start to feel panicky, then you probably have too many."
The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F--k, by Sarah Knight.
The key to clearing one's mind of mentally draining junk is to sort out the actual obligations from perceived obligations. Knight gives the example of a faux obligation as being something like feeling pressured to bake cupcakes for a school fete, instead of just saving time and stress by buying them at a store instead.
"People don't think enough about the real power of a simple no," says Knight. "'No thank you, I don't want to join that group', or 'No, I can't afford that thing'. I think we put a lot of stock in other people's opinions, and what I'm saying is you really don't have to because you can't control their opinions. It's silly to spend a lot of time bowing down to something you can't control." Her advice when saying no is to be firm and clear, without veering into rudeness.
She also recommends taking a beat before saying yes to anything, instead using that moment to envision how you'll feel when the time comes to make good on your promise. "If the answer is 'I don't want to do that', say no upfront. You're eliminating so much time that you're going to spend agonising over it and people will just move on. That's another thing that a lot of us don't really understand; in the moment it's easier to say yes, but if you say no to something it's usually fine. People just say, sorry you can't make it, see you next time."
The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F--k stands out from the self-help pack not only for its frank language and sense of humour, but also because it is about less in a culture of more. "A lot of other books of this nature are trying to tell you to be more - to be more fit, to be more thin, to be more organised," says Knight. "What I'm trying to say is it's okay to aspire to less - to be a less busy person, to do fewer things, to be less hard on yourself."
Knight says her method, while simple, isn't always easy to put into practice as people are conditioned to feel anxiety, shame and guilt when saying no. However, once one has made the leap to saving that precious mental energy for only that which one is enthusiastic about, the results can be powerful. One fan of the book told her he wished he'd read it 50 years ago.
"I'm certainly having a lot easier time saying no to people and not over-scheduling myself, because once I got a taste of that little bit of freedom, I was like, I want more of that! It's kind of addictive once you start doing it. All it does is open up those reserves of time, energy and money to spend on the things and with the people that make you happy."
The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F--k is out now.