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The elegant art of not giving a shit

cat in a hammock not giving a shit

During a very famous moment, Krishnamurti asked the audience if they wanted to know his secret. The lecture hall went silent, and everyone leaned forward.

“You see,” he said, “I don’t give a shit.”

I’m paraphrasing. By most accounts he said “You see, I don’t mind what happens,” but he could have easily said either, and not giving a shit is a concept more people can identify with. I apologize for the vulgarity of the phrase — I will use it a lot in this article — but nothing else captures this piece of wisdom quite as well.

When you tell people to “not mind what happens,” they’ll probably look at you funny unless they’re the type of person who would be in the audience at a Krishnamurti lecture. But everyone understands that there are times in life when the best way to respond to an unpleasant event is to not give a shit.

Giving a shit really just amounts to thinking about what happened. If someone was rude to you on the phone, and you think a lot about it, you are giving a shit. If you hang up and shrug and then go for a bike ride, then you are successfully not giving a shit.

Giving a shit does not necessarily mean you’re doing anything useful, but it makes it seem like you are. It feels like there’s some kind of justice that you’re getting closer to with every moment you give a shit. But that’s not true, because giving a shit, by itself, is only thinking — and thinking has little use aside from figuring out what to do.

This illuminates one of our most stubborn, silly beliefs about human thinking: that most of it is worthwhile, that it’s actually getting you somewhere. Most thoughts just fill up your head and distance you from the life that’s still unfolding in front of you. They’re not leading to any important decisions or insights, they’re just taking over your present moment, and possibly shortening your life on the other end too.

We often believe that our thoughts are accomplishing something just because they’re emotionally charged, or because they’re “about” something we consider important, like fairness, respect, or the state of society.

No. They are useful only insofar as they get you to move your body and do something useful. 

This isn’t to say that action is always necessary when it comes to responding to life’s countless little annoyances, rudenesses, and unfairnesses. In fact, usually it isn’t. Often there’s nothing you can do, or nothing you’re willing to do. That’s fine. In those cases, which I think represent the vast majority of cases, you’re better off not giving a shit.

Not giving a shit sounds like apathy, but it’s not. It’s simply a refusal to waste your energy and time on thoughts you’re not going to act on. So when you do give a shit, make sure that the point of this shit-giving is to figure out what you’re actually going to do in response to what happened, and then move on to the action part.

Here is a handy flow-chart:

flowchart about not giving a shit


It can be hard to not give a shit. It’s something you have to practice. It should be a celebrated life skill that we teach children, alongside math, shoe-tying and talking to strangers.

The other day I was out running and someone yelled at me from a passing pickup truck. I think he called me a pansy (or maybe a Nancy?) It startled me, and I might have even jumped a bit. They probably laughed or high-fived each other or whatever those kinds of douchebags do after a successful drive-by shouting.

There have been times in my life when I would have spent quite a bit of energy giving a shit about a minor injustice like this. But I felt pretty unstoppable that day, and it didn’t do much to me. I still felt the initial surge of adrenaline and anger, but decided that I would let this 5-second event just go on by, instead of investing in an afternoon-long internal protest, which I would probably feel a need to tell everyone about later.

I kept running, and noticed that only seconds later the street was quiet and peaceful again. There was absolutely no trace of what happened, because I didn’t keep it alive in my head by giving a shit.

I have known people who will tell stories, repeatedly, about some unpleasant twenty-second interaction that happened to them years ago, and which they evidently never stopped giving a shit about. I’m sure you have witnessed this too. Don’t fall for this madness. As a general policy, don’t give a shit.

Knowing how to not give a shit doesn’t mean you never give a shit about anything. It just means that when you give a shit, it’s voluntary. You have a reason.

The key to not giving a shit is knowing what the rising temptation to give a shit feels like. It always starts with angry or indignant words in your head, often in the form of a clever comeback or an internal sermon about respect and decency.

You may start playing out different scenarios in your head where you show the offender who’s boss in some way. Maybe you slip into a revenge fantasy where (for example) you run after the vehicle like the T-1000, and they end up driving into a tree, and you stand there and laugh with your hands on your hips.

