Ever Wondered 'Why Bother?' You May Have a Case of the F*-- ItsJan 16, 2023
Normally I don't have trouble coming up with topics for blog posts. I've either read or experienced something that sparks an idea, had a thought-provoking conversation, or seen a trend in my clinical practice (people seem to hit walls around the same time. It's kind of amazing, actually.). I have a couple ideas that I'm excited to write about, but they're going to have to wait. I just realized what today is. This week, I'm going topical and timely.
Today is a national holiday in the U. S. It's Martin Luther King, Jr Day, a day marked to honor the influence and inspiration that this man had on our nation. Famous for his "I Have a Dream" speech and his fearless advocacy for racial equality, I can't think of MLK without thinking of both the good and the bad. There is the dark side of our country's history (and the ongoing inequalities, inequities, and archaic attitudes that cause pain and stifle growth). In equal measure, Dr. King makes me think of courage, grit, and hope. He embodied these three strengths that represent the best of humanity, and I am in awe of how he continually acted upon the good. I also wonder, as I often do about people who are ground-breaking, earth-shaking, and circumstance-defying, what he thought and how he thought. What was his mindset? How was he so incredibly resilient?
Today is also known as Blue Monday, supposedly the most depressing day of the year. Whether it's the gloomy weather, the post-holiday slump, financial worries, or the inevitable waning in New Year's New You motivation, this day can be a hard one. Mental struggles, feeling blue, or full-on depression certainly aren't limited to one day with a catchy marketing name, but it can be a good reminder to pause and think about mental health, the impact that the passing blues or clinical depression can have, and what to do about it.
Somehow these two days coalesced in my mind in a way that made me think of the F*ck Its. I realize that this isn't language I typically use in my writing, especially not when I'm wearing the Dr. Ashley hat, but hang in there with me. I'm guessing you can relate.
What Are the F--- Its?
I love our minds. Those powerful yet not always sophisticated frenemies designed to keep us safe but not happy. If you've been with us for a while or if you've done a lot of self-reflection or just tuned in to what goes on inside your mind, then you know there are lots of voices inside, lots of habitual thinking patterns or styles of thought processes. At Peak Mind, we call it the Committee In Your Mind, the collection of voices who show up and make commentary on absolutely everything. The voices vie for attention and control over the one output channel available, your behavior. What that means is that there are lots of thought trains to go down at any given point in time, lots of voices to listen to, and that we can only act on one at time.
Enter the F--- Its. This is the line of thinking that sounds something like:
- "It's not going to work out anyways, so f--- it."
- "It doesn't matter, so f--- it."
- "It's too hard and I don't have the energy anyways. F--- it."
- "The problem is too big to make a dent. F--- it."
- I know I want to [insert big goal here], but [insert more immediate want that is going to sabotage your progress] sounds good right now. F--- it."
- "The world/my circumstance sucks. F--- it."
The formula is usually (something negative that might be absolutely true) + (a demand to give up, take the path of least resistance, do something self-sabotaging, or slip into despair) = you don't take effective action.
Where Do the F--- Its Come From?
The F--- Its can be appealing, sometimes logically sound. They are enticing to listen to, especially in the throws of depression when motivation is a rare commodity, the negative filter is on full blast, and hope is at a low. The depressed mind loves to fall into the F--- Its because the place it leads to is one that conserves energy. The F--- Its prevent us from exerting the effort, energy, time, and attention toward something that would be taxing, hard, or scary in some way.
Our minds are Master Excuse Makers, and the F--- Its is one of most insidious of the excuse paths.
The F--- Its show up outside of depression, too. When we're facing circumstances that seem hard in some way. Whether it's an overwhelming situation or something that seems unchangeable, so much bigger than we are that we doubt our ability to make an impact, the F--- Its show up, again, with the ultimate outcome of making us give up, conserving our mental energy and effort.
Sometimes the F--- It's arise from a place of anger and self-righteous justification. These circumstances are f---ed up, so f--- it! I'll do what I want! Again, there may be some truth to the matter (perhaps the circumstances really are bad, unjust, or objectively unfair), but the conclusion is faulty. Giving up or letting the F--- Its justify you doing something that is actually not in your best interest isn't effective.
What to Do with the F--- Its
As with everything mind related, it is up to us to develop the psychological strength to make our minds work for us, not against us. The F--- Its are no different.
1. Recognize the F--- Its and call them by name.
Unless we're being mindful or have developed a hefty dose of self-awareness, it's easy to get so wrapped up in what our minds are saying that we don't even realize that we're being pulled down a thought path. It's like we hopped on a train to a destination without even realizing that we're moving and certainly without considering that there were a ton of different trains we could've hopped on.
