We are right at the jumping-off point of “The Negativity Fast,” a program I am providing in a Facebook group to help those who want to become less negative and more positive, starting with identifying all the sources that reinforce their negativity. One who only consumes negativity has no chance of being anything other than negative, and doing so, sharing their negativity with others, infecting them with the same.
Some of us are born with a very high level of dissatisfaction, always believing that things can and should be better than they are now. The result of seeing how things might be improved is that we suffer from our belief that other people should recognize things can be better and do whatever is necessary to improve things, raising the standard.
The belief that other people should believe what you believe and do what you would do is a recipe for suffering. To be miserable and suffer, all you have to do is complain to yourself or anyone willing to listen.
My Triggers and Yours
Up until these last few months, I traveled by airplane at least once a week. You would be hard-pressed to find an industry that offers more opportunities for complaint, including the systemic challenges of mechanical problems or weather, both of which will change your itinerary. To add a perceived insult to the perceived injury, I add the lack of communication, especially a timely communication that might allow me to change my plans.
One of my preferred ways of making myself miserable is to supercharge the negative emotional response by attributing bad intentions to all parties, by telling myself (and my long-suffering wife) that people are “stealing my time,” my single, finite, non-renewable resource.
To stop my self-imposed suffering, I had to reframe my complaint by recognizing the high value of being uncomfortable, a Stoic practice that starts with the idea that you should proactively seek out these opportunities. I also had to acknowledge that time was not removed from me; instead, I had it returned to me.
A few years ago, my flight was delayed, and I found myself in the Delta lounge at JFK with six and a half hours, a significant amount of time, when I recognized the gift. I asked myself what I was going to do with this much time and decided to do what I would want to do with this time. I decided to do what I always wished I’d had more time to do. I spent that time reading and writing.
There is never a time when I lack something to write and a laptop, and now I am never without a hardcover book and a Blackwing Matte graphite pencil.
Here is what you need to do to stop complaining.
Remove the Offense: To stop complaining, you have to start by removing the offense. Even though you are uncomfortable, you don’t have to take offense that something less than your ideal. You choose to be offended by these things, even though there is no requirement that you work yourself up by complaining that things aren’t the way you wish.
Stop Assigning Bad Intentions: Many of the things you complain about are the result of negligence and not some form of wrongdoing. When you assign bad intentions to others, you are ratcheting up your emotional response unnecessarily, something that is going to make you unhappy without improving the source of your complaint.
Recognize Where You Have No Control: There is never a reason to complain about the things that are outside of your control, like politics, foreign affairs, the weather, bad traffic, or people who believe and behave in ways that conflict with what you believe to be appropriate.
Thinking back over all the complaining you have done over things you cannot control, you might notice that your complaining didn’t change anything except your attitude and your mental state. You are better off by not complaining, preserving your positive mindset.
Change Things for the Better: When something is in your control, change it. Taking action to make things better improves the outcome, something complaining is unable to provide. Instead of feeding your negative thoughts, do what you can to improve your situation–and your state of mind.
Change Your Perspective: The fact that you are reading this, likely on a laptop or an iPhone or iPad, means you have it better than almost everyone else with whom you share this planet. Not that I suggest you try to live on $35,000 a year, but if you were to do so, you would be in the top 1% of the population.
But for the fortunate circumstances of your birth, you wouldn’t dare to complain about your meal that was a little late arriving at your table or that your elected officials who decided to do something with you disagree. The universe favored you by locating you where you are now, instead of, say, North Korea. The adverse events you experience are nowhere as harmful as others.
Be Grateful: The antidote for complaining and the unnecessary suffering you bring upon yourself is to be grateful. Were you to count your blessings, you find they outnumber your complaints. You will recognize how small are the things you complain about and how enormous your gifts are. Positive thoughts provide a positive attitude and positive emotions.
Control Your Self-Talk: It’s unlikely you have anyone in your life more negative than the voice in your head that continually complains, including your Uncle Enrico, who can find a dark lining on every passing cloud. When you recognize that voice is speaking to you, argue with that voice by telling it that things aren’t that bad, and there is nothing to gain by complaining.
It takes much effort to stop complaining, but it increases your happiness and the quality of your life.
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