Unf*ckology: A Field Guide to Living with Guts and Confidence

Unf*ckology: A Field Guide to Living with Guts and Confidence

by Amy Alkon


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Amy Alkon presents Unf*ckology, a “science-help” book that knocks the self-help genre on its unscientific ass. You can finally stop fear from being your boss and put an end to your lifelong social suckage.

Have you spent your life shrinking from opportunities you were dying to seize but feel “that’s just who I am”? Well, screw that! You actually can change, and it doesn’t take exceptional intelligence or a therapist who’s looking forward to finally buying Aruba after decades of listening to you yammer on.

Transforming yourself takes revolutionary science-help from Amy Alkon, who has spent the past 20 years translating cutting-edge behavioral science into highly practical advice in her award-winning syndicated column. In Unf*ckology, Alkon pulls together findings from neuroscience, behavioral science, evolutionary psychology, and clinical psychology. She explains everything in language you won’t need a psych prof on speed-dial to understand—and with the biting dark humor that made Good Manners for Nice People Who Sometimes Say F*ck such a great read. She debunks widely-accepted but scientifically unsupported notions about self-esteem, shame, willpower, and more and demonstrates that:

- Thinking your way into changing (as so many therapists and self-help books advise) is the most inefficient way to go about it.

- The mind is bigger than the brain, meaning that your body and your behavior are your gym for turning yourself into the new, confident you.

- Fear is not just the problem; it’s also the solution.

- By targeting your fears with behavior, you make changes in your brain that reshape your habitual ways of behaving and the emotions that go with them.

Follow Amy Alkon's groundbreaking advice in Unf*ckology, and eventually, you’ll no longer need to act like the new you; you’ll become the new you. And how totally f*cking cool is that?

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250080868
Publisher: St. Martin''s Publishing Group
Publication date: 01/23/2018
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 508,432
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

AMY ALKON does "applied behavioral science," translating scientific research into highly practical advice. Alkon writes The Science Advice Goddess, an award-winning, syndicated column that runs in newspapers across the United States and Canada. She is also the author of Good Manners for Nice People Who Sometimes Say F*ck and I See Rude People. She has been on Good Morning America, The Today Show, NPR, CNN, MTV, and does a weekly science podcast. She has written for Psychology Today, Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times Magazine, the New York Daily News, among others, and has given a TED talk. She is the President of the Applied Evolutionary Psychology Society. She lives in Venice, California.

Read an Excerpt



You can't order a lightly used spine off eBay. There's no Find My Balls cousin of Find My iPhone. And nobody goes around in a tow truck with a big winch to yank people out of loserhood.

However, there actually is a way out of loserhood, and it doesn't involve a therapist — one who's looking forward to finally buying Aruba after decades of listening to you jawing on.

And no, you will not be asked to look into the mirror and recite affirmations. (If you've ever done this, you know how well it works: "I am beautiful. I am happy. I am confident. I am ... kidding myself. I am still the same fucking loser I was before I wasted ten minutes doing this bullshit.")

All you actually have to do to change is behave like the confident person you want to be.

I get it — that probably sounds unbelievable — but you'll see in the next chapter that I did this, and I was a particularly hopeless case. I didn't transform myself magically, by bathing my brain in some kind of self-help rays; I did it through the emotionally grubby work of repeatedly acting the way confident people do.

This book gives you all the steps you need to get from point worm (or just mildly underconfident) to full personhood — the point where you aren't always squirming on the inside about what to say or do and whether somebody will approve. Best of all, getting to the point where you go out into the world as the full you doesn't require exceptional intelligence, piercing intuition, or — in case you were wondering — a bullet-deflecting bodysuit with bat ears. You just need to be so sick of living like a human crumb (or just not as fully as you could be) that you're willing to shove your way through your fears and take action.

This isn't to say you won't be afraid — at least for a while. But I'm hoping you'll come to the conclusion I did — that being afraid to do something isn't good enough reason to let yourself duck out of doing it.

While we're at it, I should mention that this is not a "self-help book." (Gross.) This is a science-help book — a self-unfucking science-help book. "Science-help" is a term coined by my science journalist friend David DiSalvo, describing advice that's based on evidence from scientific research. So, no, this book will not advise you to pester the universe to heal you. (The universe isn't listening and doesn't give a shit.)

