No one wants to feel sad, angry, lonely, or anxious, but by avoiding those feelings, we may only make things worse. In You Are Not A Rock: A Step-By-Step Guide to Better Mental Health (For Humans), Mark Freeman encourages readers to feel feelings because we are not rocks. We do feel things and he provides steps to do this without becoming overwhelmed by our emotions. Freeman shares his personal experiences with compulsion and how he engaged in OCD behaviors to avoid unpleasant emotions. And he admits that his attempts at dealing with his feelings were a problem.
Feelings can help us practice emotional fitness, which may include seeing a therapist, getting social support, eating the right food, taking time to exercise, sleeping well, and focusing on our breathing. Only by experiencing things are we able to build up our mental fitness, just as with physical fitness. We exercise to lose weight, stay healthy, and have energy. We do not avoid exercise to be in better physical shape.
He divides You Are Not A Rock into two sections: The Basics and The Transformation. Like many recent guides to mental health, it does include a section on mindfulness — paying attention to our experiences and being aware of how we feel. He emphasizes that mindfulness does not require more work on our part. It can be about what is happening right now, being aware of what we hear, what we see, or what we experience. Freeman makes it very doable for people who may see mindfulness as a complicated process.
Just as rocks do not have feelings, rocks also do not have values. People have values. These values represent why we want the things we want and do the things we do. Only by understanding what our values are can we live out behaviors that are in line with them. Freeman helps readers walk through a process to identify values. We are going to feel certain ways and we are going to have thoughts come into our minds but it does not mean we have to act on them. We can determine if our thoughts and feelings line up with our values, and therefore whether we should act on them.
Freeman’s takeaways are that we try to accept what is going on in our minds, become aware of the present, make choices that align with our values, and take action. It’s easy enough to summarize but not easy to do, so Freeman includes exercises throughout the book to help readers put these steps into practice and make it doable. This is an important step because values are what ground us.
Freeman also takes the reader beyond what people traditionally think of as “mental health,” meaning our minds. He explains his holistic view as also including our work-life balance (or lack thereof), use of social media, ways we present ourselves, and how we function in our relationships, highlighting better ways to approach these areas of our lives.
Based on Freeman’s background, I expected to see more concepts from design thinking, although he does talk about the five whys, where you look at a compulsion, ask why it would be bad to stop doing it, then ask why that would be bad and so on until you have asked yourself five whys. This exercise helps you understand why you do the things you do and be better able to see when actions are not logical. But the lack of design thinking concepts is more of an observation about the book rather than a criticism, because overall, the book was excellent.
Freeman’s writing style is practical and practitioners of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) will appreciate his approach. Freeman communicates clearly to the lay reader without dumbing things down. Liberal use of headings, short paragraphs, and bullet points make it easy to quickly grasp his main points. The exercises throughout help people put principles into practice so readers reinforce what they learn. Freely sharing things from his background makes him credible and relatable, and readers will appreciate his sense of humor. Overall, You Are Not A Rock: A Step-By-Step Guide to Better Mental Health (For Humans) is a great resource for people who are focused on living well more than “fixing” a specific mental health diagnosis.
You Are Not A Rock: A Step-By-Step Guide to Better Mental Health (For Humans)
Penguin Books, September 2018
Paperback, 253 pages