When you notice these kinds of thoughts arising, remind yourself that you don’t give a shit about things like this, and invest your attention into the physical world again. What’s the next event in your life, now that you’ve moved on from the tiny, unfortunate event that just happened? Pay attention to what your body needs to do next, in order to move on to this next thing.

Then pull the trigger. Dial that next call, run that next mile, mix those drinks, hop on that bike… whatever logically comes next in the life of a person who doesn’t give a shit about petty things. If you’re itching to give a shit, give a shit about that.


 Cat photo by lovecatz / Flow chart by David Cain

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Ellie Arroway July 20, 2014 at 11:30 pm

Brilliant post… One that I can really use this weekend.

I’m definitely guilty of giving a sh*t, whether for a job, a conversation that irked me, traffic incidents, and other mundane things. Thinking and rehashing these situations keeps me trapped in my head instead of living in the physical world, as you put it. And it also keeps me from having a good night sleep.

There are 2 really good blog posts, one from Lacking Ambition about “Purposelessness”, and another from Leo Babauta about being in the present. My takeaway from those posts is having the ability to ask myself whether the aforementioned situation/incident I’m giving a sh*t about is going to be relevant 5 years from now, or many many years from now, let’s say when I’m in my elder years (this is especially applicable to job/career worries such as careerism and the pressure to keep “growing”).

At the end of my days, a lot of these things that I give too much sh*t about will be irrelevant and forgotten.

Any suggestions then on how not to give a sh*t? Perhaps a follow up post?

David Cain July 21, 2014 at 8:03 am

> Any suggestions then on how not to give a sh*t? Perhaps a follow up post?

I did cover this in the post. Notice when you are giving a shit and then stop and go do the next thing.

Bill July 20, 2014 at 11:56 pm

Synchronicity is alive and kicking.
Last night a post I made on a forum attracted some negativity from one fellow poster and despite me making strides in the quietening of the mind by adopting the I don’t give a shit approach (akin to the ‘offence is found in the offended’ approach) it took me over three hours of night time restlessness to examine why this particular post ‘got to me’.
By the end I had a reply down to a ‘pithy line’ and then it came to me that the course of action to take was to write nothing more on that thread.
Then I went to sleep!

Come down this morning and find this post in my bloglovin feed.
Synchronicity… Thank you
David… Thank you

David Cain July 21, 2014 at 8:04 am

I have had this same experience. The internet is especially bad for giving us all kinds of ultimately pointless things to give a shit about.

Ajit Harisinghani July 23, 2014 at 1:29 am

The internet is especially bad for giving us all kinds of ultimately pointless things to give a shit about.

‘Aye’ to that.

Naman July 21, 2014 at 2:39 am

insightful and simple. i like it, i adopt this. Thanks!

Laura July 21, 2014 at 2:58 am

Awesome post

Steven July 21, 2014 at 3:43 am

I’ve been practicing this art for a couple of years. They’ve been remarkably wonderful.

Shedding the fear of judgement is an important, difficult step in the not-giving-a-shit process too.

Ingrid July 21, 2014 at 4:25 am

What an awesome post !!!
It makes so much sense.

Randy Hendrix July 21, 2014 at 4:45 am

Words to live by…thanks David!

Greg July 21, 2014 at 5:55 am

Great insight! I try to use the word “Pause” before reacting to anything. This keeps me from getting “into shit”. This should be a very useful combination. Thank you

Tobi July 21, 2014 at 6:10 am

And thus the world’s sleep crisis can be solved.

David Cain July 21, 2014 at 8:19 am

Haha! Mostly

Meg July 21, 2014 at 6:57 am

Spot on. Took me a long, long time to work this one out for myself, after growing up in a family that gave a shit about EVERYTHING. Literally. It’s a wonder any of us lived past 55. Anyway, life is much sweeter now, I get on with my work, enjoy whatever enjoyment is to be had, roll with the punches, let it go.

It just occurred to me that “not giving a shit” is a higher achievement than “turning the other cheek.” Not giving a shit means not getting all up in the forgiveness meme, which still leaves one with way too much baggage. Forgiving requires giving a shit by definition. Yeah, I can work with this ;)

David Cain July 21, 2014 at 8:08 am

Yes, forgiveness does kind of bind you to what happened in a way that not giving a shit does not. It makes the thing that happened important. I guess we can make use of forgiveness for situations in which we can’t help but give a shit.

