How to Unfu*k Yourself: Unabashed Life Wisdom from Gary John Bishop

Based on the crass but completely catchy title of Unfu*k Yourself: Get Out of Your Head and into Your Life and the surfeit of profanity sprinkled throughout the pages of this book, you might expect the author, noted personal development coach Gary John Bishop, to be a gruff, salty sort of fellow. A conversation with Bishop certainly involves its share of cursing, but as I learned, this Glasgow native is a warm, friendly, and amazingly positive person. After all, the message of his book, his coaching sessions, and of his life writ large isn’t that you or anyone else is fucked, it’s that you are your very own fucking awesome you — you just need to get your head out of your ass. I’m paraphrasing, but I think Gary would give me the nod.

gary john bishop portrait
Courtesy photo

I found myself nodding more than once when I read his book, and I have to say that putting Unfu*k Yourself in the self-help category is selling it short. Instead, it belongs in the self-help / motivation / comedy / inspiration / oh-man-I-do-that-BS-all-the-time / personal-and-professional-development section of the book store. But that section probably doesn’t exist, and you’re probably just going to order it online anyway, so let’s move on.

First, let me say that my feelings about life coaching, self help, motivational seminars, and all the rest are neutral at best, and trend toward the critical if I’m being honest — which Gary would want me to be. But you know who else used to feel that way? Gary John Bishop. When I asked him how he first came to the personal coaching and development sector, he readily confessed it was with great reticence and skepticism.

“About a dozen years ago,” Bishop tells me in a gentle brogue that rises and falls over the course of our chat, “I had a relative of mine ask me if I would do a personal development course with him, and my immediate answer to him was ‘Nah, no, I’m not doing your stupid course.’ But he persisted, and finally I did the damn course, and I was anticipating that we would go in, hold hands, talk about pain, all that. But it wasn’t like that at all, it was more like … like ‘Hey, you’re an asshole!’ to all of us. Which was shocking, but it was funny. It was amazing, really, and it was exactly what I needed at that time in my life. And soon, I found I just became more effective — more effective at everything, more effective at relationships, at finance, at everything in my life.”

What was Gary’s great revelation? To put it simply, it was to just stop fucking around. To — and here I quote from his book — “stop doing all that shit you know you shouldn’t be doing and start doing the shit you know you should be doing.” Yes, that’s easier said than done, but if you start doing it as much as possible and keep on keeping on over time, your life will change, it’s as simple as that.

Maybe it’s cutting back on the booze and fatty foods, maybe it’s more time at the gym, maybe it’s being more patient and kind, maybe it’s being more self-assured and firm. Whatever it is, you probably know what you should be doing. The way Bishop makes this seemingly massive life shift approachable is to remind us that small changes lead to big changes; the effort you put in to re-shaping yourself need not be Herculean, and certainly not all at once.

“I think one of the most intimidating things we do as a human beings is allow in the fear that we can’t keep doing what we’re doing once we start trying to make the changes,” Bishop explains. “So we have to realize that we don’t have to keep dong this shit for the rest of our lives, whatever it is, we just have to do it right now. You don’t have to go to the gym every day forever, don’t worry about going to the gym in six months, just go right now. You want to be a kinder, more positive person? You don’t have to become the nicest guy alive right this second, just don’t be an asshole to that guy, right? It’s those little victories where you start to break down those old patterns and old behaviors.”

And here’s the “trick” you play on yourself (Bishop refers to it as a muscle you build up, but I like the trick analogy because it sounds even easier): the more you make those little changes, the more they become the new status quo. Soon, that thing that required effort is effortless, the paradigm shifts. And as Gary says often, “Your life only changes ion one paradigm, the paradigm of action.” In other words, wanting change is bullshit; effecting change is, well, effective.

This is not a new concept — Gary John Bishop just happens to have found the right approach to delivering a timeless message to those of us who happen to be alive right now. Aristotle dropped the same knowledge on his people in the 4th century BCE with the words: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act, but a habit.”

If you’re in a rough place in your life, I advise you to read this book, and I’ll tell you Gary would remind you that it’s OK to be in rough places now and then. “People have to keep in mind it’s completely normal to hit the wall in life, it’s actually quite appropriate at times. Things happen, you get fucked up in life at times, that’s appropriate. Your dad died, you find your husband in bed with someone, you got fired a fourth time. You’re fucked you’re in the valley, that’s OK. As long as you work to get out of the valley, then it’s OK.”

However, I also advise anyone who’s in a fine place in life, thank you very much, to go ahead and read Unfu*k Yourself. In the pages of chapters like “I Am Wired to Win,” “I Got This,” and “I Am Relentless,” one just might find the motivation needed to take a step they had long been wavering over. Maybe you want to try a new activity, write a book, travel to that special wherever? Whatever it is, just. Go. Do it. And if my saying so isn’t enough, maybe Bishop’s will be.

Lastly, if you like a good laugh, go ahead and read this book. Much of the subject matter is serious, sure, but there’s some funny fu*king sh*t in here, too.