This book likewise does not contain "The Secret," which is the title of a best-selling book based on the tempting premise that positive thinking works like a giant magnet to pull whatever you want right to you. Supposedly, if you want a new car, you just picture it and think grateful thoughts about it (as if it were already yours) and some pocket in the universe will unzip and out will drop your fabulous new dream ride, right into your life. (Yes, that's right. You only lack that flying Bentley convertible because you haven't put your mind to making it pop up in your carport.)

Ultimately, if Unf*ckology does have a "secret," it's that if you get off your ass and do what the science suggests, you can have a far better life.

Not "someday."

Starting NOW.

I call this living by the "car crash principle." People will tell you, "It was only after I got in that horrible car wreck that I realized I'd better seize the moment — stop wasting my life." The way I see it, why wait? Why not choose to live that way right now — without the twisted metal, disfiguring injuries, and years in rehab spent pushing a ball across a table with your nose?



A coming-of-rage story

I was a loser as a child. I had scraggly red hair and a space between my front teeth you could drive a small car through, and I wet my bed until I was twelve. This was before parents were advised to just relax and wait the bed-wetting thing out. As I remember it now, my mother used to say — in that satanic voice from The Exorcist — "You wet the bed again?!"

I had no friends, and the neighborhood kids egged our house, called me "dirty Jew," and told me I killed Jesus. (I was six at the time. I didn't even kill bugs.) I would have done anything to have even one friend. In second grade, I thought I'd hit the jackpot: Two girls came to me and promised to be my friend if I did their math. I did it — during recess, in a dusty, empty classroom — but the moment I put down my fat #2 pencil, they ran out and ignored me, same as before.

Elementary school turned out to be seven long years of getting picked last for everything — except in extenuating circumstances, like when it was time for kickball and the only other kid left had a broken leg. When kids talked to me at all, it was to sneer "The redhead is dead!" or call me "the redheaded hamburger." I was miserable every day, and I sobbed to my mother that I had no friends, but she didn't know what to say.

In third grade, I tried bargaining, silently offering various incentives to God, if only he'd make me look like the other Amy — the pretty, popular honey-blond one our teacher, Mrs. DeMaio, referred to as "Amy long-lashes." Naturally, like all those mean children, God just ignored me.

When I wasn't in school, I had my face jammed in a book. I checked them out of the Farmington Community Library by the laundry-basketful. The stories I read gave me hope that I could someday have a better life, and I learned many things — among them, the dangers of reading while riding a bicycle.

In tenth grade, I joined the youth group at my parents' temple. For the first time in my life, I had friends — but, like some weird weekend Cinderella, only on Sundays, when youth group met. I was terrified that my youth group friends would realize they'd made a terrible mistake, so I tried really hard to be the sort of person they'd find acceptable.

I carefully avoided showing my true feelings — like that my having friends was pretty much the greatest thing since God cut a hiking trail through the Red Sea. I was especially careful to keep mum about how I'd decided the whole God thing was hooey (seeing no reason to let this stop me from playing guitar and leading everybody in Hebrew folk tunes about God's greatitude).

Pretty much erasing myself seemed a small price to pay for finally being liked. However, it meant that I often had no idea what I thought about anything — and not because I didn't think. In fact, because I read lots of novels and loved logic, I was always thinking and reasoning. There was a point of view in there somewhere. But when I was around other people, what I thought was whatever I thought they'd want me to think. All in all, I was a big redheaded empty jar.


At twenty-one, I moved from Michigan to Manhattan. I knew tons of five-dollar and even fifty-six-dollar words from my years of endless reading, but I had yet to learn the word no. This made me a popular guest at many people's apartments — typically when they were moving in or out of them and needed some patsy to pack and haul stuff for free.

Eventually, the guy renting me a bedroom in his loft wanted his place to himself again, and I had to move. I just barely scraped together the rent and security deposit for a tiny dumpy tenement apartment by the Holland Tunnel, or, as I called it, "the rectum of New Jersey."

Hoping against hope for a little quid pro schlep, I called all the people I'd helped move. Nobody was home, or, if they were, they were in bed with a vicious hangnail or just running out the door to their groovy summer share in the Hamptons. "But, hey, good luck with your move!"

I had about four dollars left in my checking account after paying the landlord, so I couldn't afford a moving van or even taxis. Instead, I piled boxes and garbage bags of my stuff onto an old metal-wheeled wooden cart, about six feet long, that a kindly furniture dealer in my new neighborhood lent me for the weekend. I only had to move from Duane Street to Greenwich and Canal — a little over a half-mile — so doing it peasant cart–style didn't seem all that terrible.