Ed Herzog July 21, 2014 at 7:12 am

Interesting post David. I’ve always struggled with the “don’t give a shit” advice and I think I finally see why.

As I see it, Krishnamurti was advocating an egoless approach to life. Accepting that there are some things that we can’t control. So we should just let go off then. That seems to be what you’re saying as well.

Unfortunately, I’ve seen too many people turn the “don’t give a shit” idea on its head. They use it to excuse/justify, their own bad behavior, their own poor treatment of others, etc. They use the philosophy to bolster their ego, which is the opposite of what you and Krishnamurti are saying.

Kind of strange that the same words are used to justify two completely different approaches to life.

Thanks for helping me see this distinction!

David Cain July 21, 2014 at 8:17 am

Yes, some people do use it to refer to apathy. I’m trying to win it back for us sensible folks.

Krista July 21, 2014 at 7:53 am

one of your best! it has been very effective for me as well.

JayP July 21, 2014 at 8:16 am

A great article. 2 thumbs up. Wish I could print this flowchart to see everyday.

David Cain July 21, 2014 at 8:17 am

Memorize it

Carla July 23, 2014 at 1:59 am

Love it

Mark A. July 21, 2014 at 8:18 am

I enjoy your posts and have never commented before. Your discussion on not giving a shit is a nice complement to a book by philosopher Harry G. Frankfurt called “On Bullshit,” in which he describes just how very much that humans say to each other falls on a range of minor to complete bullshit. I wonder, if the stupid anonymous redneck who doesn’t know you yells some bullshit for the benefit of making himself seem bold in front of his stupid redneck friends, about whom you or no one you know in your own life by definition likely gives a shit, except maybe theoretically since they have a pulse, then why can it be so much effort to not give a shit when shit like that happens?! Your post is timely for me because I have been bothered in the last few days by a comment someone made to my boss about me, which I felt was unfair. My boss did me the favor of telling me about it within five minutes so that I could explain, though I’ve obsessed a bit about this new bullshit coworker whom I’m getting to know and whether I should bother confronting her or just quietly being grateful that I now understand her better. I’m 48 and am getting to the point where coworkers and bosses are feeling like utter bullshit to me in general, a thought which probably lies in the direction of my future, and another reason I enjoy your posts. Thanks for writing and sharing them!

David Cain July 21, 2014 at 4:27 pm

I have heard great things about “On Bullshit” from several people. I think I’m supposed to read it.

Anyway, I hope you find the right strategy for dealing with your bullshit at work! There’s something to be said for responding to pettiness by enjoying a private moment of gratitude that you’ll never be as petty as the offender.

Rose LaLuz July 21, 2014 at 8:58 am

You find yourself walking down the street in your neighborhood and on this day your thoughts are taken up with petty grievances and because you are currently oblivious to your surroundings, you do not notice the pile of dog shit on the sidewalk and you step into it…ugh!
Next day, you walk down same street while scanning the ground, looking up, noticing the beautiful trees in bloom etc…One way to avoid metaphorical shit some of the time then, is to be present. Become something of a stealth ninja on shit.

David Cain July 21, 2014 at 4:23 pm

That is some poignant shit you just wrote there

Brian July 22, 2014 at 10:10 pm

Love it!

Michael Eisbrener July 21, 2014 at 9:47 am

The key “When you notice…” anything and everything makes now possible. The practice of detachment, especially from the herd locked into their mind being them, that control insures plenty of what one does not want, suffering. Say “I don’t care…” and you discover how to upset many people attached to their “IS” as truth, real, the deal. They sometimes can hear you without the automatic upset when you say “I have no emotional attachment…” We are attached as long as we are not aware of now. Give up the word ‘is’ for a couple days and discover some of your attachments.

Denise Ruby July 21, 2014 at 9:51 am


Free To Pursue July 21, 2014 at 10:11 am

I was delighted to read this article. I had my “IDGAS” lightbulb moment 4 years ago when I appeared at the American Airlines check in counter only to be told the flight that would enable me to meet my girlfriend in Austin for the weekend was cancelled. My reaction was to do no more than to calmly ask about options. What use was anything else?

