I am technically kinda sorta Catholic. But not really.
That being said, I am intimately familiar with the concept of Lent. While I’ve never latched onto the religious meaning behind it, I’ve always appreciated the concept of abstaining from something in order to strengthen your spirit. I think it’s a good reminder of the power of the human will and the fragility of our luxuries. We get so wrapped up in having the latest iPhone (guilty) or those new pair of jeans (also guilty) that we tend to forget that the world is about so much more (guilty, again). I think Lent is a really great time to reflect on what makes our lives worth living. I don’t care what or who you believe in, investing time in appreciating your life is just good practice.
Many times, you’ll see Lent participants giving up (or taking up) something tangible. Giving up soda. Giving up TV. Taking up charity work. Taking up fundraising for a worthy cause. But the thing I’ve landed on is a little more abstract—I’m going complaint-free.
Honestly, I’d all but decided to avoid a Lent promise this year. I’d yet to find anything that really “spoke” to me. But then, on Fat Tuesday, Krissie retweeted an idea of giving up negativity for Lent and lightbulb clicked on. That was it. That was my crutch I needed to do away with. In the past, I’d enacted the occasional complaint-free Friday (#complaintfreefriday) and those were always some of my best days. So why not take that concept to the next level? I’d become an expert athlete in the sport of complaining, and it wasn’t doing me (or anyone around me) any favors. So I’m done with complaining.
Sometimes, I think venting is a healthy way of dealing with life’s thorns. That being said, I’ve noticed over the past year, instead of being a temporary solution, the state of complaining has become my norm. And even worse that than, it’s turning me into a toxic person. I spew negativity without much thought to whose ears it’ll land on or what repercussions it’ll have. The negativity then infects everyone around me and they become more negative and before you know it, we are trapped in this disgusting, unhealthy cycle of negative interactions.
Even if negativity wasn’t so communicable, even if it just stuck to me, it rarely makes the situation better. Often I feel the act of complaining works only 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. Without complaining, I am forced to be proactive and change the things that are making me complain or let go of the things I have no control over. I want to stop using complaining as a crutch to coast through mediocrity.
Obviously, this isn’t as cut-and-dry as giving up something like soda. There are some gray areas. For example, does saying “I have a headache” constitute a complaint or is it just stating a fact? And beyond that, I think it’s human nature to complain when things go wrong. Bottling that up might cause more harm that good. With all of this in mind, I’m setting some Lenttastic ground rules:
- If it feels like complaining, it probably is. I know the difference between stating a fact and being negative. Take the example above. “I have a headache” can be a complaint sometimes and not others. If I say it to Babyface to give him a reason why I don’t want to go out to dinner, I don’t think that’s a complaint. If I say it in whiny voice just to garner sympathy? I think that’s complaining. I’ll use my own judgment.
- Slip-ups cost 25¢ a pop. I’m not delusional. I know I’m going to stub my toe and scream obscenities and pitch a fit about moved furniture. But the difference is, those slip-ups will cost me a quarter. I’ll have a “complaint jar” (at both home and work) and I’ll have to pay the jar if I complain. When Easter comes ’round, the money collected will go directly to the Avon Crusade for Women.
- Switch focus to possibilities. As an alternative to complaining, I want to focus on the things that I can change or develop from the situation. I’m going to talk about the things I want to achieve, embrace the potential and talk about what I desire instead of what I dislike. There are ways to express dissatisfaction without complaining. Complaining is not productive, finding solutions is.
I’ve passed my first day in complaint-free mode and honestly, the most difficult part right now is learning to break the habit of complaining. It’s not even that I desperately desire to complain about how bad traffic is or how much I hate my hair today. It’s that my default response to anything that isn’t 100% perfect is a complaint. It’s like I’m rewiring my brain to approach situations differently, and that takes a bit of time. A few quarters have definitely dropped in the jar just because of the habit.
I’m also noticing that I have almost nothing to say! Until my brain is rewired, I’m operating under the age old philosophy of not saying anything if I don’t have something nice to say. I’ve got a feeling for the next few days, I’m going to be quiet as a mouse while I try to figure out what positive things I can fill the dead air with.
Want an eye-opening exercise? Keep track of how many negative statements come out of your mouth in an day. Just being aware of the negativity is half the battle.