This was a desolate part of town back then — especially on the Saturday night I'd chosen to move — so I pushed the cart right down the middle of Greenwich Street. I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was — until I got to the cobblestoned part in the last three blocks.

Steel wheels and cobblestones are not a good mix. Every inch of that street traveled straight up my arms, hammering itself into the deepest reaches of my brain and making my stomach feel like I'd strapped it to a paint shaker.

This was a far cry from my most recent moving effort: sitting in the plush river-view apartment of an advertising acquaintance, wrapping and boxing a set of her drinking glasses — apparently a little less worshipfully than she would've liked. "Those are from Tiffany's," she snapped. Oh. Sorry.

I considered stopping where I was and carrying everything, piece by piece, to my new place, three blocks away. But, though the streets were empty, it was still New York, and I couldn't just leave the cart and all my stuff.

And even if I chanced that — carrying just my computer and coming back for the less valuable stuff — much like a Tyrannosaurus rex, I have strong legs but arms that are kind of a joke. Carrying everything could have taken hours, so I pressed on, finally making it to the end of the first block.

What was that I felt? Yes, it was sprinkling. I threw my whole body into pushing the cart, hoping to make it to my place before the rain got serious. In the middle of the second block, the cart lurched sideways and stopped, spilling boxes and a garbage bag of my clothes into the street.

I peered underneath the cart. One of the wheels had fallen off. I'd hit some funky "gotcha" cobblestone, probably placed in the street by some mean- spirited nineteenth-century DOT worker. And then, in keeping with my feeling that life was, if not shitting on me, at least peeing pretty much nonstop, the sky opened up and poured rain all over me and all my worldly possessions.

Behind me, there was a HONNNK! And then another.

I turned. A taxi. I motioned to the driver to go around me. There was room; he just had to make an effort.

He kept honking. I kept motioning. I moved a little closer so he could see I was trying to guide him. He peeled out on the wet cobblestones and sped around me, hitting a pothole and spraying dirty New York City street water all over me — in my mouth, up my nose, in my eyes.

Looking down on my soggy boxes, my drenched black-and-white TV, and the crippled cart, I burst into big heaving sobs. And there, in the pouring rain, it came to me: "I don't have any real friends."


The truth is, I had some real friends, like David Wallis, whom I met at NYU's off-campus housing office on my second day in New York. We're still friends today, almost thirty years later. In fact, if tomorrow, David called me from the Arctic circle and told me he needed me, I'd hop on the phone to book, oh, three planes, two helicopters, and a team of sled dogs. The thing is, I'm pretty sure David would do the same for me.

Back then in New York, however, many of the people I called friends were just acquaintances or, pathetically, acquaintances of convenience — those people who called me whenever it would make life more convenient for them but never when they had a tip on a great party or just to wonder, "Hey, how are ya?" But, whose fault was this really? I had to admit it: Most of these people weren't bad friends to everyone; they were just bad friends to me.

I'd never noticed this before, perhaps because I was used to the idea of myself as a loser, having been one for as long as I could remember, and probably longer than that. I guess I'd come to accept my Amy Alkon cooties as an incurable disease. Then, it struck me: Could it be something I was doing? Something I could maybe stop doing?

I started paying attention to people everybody seemed to like, and I noticed something extraordinary — how willing they all were to be unwilling to please. Here I was, always slaving away to be liked, and here they were, refusing requests and sometimes being disagreeable or bratty.

In fact, they all seemed to feel free to say no — to friends, family, colleagues, even the boss — and not just no but all the variations: "Nuh-uh," "No way," "Not in this lifetime," "Are you out of your fucking mind?" and "Over my dead, maggot-eaten body."

Most amazingly, when they turned people down, they weren't fired, excommunicated, or asked in a low voice to please leave. They were usually just met with "Oh, okay" or sometimes engaged in mild argument. Even if they didn't get things their way, they seemed to garner respect for standing up for themselves — a far cry from the humiliating treatment I got when I showed people that there was no amount of backward that was too far for me to bend over in order to accommodate them.

This — combined with the assholishness about physical risk common to people in their early 20s — made for a weird dichotomy in me. Though I lacked a backbone, I didn't let it stop me from roller-skating fifty blocks to work — in Manhattan traffic, the wrong way up Fifth Avenue. While challenging death like this was just my wacky alternative to the smelly old subway, the mere thought of my testing social boundaries practically turned me into a pillar of salt.

