Nowadays it often feels like the world is on fire. Sometimes quite literally. In those moments, my phone turns into an instrument of endless doom scrolling. So when Apple tweaked its Focus modes in iOS 16 beta earlier this summer, I knew what to do. I had to create a “This is Fine” mode.
The grounding principle behind a This is Fine mode is the fact that sometimes you not fine. Yet life doesn’t just stop because terrible things keep happening. Deadlines have to be met, bills have to be paid, dogs have to be walked, children have to be picked up from school and you still have to eat. But even as I understand that sometimes it’s best to ignore my Twitter feed, mustering the willpower to do so leaves my brain with a lot of mush. I know doom scrolling is bad for my mental and physical health, and yet it’s so easy to do when the latest tragedy is all anyone can think about or talk about. Low in personal calamities or, I don’t know, the whole pandemic, and sooner or later you’ll end up curled up in a ball on the couch. My goal was to create a technological patch that would allow me to focus on the tasks at hand so that I could decompress freely later.
Focus modes are not new. Apple introduced them in iOS 15, but as I dug the concept they were awkward computer programming. Technically, they’re still tedious to make in iOS 16, but there are also more opportunities to have fun. For example, you can associate Focus modes with a specific lock screen and create custom homepages. watchOS 9 even lets you sync a particular Focus mode with your Apple Watch. The news cycle may be bleak, but l doesn’t have to be.
Hence, I set my lock screen for this mode as the This is Fine dog sitting on top of a cute dumpster fire. You can add widgets to iOS 16’s new lock screens, but given the purpose of this particular mode, I chose not to include any. The idea is to limit the information to just the essentials.
In the Focus Mode menu, you can also specify which people and apps can warn you. In my This is Fine mode, I only let four people text me: my two besties, my therapist, and my husband. These are the people with whom I have an explicit, mutual understanding about emotional baggage during work hours. Everyone can wait until I’m ready. (But if it helps to think about who you prefer) Silence notifications from, iOS 16 also lets you configure it that way.) As for what apps are allowed, I’ve narrowed it down to the Mindfulness app.
iOS 16 also lets you choose from a range of home pages. Some are already created, and others are automatically generated suggestions. For this particular mode, I selected a single screen with a Health app widget showing my sleep (a subtle reminder to maybe get more), some photos from happier times, the Weather app, the Calm app, the Notes app and KakaoTalk – the messaging app I use with my family.
As for my paired watch face, I’ve chosen a no-nonsense Gradient face. It has complications for the Mindfulness app, the date and sleep schedules. Soothing things! It’s also a watch face that’s low-key and doesn’t bombard you with information. When I look at my wrist, I’m much more likely to remember, “Oh, you’re trying to be zen now.”
You can also add Focus filters, which allow you to customize how your apps and devices behave when a particular mode is enabled. For this mode, I’ve kept it simple and filtered out all messages from people who aren’t my besties, husband, or therapist. There are also options to automate when a mode is enabled, but I chose to skip that for this mode. This is a mode I want to be intentional in, so it’s something I manually enable if it gets too much.
In all seriousness, it’s quite blowing that I felt the need to set this up in the first place. That said, it’s been incredibly good for my brain when life decides to throw curveballs my way. When Uvalde happened, I could pause the chaos unfolding on the internet and write my crazy blogs. When the news about Roe v. Wade exploded, I was at my mother’s funeral. Turning this mode on allowed me to stay in the moment, while the This is Fine dog photo had a bit of comforting dark humor. The day after my dog died unexpectedly, I was less tempted to spiral into a spiral. I was able to decompress in peace while staying connected to the people I love most.
It doesn’t have to be that serious, of course. I’m making fun of myself with my Fitness focus mode, and it honestly keeps me from quitting strength training sessions early. When Kirby stares at the ceiling as she tries to sleep, I have to chuckle as my sleep mode kicks in. My work mode is turned on automatically every time I arrive at the roadside office, just like my reading mode when I open the Kindle or Manta app. These are all more functional, lighthearted ways to use Focus modes, but the idea remains the same. Make it easy to turn off the sound, give yourself the grace to log out and have fun while you’re at it.
Photography by Victoria Song / The Verge