How do I stop swearing at my computer at work?
March 21, 2014 12:24 PM   Subscribe

I recently began working in an office after many years working from home. I'm programming at a computer and I've become aware that I tend to swear quietly at the PC when things frustrate me. It is particularly evident when stressed or under a deadline. I'd like to stop doing this.

No one has complained, and some others do occasionally say something in frustration, but I am feeling self conscious about it and would like to stop, or at least cut down. I have no idea how to begin tackling this though.
posted by zingzangzung to Grab Bag (17 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Hmm. what is it about swearing at it is making you uncomfortable? Is it the fact that you're swearing specifically, or is it the fact that you're showing a reaction of any kind?

If it's the swearing in particular, there are a few older Askmes, like this one, with great advice for cleaning up the vocabulary. If you get really creative with it, you could end up adding to the general good mood around the office:

YOU: Agggh! Computer, may the fleas of a thousand camels infest your motherboard!
YOUR CO-WORKERS: ....omigod, that's hilarious!
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:31 PM on March 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: The swearing is part of it, but to be honest I'd rather just be quiet. I wouldn't be any happier with it if it was cutesy stuff. It's a fairly small office with about 10 of us, and it can be quite quiet when people are concentrating. I think if someone else was doing it, whether swearing or not, it would annoy me.

I'm looking at it as a bad habit which I'd like to break, but I don't have any ideas on techniques that may help. It tends to happen when I am busy and a bit 'in the zone' so I am busy concentrating on something and only later realise that I have been cursing quietly for a long time.
posted by zingzangzung at 12:39 PM on March 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Rather than swear, I took to flipping my code the bird when I get an error. It was easier to remember I shouldn't do that publicly. Occasionally I still do both, but that's only when my code is really being pedantic.
posted by Nanukthedog at 12:47 PM on March 21, 2014 [5 favorites]

Bear with me for a Higgy-baby moment:

A long time ago I was learning the farrier's trade at a county-sponsored school in the San Joaquin Valley. About 25 students were there at any given day. We were in various stages of our learning arc. Horse and mule owners from about 50 miles around would bring their stock to our school for basically two reasons. First of all, in was cheap...trimmings and shoeings cost about 1/4 of what the going rate was. The second reason was because more than a few folks had rough stock, and other shoers had given up on them.

Our instructor was a master in all phases of the trade, but he was a magician when it came to handle fractious animals. It was a good educational experience, and we learned more from handling rough stock than we would have if they'd all been push-buttons types.

I clawed my way up the learning curve one bruise at a time. I soon discovered that the mule brain was a conduit from Hell, through which the Devil was able to punish us before we cross over to the other side. One afternoon I was bent over in my farrier's crouch, with a mule's front foot in my lap, trying for the tenth time to get a shoe seated, when the little darling jerked his foot away in such a manner as to slice the palm of my hand with a nail that I'd driven into his hoof, which I had been just about to clip. My next few dozen seconds were spent staunching the blood with a dirty bandana, and discussing with the mule his ancestral short-comings.

Ruell, the instructor, happened to be observing, and he sidled up to me with some gauze and disinfectant. Here's what his advice was: Try to not call the mules and horses by that name, he said. He said I should call them Sweetie instead. Mules will know what you mean, and owners won't become alarmed.

Give your computer a name, and use syrup-sweet words when you address it. You may be surprised at how much satisfaction this grossly expressed irony can bring you, without alarming your co-workers. The trick is to control your invective so that you don't set a landslide of ill will in motion--be clever with your veiled insults, and try to enjoy it. Also, being sweet to your computer will give you the moral high-ground.
posted by mule98J at 1:01 PM on March 21, 2014 [29 favorites]

Well, if you're able to customize your development environment, you can probably get it to print a reminder to not swear at you every time your code compiles, runs, or enters the debugger. You might want to change it up every few weeks or make it blink or something so that you don't get so used to it you stop noticing it.