However, the potential reward from doing that — the prospect of yanking down the giant "kick me!" sign posted over my life — had become too tempting. So, little by little — typically when I was around people I perceived to be on the lower rungs of the social food chain — I started squeaking out words of protest: "I'd rather not," "Actually, I can't," "Not this time, thanks." And to my utter amazement, these people didn't tell me off or send me packing. They accepted it; they even tried to accommodate me.

The shift in how people treated me seemed like a fluke — every time. I still felt like the same old loser. I figured that people who didn't treat me accordingly were just a little slow on picking up the terrible stench. I'd eye them, wondering how long it would take before they started sniffing the air and realized that that smell was coming from me. Well, not so much coming from me as if I'd farted. I was the fart.

Eventually, I couldn't help but concede that people actually did treat me better when I stopped acting like a really big bootlicker. So, I started doing what, these days, I often tell people who write me for advice to do: acting like I had dignity, or rather, acting as a specific person with dignity would act.

When I did this, I'd mostly be Kathy, the TV commercial producer I worked for, telling a rock star's manager in her velvety but firm voice that no, he could not have a suitcase of $10,000 in cash. Occasionally, I'd play it as Ed, the big boss producer, sitting at his desk coolly telling some uppity account lady exactly how things were going to be: "Good, cheap, fast — pick any two."

The more I stood up for myself (even while doing it as somebody else) the more I saw it was the right thing to do. It was so beautifully absurd. I was actually impersonating my way to becoming the real me.


I won't bullshit you. The road to self-respect is paved with humiliation and setbacks. Most of mine involved my desperate attempts to be loved. We all want love, but I had ulterior motives. In fact, the last thing I cared about was all that lofty crap like shared goals, resonating values, and building a life with another person. I just wanted to be wanted. I saw love as my rescue, the last bus out of social quarantine.

Though, thanks to my "just say no!" experiments, I was beginning to understand the costs of my desperation to be liked, my desperation to be loved was just too deep to be breached by the insights I'd begun to apply at work and with friends. So, whenever I spotted a man I found attractive, I took the subtle approach — subtle in the manner of a starving hyena pouncing on a gazelle.

Eventually, however, I couldn't help but admit that this strategy wasn't working for me, either. This might sound like yet another impressive attainment of wisdom on my part — except that it came to me after I spent a year and a half with a guy in California who verbally abused me and lived off my credit cards (insisting he'd pay me back when the house sold). The house we shared eventually did sell, at which time I learned it actually belonged to his family, who felt zero obligation to make good on Junior's promises to pay my Visa bill.

I had many low points during my time with this guy, but one in particular stands out — the night he lit my copy of Honoring the Self on fire. If I'd been a fictional character, those flaming pages would've been just the thing I needed to "see the light" and get out of there, pronto. Unfortunately, this was reality, so I stuck around for months afterward.


Excerpted from "Unf*ckology"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Amy Alkon.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

PART ONE: You Have What It Takes — It’s Just In Hiding

Chapter 1: Loserhood Isn’t Destiny

Chapter 2: Hate Me, I Suck

A coming of rage story

PART TWO: The Building Blocks Of The New You

Chapter 3: The Mind Is Bigger Than The Brain

Meet your new BFF, “embodied cognition”

Chapter 4: Meet Your Emotions, The Little Shits

More useful than you’d think

Chapter 5: Your Mind Is Also In Your Elbow

Why metaphor matters

Chapter 6: Eat Shit And Die

The power of ritual

Chapter 7: Souplantation For The Soul

Make your own ritual!

Chapter 8: Self-Esteem Is Not What You Think It Is

The irrelevance of whether you like you

Chapter 9: Jeer Pressure

What shame actually is and how to beat it

Chapter 10: You Suck. Or…Do You?

Confidence, assertiveness, and the Self sisters

(self-compassion, self-acceptance, and self-respect)

Chapter 11: Feelings Are Not The Boss Of You

It’s not what you feel; it’s what you do.

Chapter 12: Be Inauthentic!

Screw the real you. Be the ideal you.

Chapter 13: They Should Call It Won’t-Power

The pathetic realities of willpower

Chapter 14: Where There’s A Will…There’s A Brain That’s Been Slipped A Cookie

How to get the most out of your willpower

PART THREE: Putting It All Together

Chapter 15: Rise And Spine

Grow a backbone and put the damn thing to work

Chapter 16: Rock ’n’ Role!

Time to slip into somebody more comfortable

Chapter 17: Saddle Up Your Fear And Ride It Like A Pony

Fear is not just the problem — it’s the answer

Chapter 18: Unfuckwithable


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