If you want to be happy, then learning to distinguish between the ‘big’ stuff, and the trivial, ‘genuinely not a major deal’ stuff is a skill you have to master.
We’ve all only got so much mental capacity to spare — you can’t waste your finite emotional resources brooding over things or people or incidents that you either have no control over or that — in reality — don’t impact on you to any noticeable degree.
You’ve got to let the small s**t go. It’s taking up room in your mind that could be better be employed on a million other things. Things that you DO have control over, or that DO impact on your life.
However, this is not as easy as it first appears; even when we know something is a minor irrelevance, it doesn’t stop us from stewing over it, and giving it an importance it doesn’t deserve. We still ruminate over it, replaying events (even hypothetical ones) endlessly.
I was formerly an arch, Olympic-standard ruminator. I was the Usain Bolt of dwelling over inconsequential nonsense. And one area, above any other, offered fertile breeding ground for my rumination: Social media.
However, knowing how easily social media has triggered me in the past, it’s also given me the chance to put into practice some coping strategies. Namely, the ‘5-By-5’ rule: ‘If it’s not going to matter in 5 years, don’t spend more than 5 minutes thinking about now.’
And I had the opportunity to test this just a short time ago.
As part of the process of building my blog, I also created a new Facebook page for the site. Once I’d toiled away getting everything in place, I then went through my ‘Friends’ list on Facebook, deciding who I’d invite to ‘like’ and ‘follow’ the page. I write primarily about happiness, but that stemmed from my own battles with my mental health — to fight my depression, I had to create a happier life.
In theory, I hope that anyone might get something from dipping into my work, but I do like to think it might of special interest to anyone who — like me — has felt the wrath of mental illness. As a result, in my first batch of invitations on Facebook, I targeted people who I knew had suffered from similar conditions as mine. And there was one person in particular who I wanted to be part of this. Like me, they’d fought depression for the majority of their life — if anyone was going to be up for this, they would.
Except they no longer appeared in my ‘Friends’ list.
I’d been unfriended.
The hurt it caused me was out of all proportion to the action itself.
My first thoughts were about the experiences we’d shared, the years we’d spent in each other’s lives. We weren’t the closest of friends, but neither we were unimportant. Although we didn’t see each other on a regular basis, we’d shared some huge life events. But I’d just been dismissed with one touch of a button.
However, as part of my recovery, I’ve begun to ask myself a very important question. Namely;
‘Does this really matter? I mean, REALLY matter? Am I still going to thinking about this in 5 years?’
And the truth was that none of this did really matter. It distinctly did not qualify as ‘big stuff.’ And, if I am still brooding about this in 5 years’ time, then something is seriously wrong.
For a start, there’s no established, legally binding etiquette regarding social media; if someone wants to unfriend, unfollow, or even block you, they can. It’s entirely up to them. No explanation is required. You also have that same right, so it’s hypocritical to be upset if someone else employs theirs.
Next, although we had exchanged messages, we hadn’t seen each other in a few years. Could we still call ourselves ‘friends’? I know that social media warps the whole concept of ‘friendship’ but I do like to keep things old-school; for me, ‘friends’ are exactly that, ‘friends.’ And this person and I no longer were. Not really. If they judged our friendship, in the same way, I did then being purged was completely fair.
But, and here’s the biggie, it was nothing to do with me.
Their decision to unfriend me was beyond my sphere of responsibility. I was fairly certain that I hadn’t done anything wrong — as I said, we hadn’t seen each other for a long time, so I’m not sure I even had the chance to do something wrong. They’d simply made a choice, for reasons I had no right to be privy to, and that was it.
Was it worth contacting them asking them why they’d done this? No. Of course it wasn’t. To be perfectly honest, that would’ve just been embarrassing for the pair of us.
It became clear quite quickly that, although not wholly irrelevant, none of this was worthy of too serious consideration. I hadn’t seen them in over 5 years; even if we’d remained linked on social media, I’m not sure we would have seen each other in the next 5 years. It was worth taking 300 seconds to mull over the whole situation, but that was all it deserved.
It wouldn’t matter in 5 years’ time, and I’d given it it’s 5 minutes. Next!
Of course, that last statement is a touch facetious and disingenuous. Firstly, we’re human; even things as trivial as being unfriended hurt a bit: We’re not robots, and we don’t just move on from anything painful, even on a minor level, without feeling a little aggrieved.
And, secondly, because, in many respects, the ‘5-By-5’ rule is nonsense. For, how can any of us accurately predict the future? In a few year’s time, a situation that you thought had been laid to rest might, like a zombie, rise from the dead, and wreak fresh havoc. So, I can have no idea just what I’ll be thinking about in 5 years’ time: I don’t posses the gift of prophecy.
However, the ‘5-By-5’ rule helps me as a ‘grounding’ device. I could easily choose another pithy slogan or mantra, but this one works for me. It allows me to take a step back, and gain an ounce of perspective, instead of instantly falling into a maelstrom of rumination. In terms of being hurt, the rule didn’t make me immune; it just told me that it wasn’t worth being too hurt by it all.
As it happens, I do believe there’s a small element of truth in the ‘5-By-5’ reasoning, but — for me — its power lies in its ability to stop me dead in my tracks for the briefest of moments, and consider where I’m going to place some of my valuable, finite, emotional energy.
And, in this instance, I honesty had far bigger things to deal with than someone who didn’t feel the need to be connected to me on social media. So that’s where I employed my energies. I mentally wished them well, and got on with my life.
Like anything, this process requires a huge amount of practice, especially given that rumination has so often been my default setting when it comes to encountering difficulties. But, I’m testing it out whenever I can. And I’m, slowly, getting better.
I’m not fully there — the whole ‘if it’s not gonna matter in 5 years, don’t spend more than 5 minutes being upset about it’ hasn’t become second nature. Not yet.
But, I am now spending more time ‘doing’ than ‘dwelling’, and wasting less time on ‘ruminating’ and more on ‘living.’ And, for that fact alone, I’ll keep on repeating the ‘5-By-5’ rule. It’s allowing me to differentiate between the ‘trivial’ and the ‘big’ stuff. On what I need to focus on, and allow myself to be upset over, and what is undeserving of that effort.
And, already, that has made me immeasurably happier.
This post was previously published on Change Becomes You.
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