The easy version of this is a sticky note on the side of your monitor--I've actually used this to surprisingly good effect. It keeps me mindful of what I'm doing.
posted by rhythm and booze at 1:18 PM on March 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

I got some thoughtful answers when I asked a similar question last year.
posted by travertina at 1:33 PM on March 21, 2014

I think that this kind of swearing serves a purpose. It's an outlet and helps people focus. I suspect that just suppressing it will make you more stressed out. I guess you could try squeezing a stress toy or poking some silly putty or murdering a paperclip...
posted by wintersweet at 2:00 PM on March 21, 2014

Bring your dog to work. My dog's head lands in my lap the moment I start swearing at the computer, because she thinks I'm mad at her. I work at home, so I can just put her outside and go back to my swearing, but if I were in an office, I'd learn pretty quickly to bottle it up.
posted by bricoleur at 2:15 PM on March 21, 2014

I've worked with people who talk to their computer, from swearing to jokes to a running commentary on everything they are doing. It is indeed disruptive (I am a super social person who is nonetheless a software developer, for what it's worth) so I am grateful on your coworkers' behalf that you asked this question.

One possible technique is to enlist your office mates in a game of sorts. Tell them you are trying to break the habit and need help... if you swear and they hear it, you have to put a coin in their dish.

I bet by the time you have enough money to take them out to lunch, your bad habit will be no more!
posted by rada at 2:29 PM on March 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

Mod note: One comment deleted; as always, please don't argue with other commenters. Thanks.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 4:13 PM on March 21, 2014

Since this often happens with stress or frustration, this isn't just a habit; this is related to how you process anxiety and about being more present in the moment. So the goal is to stop your habitual reaction to stress and anxiety and instead train your brain to go down a calmer path -- or at least not engage your mouth.

Have you tried mindfulness meditation? Cognitive behavioral therapy? Neuro linguistic programming? Google some resources and see what resonates for you about processing your stress in a different way and being more conscious of what you are saying.

For instance, you could visualize yourself as super-cool under pressure as you calmly debug the computer. Imagine if you were a MacGyver or James Bond type and how your body would feel as you defused a bomb with seconds to spare. They would never mutter curses under their breath! Sometimes this stuff feels cheesy, but if you can imagine yourself doing it differently, and how that would feel, it can really help.

In the moment, even something mechanical like popping a mint could help you be more aware of your mouth. Or taking a deep breath. Or substitute by squeezing a stress ball. Or snapping a rubber band like rhythm_queen suggests.

Or you could always pop a Xanax. :-)
posted by troyer at 4:37 PM on March 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Stress ball and meditation.

At least you swear quietly...
posted by heyjude at 5:14 PM on March 21, 2014

Can you try training yourself to mouth swearwords silently? If you try to make that a habit outside of work too, whenever you would normally swear, you might be able to automatically carry it over into the office.
posted by lollusc at 5:31 PM on March 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

If the very public nature of your frustration is what's getting to you, perhaps just type your frustration, and delete it later. That way, you have an outlet, but it's not immediately apparent to those around you; it just appears as if you're typing code or something.

You can practice different expressions of frustration as well, if you don't want to use swear words. Like "stupid computer" or something more creative. Have some fun venting.

Also, perhaps some angry music can help. It puts words to what you are feeling while working on particularly demanding work, and headphones keeps the noise to just you.
posted by tenlives at 6:38 PM on March 21, 2014

A simple behavioral treatment works for me.

I chew on my tongue when I'm not paying attention. I can stop it with a thin (non-latex) rubber band around my wrist. Each time I notice I'm chewing, I give the band a snap -- not hard -- just enough to let my body know it's there. I associated the chewing with the discomfort and quickly trained my unconscious not to chew.

When you get frustrated and feel the urge coming on, give the band a flick.
posted by KRS at 12:15 PM on March 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Maybe instead of vocalizing your frustration, you could write down what did or did not work for a given approach on a notepad, and use that to document your workflow as well.
posted by oceanjesse at 5:43 PM on March 22, 2014

if you swear and they hear it, you have to put a coin in their dish.

Our dev team used this technique with excellent results. We cleaned up the language of three potty-mouths on the team (me among them), and took everyone out to a nice meal once the cuss jar was full. (Quarter per cuss.)

It also builds camaraderie and prevents resentment among the non-cussers -- they get into the game of it, and get a kick out of catching you. Ka-ching.
posted by nacho fries at 9:05 PM on March 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

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