This post is a follow-up to my TestBash Manchester 2018 Open Space session on mental health and how people try to manage theirs.
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck
Like many others, I have ups and downs in my mental health. I had a particularly low “down” period a few months ago due to a work situation completely out of my hands. It was causing me a lot of stress. I struggled to sleep; I constantly felt anxious; I comfort ate like nobody’s business. It wasn’t nice.
I reached out to the lovely folks in the #mentalhealth channel of the testers.io slack, and someone reminded me of a book I had on my reading list: “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck”. I actually haven’t finished it yet, but it very quickly gave me some inspiration to take stock of the fucks I give and treat them with a bit more value.
Where are All the Fucks?
The aim of the book isn’t to encourage you to completely stop caring about everything. It’s more about looking at what you currently care about, understanding why, and re-evaluating whether those things are actually worthy of your care and attention.
To paraphrase the author, Mark Manson:
- We only have a limited amount of fucks (or care) to give
- We all have some set of values that we live by, and the things we care about should map to those values in some way
- We should focus on the “better problems” that map to our values, rather than the insignificant ones that aren’t related to our values
- By focussing on the “better problems”, we learn to let go of the shitty, un-fuck-worthy ones
(Maybe I should have mentioned that you shouldn’t read this if swearing offends you? Oh well, not fuck worthy => no fucks given.)
The idea of somehow tracking where my fucks are going, and how the things I care about map to my values really appealed to me. I started thinking of ways that I could make this more visible to myself.
Fucking Business Cards
The first idea I had was to use business cards and a jar. Bear with me.
I thought that I could buy a really nice, fancy set of business cards with the word “FUCKS” beautifully calligraphed across it. I imagined the typography being shiny and gold. Every time I give a fuck about something, I could take a card and write that thing on it, then pop it in a jar. After a while, I could look at all the cards in the jar and see where all my fucks went.
Making the cards super nice and shiny, physically finite in availability, and having to spend actual cash-money on them would hopefully act as a deterrent to me giving my fucks out to just anyone or anything.
But the problem was in the effort. I’m a serial procrastinator, and I already knew that I would not be designing or ordering those fucking business cards any time soon (but if you like the idea, feel free to do so yourself).
I don’t like Trello, but it has its uses. I decided to be pragmatic and use that as a quick way to visualise the things I have consciously decided to care about, and map them to my core values.
My “FUCKS” board has five columns:
- So the things I value are clear and visible to me
- “FUCK WORTHY”
- The things I’ve consciously decided are worth caring about (there are currently only three things in there, which is very interesting to me because I still care about much more than that, but I’m working on it)
- “Is It Really That Important?”
- Because I reserve the right to be unsure about some things
- “NO FUCKS GIVEN”
- My “fuck you, you don’t deserve any of my fucks” pile to remind me when I inevitably give a fuck about those things, that they’re not the right things for me (as determined by me) to care about
- “Things to Remember”
- Little nuggets of courage and motivation to help me on fuck-rationing journey
It’s still early days with my fucks board, but I think it’s helping. I like being able to refer to it when I’m feeling low or stressed out about something. Obviously, one does not simply stop giving a fuck, but I do think that treating my fucks more preciously is a good thing.
Other Coping Mechanisms
I’ve built up a collection of other coping mechanisms along the way, but there are two in particular that I’ve been trying lately.
Believe in Something Nice
There was one stand-out talk for me at TestBash Manchester this year: “Jedi Mind Tricks for Testers” by Alex Schladebeck and Huib Schoots (watch out for the recording on the Dojo). The talk was full of useful ideas, but there was one in particular that really got me.
Alex said: “If you’re going to believe in fiction, it might as well be something nice.”
I’ve been trying to keep that in mind ever since, and it’s already helped me a few times to stop the downward spiral of “what ifs” with something more positive, and equally plausible.
Outsource Decision Making
There is such a thing as decision fatigue, and being the kind of person who often agonises over the combinational consequences of almost every possibility where it actually doesn’t matter that much doesn’t help. So, I’ve decided to start outsourcing some small decision making to take off some of the cognitive load.
This is a more recent decision, so I haven’t settled on my favourite way to do this yet (coin flip, mobile app, third party, etc.), but I’m hoping that it will be a small thing that amounts to a big help.
Have you tried anything mentioned in this post? What works for you to help manage your manage your mental health? Feel free to share in the comments.