Because I “didn’t give a shit” and just wanted to figure it out, the two agents helped me with a smile and everyone stayed calm. The situation was resolved better than I could have imagined (great story for another time). They even asked me “Are you for real?”

That experience has affected a number of subsequent reactions to unpleasant news or circumstance. At least I know there’s a better way that feels great, even if I’m not successful in using it 100% of the time.

David Cain July 21, 2014 at 4:22 pm

Reasonable reactions must be quite a pleasant surprise to customer service people who have to deliver bad news. Good for you for being able to accept bad news in real-time. That’s quite a rare skill :)

Peter Petrella July 21, 2014 at 10:14 am

Thank you. I needed that.

kate July 21, 2014 at 12:00 pm

me too. isn’t it good that we have each other to remind each other of sh*t like this?

Joe del Tufo July 21, 2014 at 12:00 pm

Great stuff, David. “Don’t feed the trolls that live in your head.”

Duška Woods July 21, 2014 at 1:09 pm

David, Krishnamurti did say ‘I don’t care what happens’ , but I can see why you changed it to ‘I don’t give a shit’ to perheps make a stronger more familiar point to most. Qoting Krishnamurti in one sentence like that does not give a justice to his teachings for does who are not familiar with this very powerfuland briliant mind.
That said, The message is good, difficult for many to acheive because knowing something that makes sense is just a first faze of transformation. The secong is practicing it untl it becomes a habit.
Thank you for the post, it’s good and very useful to adopt.
Be well

David Cain July 21, 2014 at 4:20 pm

The story of Krishnamurti summarizing his secret as “I don’t mind what happens” has been recounted by multiple people, including author Jim Dreaver (who was present at this lecture) and Eckhart Tolle. It is possible that it’s not true, although I don’t see any reason to doubt it. I don’t think it matters though, because the wisdom in the principle is clear enough.

campbell July 21, 2014 at 1:35 pm


Related: when someone is ripping me up or telling me off, I love the comeback of “Sorry, you’ve confused me with someone who gives a shit.”

90% of the time this sends them off into absolute rage and gives me a small amount of smug pleasure. I think I’ll have to walk the walk and not just talk the talk.

Tim Smith July 22, 2014 at 3:58 pm

This reminds me of a lyric by a wonderful singer-songwriter Greg Keeler, out in Bozeman, Montana: “You must be confusing me with someone who gives a damn!”

Ashley Ford July 21, 2014 at 2:57 pm

I definitely see the value in this mindset for certain situations and I can also see how it would be a freeing new idea if a person did not already come from this mentality. I was raised by someone who was a very strong believer of this idea and I would just like to remind that there can also be some pretty negative reactions when the balancing act falters. I don’t think this piece is even close to suggesting the whole “suck it up” idea which is pervasive in shaming and victim blaming, but I think it’s easy for many people to get swept up into the mentality that emotions just get in the way, which can lead to dismissing and silencing traumatic events. I would caution that if moving on involves ignoring emotions instead of understanding them, it has an ability to hurt both ourselves and the people around us. So as always, balance is important. There is a lot of shaming and derogatory language directed at people who show vulnerability when others judge that the person should have moved on. I think it starts from a place of good intentions for strength and resilience, but it can take a nasty turn when people use the “don’t dwell, just move on” attitude in the wrong context.

David Cain July 21, 2014 at 4:14 pm

Yes, “suck it up” isn’t what I’m trying to say. I advocate being aware of our reactions, and then deciding what to do, rather than ignoring them, and I hope that is clear in this piece.

Terry Keelan July 21, 2014 at 3:30 pm

IDGAS really helped to put an end to my road rage. “IDGAS how fast you get to work, so please be my guest.” has become one of my mantras on the freeway.

David Cain July 21, 2014 at 4:15 pm


Richard Anthony July 21, 2014 at 3:30 pm

Good article, with solid reasoning, but kinda weakened by the over-use of the very inelegant cliché “not giving a sh*t.” My soon-to-be-released book of phrases, Would You Mind Repeating That?” will give you dozens of alternates in case you ever do choose to write a follow-up post, e.g.: “I don’t give two hoots and a holler. ♦ I don’t give a tinker’s dam ♦ I don’t give a rat’s *ass. ♦ I don’t know, I don’t care; I don’t wear underwear. ♦ It’s all the same to me. ♦ It’s no skin off my back/nose. ♦ It’s no sweat off my balls. ♦ Makes no never-mind to me. ♦ See if I care. ♦ Six of one, half dozen of the other” and many other. You get the idea. Variety is the spice of life. Otherwise, repetitive writing can get to be the same old . . . you-know.

