As mindful as I often strive to be, I am shocked to hear the complaints that come out of my mouth sometimes. Even before the words have been fully uttered I am already wishing I could snatch them back and swallow them whole.
I seem to complain most often when I am nervous, especially when I am talking to someone I don't know very well. How did I ever conclude that engaging in a joint complaint about something (the traffic, the weather, high prices) is a good way to bond?
It really never feels good to complain, let alone hear complaints for that matter, so why do I continue to do it? I think that, just like many things, complaining is a habit. And habits can be broken — with willpower and practice.
So I've decided to challenge myself to stop complaining for one week and see what happens. I welcome you to join me! Here is what I will do, starting today:
1. Think before you speak.
Sometimes I justify sharing my complaints with others, especially those I am close with, by telling myself that it is good to be honest with them. But is there a line between being truthful and being destructive with my honesty?
Checking in about what I am experiencing in this moment is one thing — but dwelling in negativity with no attempt to find a solution only results in two people feeling bad, instead of one. And that negativity can spread like a virus, as I pass it on to someone and he passes it on to the next person he speaks with, and so on.
So this week, in moments when I feel frustrated, overwhelmed, or stressed about something, I will either keep it to myself or just briefly mention what I am feeling, and then go tend to my well-being. Maybe I'll take a bath, listen to a great song, take a quick walk or do some mindful breathing, etc., until I start to feel better.
2. Change your perspective.
By complaining, I am saying that I don't like something the way it is and that thing is usually something that I am unable to control. But what I can control is my perspective. I can generate acceptance, appreciation, humor — there are many ways to look at every scenario — and I can always choose a different point of view.
This week, every time I have the urge to complain, I will remind myself that a complaint is just one viewpoint, and I will take responsibility for the things I can change: my attitude and my perspective.
3. Find the silver lining.
As I become mired in focusing on problems through the act of complaining, I am actually blocking the potential solutions. But this week, I will recognize that a complaint highlights what I don't want, which helps me get clearer about what I do want.
If I notice that something is bothering me to the point that I feel the impulse to complain about it, I will ask myself what I am longing to be, do, have or experience instead. And perhaps there is no solution — I can't change the weather for example — but I can recognize that I like to be warm and comfortable. I will then contemplate the actions I might take to move in the direction of what I want. I will use my urge to complain as a springboard to create something new, and an opportunity to feel empowered rather than disempowered.
4. Ask questions.
Instead of falling back on complaining as my default way to communicate, this week I will ask more questions. If I don't have anything nice to say, I will give others the opportunity to say something nice.
I will ask others about what inspires them, and then thank them for inspiring me. And if they complain, I will change the subject to something we can be grateful for together. I don't know how my life will change after going a week without complaining — but maybe, just maybe, I will create a new cycle that can be passed from person-to-person until it reaches around the world: a cycle of gratitude.
Who's with me? Please let me know how your life changes after a week of being complaint-free.
Kaia Roman is the author of the highly-acclaimed self-help memoir, The Joy Plan, which has been featured on the TODAY show and in Forbes, The New York Times, and more. Publishers Weekly calls The Joy Plan “an energized and informative plan for transforming your life.” Merging 20 years of brand experience work in Silicon Valley with her neuroscience and mindfulness research and training, Kaia is an intrepid entrepreneur and passionate advocate for people, projects, and products working toward a better world. You’ll find her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and at KaiaRoman.com.