On January 1st, 2016, I embarked on a ‘31 Day Stop Complaining Challenge’ in an effort to better understand why I feel the need to complain (read my original blog post here). The goal was to be more mindful of my words thereby reducing my contribution to the negative cycle of energy that complaining puts into the world. It was an eye-opening and not-so-easy challenge and I’m glad that I did it, even though I still found myself complaining from time to time. Here is what I learned:
1. There is always a more positive way to say something
The key to reducing voiced complaints is to think before you speak. As you know, this is incredibly difficult to do, especially when you’re angry and getting ready to rant about whoever just did you wrong. I found that if I gave myself even a split second to say “Is this going to be a complaint? Yes? Ok, say it differently,” I was able to change my words to ones more positive.
Examples of this are…
- That was such a stupid thing to do — That was an interesting choice. (Tone matters, of course)
- I hate this freezing cold weather — I’m looking forward to warmer weather.
- He drives me absolutely crazy — I don’t always understand where he’s coming from; his communication style is hard to follow.
Turning negative grumbles into more positive statements helped me see how ridiculous some of the things I complain about are. Doing this also improved my mood drastically; I found it quite amazing that by saying “I’m looking forward to warmer weather” even when I was miserably cold made me feel better. It gave me hope and empowered me to get over my grievance.
2. It’s easy to jump on the “Let’s Complain About This” bandwagon
I found that most of the time I complained, I was commiserating with someone. It’s human nature to want to connect with others and one way to do this is to console and sympathize. When someone is complaining, it’s easy to add fuel to the fire in an effort to show that person that you care and support him or her. This went both ways for me…I sucked people into my own complaining and I allowed myself to be sucked into theirs. And 99% of these complaints were about other people, which is embarrassing and small-minded, to be frank. When I found myself complaining about others, I tried to stop myself in the moment. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t as venting can be a powerful force to overcome when stress is high and you are on a roll. When I was commiserating with someone else who was complaining, I tried to gracefully redirect the conversation to something more positive. Due to this challenge, I am much more aware of how easy it is to jump on the bandwagon which allows me to stop it before it starts. That being said…
3. Sometimes it’s ok to complain; just come up with a solution
As much as I would love to live a Zen-d out life, always going with the flow and letting things slide off my back, it’s not realistic. There are things that happen that upset me and rightfully so. Bottling these emotions inside won’t solve the problem nor is it healthy. But complaining just to complain doesn’t fix anything either. When I found myself complaining about something that was important and within my control, I challenged myself to come up with a solution and then act upon it. Solving problems are what humans are designed to do and it’s empowering to say, “I am not happy with this situation and I am going to change it.” Assess your complaint, come up with a way to solve the problem, take action and you won’t have to complain about it anymore!
4. I am teaching my son to complain
Listening to my three-year-old son, Jack, complaining was probably the most eye-opening aspect of this experiment. Early in the challenge, Jack and I were waiting to make a left turn on a green arrow when a large tour bus blocked the intersection. Five words into my grumbling, I stopped myself, remembering my commitment to complain less. Soon after the bus cleared the intersection, Jack proclaimed, “That stupid bus. That bus did that on purpose. I am so frustrated.” The most important job I have is raising my son to be a happy, resilient, positive person whose heart is full of love. Complaining about things, especially things that don’t matter, doesn’t model any of these traits. I am much more cognizant of everything that comes out of my mouth when I’m with Jack.
5. I can turn my complaints into statements of gratitude
It’s very simple to turn a gripe into something you’re grateful for if you’re paying attention. When a complaint escaped my lips, I quickly added a ‘but’ to the sentence.
- I am so over her crappy attitude…but I am glad that she brought this to my attention so that I can fix the problem.
- Ugh, it snowed again? I’m so tired of shoveling…but at least I’ll get some good exercise first thing this morning!
- Flying on this airline is so frustrating. There is ALWAYS an issue delaying my flight…but I am lucky I get to travel the world so really, it doesn’t matter in the scheme of things…I’ll get there soon enough.
Let’s be honest, even when you add a ‘but’ to your complaint, it’s still a complaint, but it does help you shift to a more positive mindset and look at your situation from a more optimistic aspect.
This challenge was difficult and quite revealing. I’m almost too embarrassed to admit it but I found that I kind of like to complain about certain things…things that either make me take action or that make me laugh. That’s not to say that I think that it’s ok to complain about these subjects…this is just an interesting (and honest) self-observation. I also experienced a sense of satisfaction when I stopped myself from uttering complaints poised to leave my lips, choosing more positive ways to state my thoughts. It felt good to have the self-awareness and self-control to recognize it and stop before the damage was done. Lastly, I learned that not all complaining is bad. Some of my complaints led me to take positive action that changed my life for the better. Could I have handled each of those situations more positively? Yes. Do I regret expressing my thoughts and feelings? No way.
All in all, though, I learned I like being around myself a lot more when I’m not complaining and I am sure others feel the same way!
Like this? Check out my blog on why having a positive attitude is so important.
Thanks for reading and as always please comment and share!