It's important to get meta here, as in metacognitive. What I mean by that is getting out of the content of thinking and looking at the process of thinking. The content of thinking refers to the actual words and images that go through our minds. In this case, it's the observation, the negative commentary, and the inevitable F--- It that follows. In other circumstances, the content may be something like "What if I publish this post, and it flops or offends people?" The actual concerns - flopping and offending - are the content of thinking. The process, however, is worry. That is a worry thought, an anticipation of a potential problem.
Here's another example. "This isn't my best writing." The statement about my writing, that's the content. The process (or type of thinking) is judgment.
"It's their fault the world is in this state" is content. Blaming is process.
"I'll never get this done" is content. Prediction is process.
Chocolate and vanilla are content. "Ice cream" or even "dessert" are process.
Does that make sense?
One of the most effective psych strength moves is simply get out of the content by labeling the type of thinking process that is happening. It gives you some mental distance from the thought, keeps you from getting tangled up in it, and helps you realize that you don't have to treat it as Capital T Truth because there's a good chance it isn't.
Take a minute a get clear on what the F--- Its sound like for you so that when they show up, you can play "I spy." I see what you're doing there, Mind. That's just the F--- Its!
2. Don't get bogged down in whether it's true or objective. Focus on whether it's helpful.
This is, perhaps, the most important realization we can have. Realizing that just because we are having a thought does not mean that it is true, important, meaningful, or worth listening to. Thinking is just what our minds do, and a lot of the thoughts they produce are just noise. Useless noise.
Learning to ask whether or not a thought is helpful to listen to is a critical skill. It's like learning which friends to listen to when you need advice. If you have a friend who always blows things out of proportion, expects the worse, or is overly indulgent, that's not the friend you go to for advice and encouragement when you're really wanting to make a good decision or move toward a goal. Same thing here. A lot of those voices in our head, those Committee Members, are not good friends. They are naysayers, path of least resistance, don't put yourself out there voices. From this point on, no matter how loud or real they feel, if they're not helpful, they get disregarded.
3. Only act on helpful thoughts.
Remember the game Simon Says from childhood? The premise of the game is that "Simon" gives directions and you must decide whether to follow them or not (in the game, you only follow the instructions that start with "Simon says..."). Simon is trying to trick you into following the commands that don't start with Simon Says, and then you lose!
Sometimes psychological strength is just a more grown up version of Simon Says. If your mind tells you something (like "F--- It, don't go to the gym." "F--- It, don't advocate for change." "F--- It. Sleep in." "F--- It. Keep your feelings to yourself." "F--- it, whatever") that isn't helpful, your job is to disregard it completely. Simon didn't say jump. Don't jump!
The bottom line is that just because we think something, even if it feels completely real, true, and meaningful, we absolutely do not have to act on it. This is the only way I know out of the F--- Its. It's do it anyways, even if it your mind is screaming that it's pointless, it won't make a difference, or you just can't. The reality is, you probably can, it might make a difference, especially if you do it over and over again, and there very well may be a point to it, if nothing else the point being that you're the kind of person who does XYZ.
When the F--- Its Are Helpful
In the interest of being thorough, I want to acknowledge that there are times when the F--- It mentality might actually be helpful, which is why the "Is this helpful or not?" evaluation is such a critical step.
If I want to, say, be a writer, then listening to the voice that says F--- It might be helpful if it leads me to override self-doubt or fear. For example, one Committee Member might say, "You can't come up with ideas as creative as Brandon Sanderson (the best fiction author out there, in my humble yet strong opinion). You'll never be able to write an epic fantasy novel." Sounds pretty true to me, but that's content. What's process? Comparisons and predictions.
Is it helpful? No. Not if I really want to write a fantasy novel.
If I can tap into the F--- Its in the sense of "What do I have to lose? F--- It!" I just might be willing to put in the time and effort to brainstorm and try my hand at creative writing.
If the F--- Its help you be brave and willing to take chances or do the work, then, by all means, listen to them!
If, however, they're taking you down the path of defeat, despair, self-sabotage, inertia, or stuckness, say f--- it to the F--- Its and defy them! Do the thing they're trying to prevent you from doing. You'll thank yourself later.
Practicing What I Preach
I have a goal this year of reaching more people with my writing. Depending on the day or the moment, my mind tells me that is a reasonable and exciting goal that I will absolutely achieve OR that it's a pipe dream. One Committee Member encourages me to be bold, to ask for what I want, and to keep trying. "F--- it. What have you got to lose?"
Others say, "F--- It. What's the point? It's not going to work out anyways. Nothing will come from your efforts. Why are you even spending your morning writing?"
When I take a step back and watch the processes that are unfolding, consider my values and goals and the kind of person I want to be, and which voice is helping me and which are hurting me, I can wield the F--- It mentality to my advantage.
In the interest of doing that, I have an ask. I really do want to reach more people this year and grow our Peak Mind community. So if you enjoy our content, would you be willing to tell someone about us? Could you share this link (www.peakmindpsychology.
"F--- it can help you or harm you."
- Ice T
Written by Dr. Ashley Smith
Peak Mind Co-founder
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