David Cain July 21, 2014 at 4:13 pm

I understand what you’re saying, and I have a similar aversion to cliches.

But there are cases when they are more effective because they are easier for readers to identify with. After less than 24 hours online, this post has been a huge hit. If I had used the phrase “not minding what happens,” it’s extremely unlikely it would have been received 1300 facebook likes. All the phrases you listed are cliches too, I just like this one better, and it seems like the readers do too.

Randy Hendrix July 21, 2014 at 6:18 pm

Well said…

Florin July 21, 2014 at 4:18 pm

Haha, nice one. This reminds me of yesterday, I was on the train that was heading for Bucharest but there were no empty seats, the train was full and I was facing a 2 and a half hours’ train ride, standing. There was a group beside me, standing as I was, and they were all bitching, complaining, blaming the system, blaming themselves, wasting their energy and drying their mouths. I looked around, casually accepted the moment, pulled out the latest number of Manager express magazine and began reading. I almost read the entire magazine which I wouldn’t have if I were to be sitting (had originally planned to read a novel) so I’m really grateful for the opportunity. So yeah, this is more of an acceptance thing, something you wrote about in the past but it has a certain degree of “not giving a shit in it”.

ANKER July 21, 2014 at 6:42 pm

There is a distinction between equanimity (a/k/a acceptance of reality) and indifferance. The first is a warm embrace of the world and acceptance of its vagaries and the other is a cold rejection of it and a refusal to be moved by it. Your phrase implies the latter when I feel certain that Krishnamurti meant the former. It’s a fine distinction but one worth keeping in mind.

ANKER July 21, 2014 at 6:42 pm

There is a distinction between equanimity (a/k/a acceptance of reality) and indifference. The first is a warm embrace of the world and acceptance of its vagaries and the other is a cold rejection of it and a refusal to be moved by it. Your phrase implies the latter when I feel certain that Krishnamurti meant the former. It’s a fine distinction but one worth keeping in mind.

Aleya July 21, 2014 at 10:17 pm

Great unpacking of the “don’t give a shit,” stance. If I react I give a shit to figure out why I gave a shit. I find the solution so the next time I can fully hold the “I do not give a shit” stance. Example…it is no one eles’e job to listen to me, respect me, or honor me. That is my job, not theirs. I do not give a shit how others treat me. I only give a shit how I treat myself. lol :)

Wendy Johnson July 21, 2014 at 11:53 pm

Love it David! As an extension to “don’t give a shit” I also remind myself often to “don’t take it personally”. Together they make life much simpler.

amit July 22, 2014 at 12:57 am

Hi David,
This thought has always puzzled me for a long time. How do u differentiate between intuition and the case where the mind is just playing tricks on you(the constant talking going inside)?
I would be grateful to hear your views on that.

Number One Douchebag July 22, 2014 at 2:27 am


Juliana July 22, 2014 at 3:13 am

Seriously, it’s not easy to controlling the mind not to give a shit. And well, am learning :)

Sarah Lush July 22, 2014 at 6:52 am

I like this article. Today a series of social interactions left me with the feeling that I may be socially retarded, failing to meet the mysterious standards of some private school mums. So for the rest of tonight Ive decided to not give a shit. Thanks whoever wrote it.

John July 22, 2014 at 9:43 am

You become what you think about most ~Earl Nightingale. If we let ourselves dwell on every slight injustice that has been done to us, we become cynical, untrusting, and just plain not fun to be around. Well done.

Tessa Gazi July 22, 2014 at 3:52 pm

Excellent post, I’m definitely making a mental note of that flowchart! Thank you for writing this.

