A few weeks ago, I dug in my heels and decided to wage a personal war against negativity. I gave up complaining for Lent. I’m now a little over two weeks into my social experiment and boy, do I have some interesting observations to share!
- My awareness of other people’s negativity has skyrocketed. I’m assuming this is the same kind of thing that happens when you give up any kind of vice, like drugs or alcohol—you become hyperaware and it feels like the very thing you are giving up is being used by everyone in every situation. Every conversation at work is negative. Every sentence on the news. Every thing I wanted to tell my husband. Conversations I eavesdrop on at a restaurant. Facebook posts. All negative. After a while, it becomes overwhelming. A few times, I’ve been overcome with the urge to scream, “DON’T YOU EVER TALK ABOUT SOMETHING POSITIVE?!” but I hold myself back because (a) I’m a wimp and (b) that in-and-of-itself is complain-y.
- We use complaining to bond. More than once, I’ve found myself about to commiserate with someone by complaining only to put on the brakes. We bond with and comfort others when they are frustrated by saying things like, “Ugh, I hate that, too.” or “Yeah, he totally sucks.” And with that crutch gone, it can be a little alienating to both parties. The complainer feels unsupported and the non-complainer feels unsupportive. Learning to say, “I understand” without being negative is a really hard line to walk.
- Behavior change is hard. Even after two steady weeks of working on this, I find myself easily slipping back into the old habit of complaining without a second thought. I’m not sure if this is because it’s our nature to complain or if because it is so engrained into my everyday behavior that it’s my default. Either way, it’s causing a lot of quarters to drop into my charity jar. A few times, I’ve even stopped myself, realized I was getting ready to complain and decided I “needed” it and dropped a handful of quarters in the jar so I could continue. In hindsight, I definitely didn’t “need” it, but it certainly felt like I did at the time.
- Work is the biggest challenge. Deadlines, tight budgets, short timelines, needy clients, spending 40+ hours a week with competing personalities—work can really be a bummer sometimes. And it has been really difficult to not voice it, or at the very least, voice it in a way that condones positivity instead of just festering negativity. It has been kind of liberating to be able to say, “This is what I need” instead of “OMG I can’t believe this happened and I didn’t get what I needed and the client is now pissed and blah-te-blah” Which leads me to…
- I’m getting more accomplished. No question, without complaining I am now doing. I can’t complain about my long to-do list, so instead, I challenge myself to cross a few items off. Instead of whining and moaning about problems or issues, I just fix them or figure out who can. After two weeks, I am 100% positive that my bandaid theory is correct. I use complaining as a bandage. It relieves just enough of the annoyance to make me not want to change anything but not enough to really make the situation improve. With that bandage gone, I’m forced to sew up the wounds and get to healing.
- I am way more road rage-y than I previously thought. I had no idea how many times I complain while driving (to myself, in a car alone, nonetheless) on a daily basis. It’s obnoxious! And it’s not accomplishing anything. I’m just complaining for the sake of complaining. Of course, there is the rare occasion when it’s totally warranted and the pilot of another car does something truly stupid, but the majority of the time, it’s just little stuff. Stuff that I should let go, or ideally, not even notice.
- Most interestingly, I don’t think my overall outlook has changed. For some reason, I expected to “go positive” and my whole world suddenly be turned into a field of daisies with puppies running around and a double rainbow in the background. It hasn’t. Things still suck and I still get down, the only difference is now, they don’t fester. I have two choices: (1) accept it and move on or (2) change it. The former is really, incredibly difficult. Action I can do, accepting things that are unjust or frustrating is taking an incredible amount of resolve. And even after I do accept it, it doesn’t mean I’m happy about it.