*Busting out this old one ’cause hey, clarity ebs and flows. (Meaning I needed a reminder.)
If we are honest, we all have subjects, people and/or circumstances in our lives that crawl under our skin, irritating us from the inside out. Left unchecked, these same variables infect our thoughts and nervous systems like toxic drugs, rendering us vulnerable to one of the most addictive behaviors of all: complaining.
I’m guilty as the next gal, particularly when I’m tired, allergic or overwhelmed after long stretches of kid chaos, but every time I ignore my intuition and succumb to the urgings of my weaker self, I feel the toxicity seeping through my veins and experience an almost immediate drain to my energy reserves. Why then, do I repeat the behavior that so clearly pollutes my experience?
Here’s my theory…
- Humans desire — above most other things — to be understood. We long for others to empathize with our pain and our struggles. We seek validation of our perspectives and our ideals.
- Complaining is a strategy (though fairly ineffective) by which we attempt to gain the understanding of others. It is a default method that requires very little thought, energy or creativity to implement. It is so easy, in fact, that it has great appeal to even the youngest of children.
- We learn from the time we are very young that complaining results in attention, whether positive or negative. We form lifelong habits without realizing we are doing so in primal attempts to be understood.
In actuality, complaining encourages the opposite of what we are looking to achieve. It either serves to push others away from us with its inherent negativity or it encourages the recipient to draw from their own well of discontentment, perpetuating more of the same. In addition to toxifying our experiences, complaining exacerbates problems by encouraging the growth of thoughts we’ve not yet evaluated for truth. It masks the adequacy of the present moment by emphasizing past experiences we have no way of changing or future situations we have no way to predict.
So, how do we reverse lifelong habits? More importantly, how can we meet our needs for understanding in ways that rejuvenate and inspire us and those around us? Here’s what I think…
- First, start noticing your own behaviors and their impact on your emotional and physical state. What circumstances or people trigger you to complain? How do you feel while doing so?
- Next, start noticing the people around you, the way you feel and the way they seem to feel while complaining.
- Welcome silence. We often complain to keep a conversation flowing in order to avoid “awkward silence.” When did silence become awkward? Learn to embrace quiet.
- Once you’ve committed to change, let the people you generally commiserate with know your intentions. Be prepared to back off a bit from those who tempt you to complain while you gain strength and develop new habits.
- Learn to be an effective communicator. The simplest of changes can make a real difference. Instead of “It’s so freaking cold in here,” why not “Do you mind if I close the door?”
- Drop the needless “filler” complaints all-together. “The food here is terrible, I’m never coming back.” Instead, just don’t return. Or “I hate Austin traffic.” Do you hate it enough to move or change your commute? If so, make a change. If not, why say anything?
- Learn to meet your own needs instead of expecting others to meet them for you. Who wants to be subjected to complaints about life circumstances you have control over? Personal responsibility gives you the power to change your circumstances.
- Be understanding. Slow down, listen to people with sincerity and repeat what you think they said back to them to make sure you got it right. True listeners are few and far between but often remembered forever. It’ll come back around.
- Break the cycle by truly listening and trying to understand your children. Get down on their level when you suspect the complaining is coming on and give them your full attention. If they know you understand, you may curb the complaining before it begins.
- Learn to listen to yourself. Be attentive to your emotions and honor them. Give to yourself and create a healthy balance. Create a life for yourself with nothing to complain about.