Brian July 22, 2014 at 9:55 pm

I spotted your post last night just before going to bed, thinking, ‘I must read this in the morning’! For all of my life, I have been a sensitive soul, easily affected by the energies, mannerisms of people and their responses towards me – the reason, why I felt some resonance at first glance when noticing your post. I awoke with gratitude this morning, light and ready to take care of some official business, confident that I would have a successful visit to a government office. Then came my experience with a particular government official, and there I was, thrown back into my dark hole of self-recrimination, self-judgment, the whole gamut of negative self-talk. Yet, though it really was not about me, I made it so and I gave a shit and still do, though it is diminishing as I write. Back home, I knew I needed to find your article and allow its message to touch my confused mind and aching heart. I wish to thank you for speaking to my situation as I experienced it this morning, but also for addressing a personal matter that I have long struggled with. Thanks!

Calabasa July 22, 2014 at 10:29 pm

This is so true. BUT we can learn from the little things we tend to give a shit about (what larger problems that we really give a shit about do they remind us of? What actions are we taking to remedy those problems? Go do them). That is, we can use it as positive incentive to work on the actions we are taking regarding things that are worth giving a shit about.

Now, if something does not fit into your usual pattern of minor shit-giving (say, some random unpleasant occurrence and not something that is a specific trigger for you), it would be nice to learn how to simply get over it and move on. I’ve gotten much better at it over the years.

Things that relate to specific larger themes that bother me I try to use as fuel for the actions I am taking to remedy unpleasant situations in my life and the lives of others that I really do give a shit about.

So this doesn’t sound so abstract: imagine you’re writing a book in which the racism the main character faces is a major theme, and you’re writing it because racism has played a big role in your life. Having someone yell a racial slur at you out the window of their car might be another minor give-a-shit moment that gets piled onto so many other such minor moments they start to add up to the major injustices you’ve faced in your life. But rather than choosing to let that ruin your day, you can let it strengthen your resolve to finish your book; let your mind stray to that next scene or decide to write that evening when you get home. There, that’s solved. Now move on to not giving a shit.

But for the little un-race-related things–petty unkindnesses, bits of bad luck–well, just regular old not givin a shit suffices. Although you might take a moment to remind youreself of why you’re awesome (if it’s an insult from someone) or your luck in other situations (if it’s a bit of bad luck). Basically anything that will put things in perspective pretty quickly and allow you to not give a shit a whole lot faster.

I don’t think I’ve ever typed shit that many times in one sitting in my whole life.

Britt July 22, 2014 at 11:53 pm

It is def an art. Once I was pretty decent at it….kinda in my own world…thennn the real world chewed me up and shit me out and I became so utterly afraid of everything. Literally everything. All BC I gave too many shits. I stumbled upon this randomly and I must say I am returning to that peaceful shitless place!

Billy Flynn July 23, 2014 at 1:09 am

Reminds of a story I read yesterday about a woodcutter who couldn’t find his axe. He assumed someone stole it and as he left his house he met his neighbor’s son;he was convinced that the kid was acting suspicious and he was sure that he had stolen his axe; meanwhile when he arrived at his work site, he found his axe where he had left it the night before;at the end of the day he ran into the neigh our’ skid again but this time he saw no guilt or subterfuge. Giving a shit is so much in our heads; we create the scenarios that hold us hostage so often.

Great post, I think one of your best.

Thanks for “giving a shit” about your writing, you articulate do well what rattles around in my head all too often.

Holden July 23, 2014 at 8:14 am

hi there,
great post! i just subscribed.

you totally nailed me and my entire life script it seems. I am going to take this amazing post to heart and try my best to integrate it for better changes in my life.

thank you.

Bev July 23, 2014 at 10:01 am

Great post. I shared it on my FB page last night and it has generated many comments, likes, and shares. Obviously an idea that resonates with many people. Love your blog!

Jenny July 23, 2014 at 10:17 am

As a chronic worrier and ruminator, this post hit particularly close to home. The amount of hours I’ve spent thinking about an unfortunate event (with little to no action taken afterward) has sucked up time and energy that could have been better spent enjoying the present.

Thank you for this important reminder. I’m printing it out and keeping it on my desk for those moments when I want to replay some BS from the day. Keep up the amazing work!

Free To Pursue July 23, 2014 at 11:50 am

This post was referenced during episode 180 of the Back To Work show on the 5By5 podcasting network. See min 46:55 for the start of the discussion. Nice!

howard hughes July 23, 2014 at 12:30 pm

way of the future!

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