Friday, May 31, 2019

What Does It Mean to be Wise?

What is wisdom, exactly? Hard to define, but most of us agree that we know it when we see it.

The Oxford Dictionary defines wisdom as the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgment, and the soundness of an action or decision in regard to the application of experience, knowledge, and good judgment.

So, in short the ability to take what you have learned in your lifetime and apply it to future situations.

And how do we gain good judgment? Well....

I always felt like I was a wise person. One who learned from their mistakes and able to apply it to future situations, getting a little bit better, smarter, more confident, as I  continued to grow and learn. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me, and all that jazz.

I felt like my experiences were like little fireflies I could capture in a jar, study, and take out as needed to guide me through the next sticky situation.

Of course there were times when I failed to go through my firefly collection and choose a proper navigator, and I had to earn a new one, but that was okay because then I had two (or perhaps sometimes more) in that one jar. Eventually, that life lesson would be so bright, I couldn't possibly ignore it any longer.

I was so proud of my collection. After all, it took me 44 years to accumulate all that wisdom. I could sit back and mentally peruse my shelf of hundreds of lessons earned through plenty of bad judgment, knowledge and experience, and pat myself on the back knowing they will guide me through almost any future situation.

My splendid golden armor has served me well to survive growing pains, teen drama, broken friendships, bad relationships, toxic family, frenemies, and co-workers. My fireflies of wisdom whispered in my ear, how to say the right thing, wear the right thing, participate in the right thing, so I avoid the sting of rejection.

Then, I stumbled across this quote somewhere......

Did this mean I should be letting some of my precious pets go?  That thought made me want to gather them even closer. It took a lot of falling on my ass to accumulate this much wisdom. The thought of letting them go sent a shiver down my spine.

However, as I started looking at what I had collected through the years, I realized that although my pets serve me well, perhaps they were guiding me away from the most important things.

Like when I compromised so arguments and unpleasantness was avoided, even when that meant being quiet when I knew something wasn't right or it met I gave up what I really wanted.

Like how to become successful even though it sometimes meant that I missed important events and time with those I hold most dear for a cause or experience I didn't believe in or need any longer.

Every time past experience had me saying yes because I was too afraid to say no.

I realized at this point in my life, I am no longer looking to survive, but to thrive, and one can only thrive when they live authentically.

When I say authentic, I mean the BrenĂ© Brown definition defined as the courage to be imperfect, vulnerable, and to set boundaries. 

I cannot be imperfect and vulnerable while I am so busy caring for all these little jars of accumulated knowledge, experience, and judgment, and I cannot set boundaries until I know what I want, and what I feel I deserve.

Once I am clear on my values, I can decide which fireflies have earned their retirement. So far I have said goodbye to these gems.

The need to be right, to prove myself, or to hustle for acceptance and approval.

The fear of calling out something that isn't right because it might make me and others uncomfortable. Speak with kindness and good intent and let the rest go.

The need to workout and deprive myself of joyfully eating what I want so I look a certain way. I want to be healthy of course, but sometimes I want a chocolate croissant.

Comparing myself to others to gauge how I'm doing as a mother, wife, friend, person, homeroom mom, etc., which leads me to participating in a whole lot of stuff I don't to want to, to avoid the fear of missing out. (Not my circus, not my monkeys).

The need to appear busy for the sake of being busy.

Today wisdom for me is being able to define what is truly important. That list can probably be summed up in 10 items or less.  If my house burned down, what would I grab on my way out kind of things.

Wisdom is striving to remain curious, and embracing and loving who I am with all my faults and screwups. 

Wisdom is letting go of trying to fix what is supposedly broken, and embracing what is right about me and about life. In order to travel this road, I need less baggage not more, so, I am paring down my life, both my physical things and the mental baggage I've been hoarding.

I am sure there are a whole lot of other jars that will need to be aired out and released, and as I am setting my boundaries and continuing to define what wisdom means to me, I'll take them down from their shelf, look at them, and question whether or not they still serve me. If they don't, then like my size 4 jeans, I will let them go and move on to more important things, like having donuts with my kids more often.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Dinner Planning Made Easy

Is there any question more dreaded than "What's for dinner?"

The one thing I hate more than thinking about what's for dinner every night, is making multiple trips to the grocery store during the week. I try real hard to make that trip a one stop shop which means that a little planning is in order, so every Sunday I sit down and think about what we have going on that week and what healthy meals I will make for the family. A couple of weeks ago I realized I spend way too much time on this task and I don't really enjoy it.

Since I have been on a mission to simplify my life, to find the things, commitments, obligations, etc. that I spend way too much time and energy on with little to no payback for me (either in the karma or joy department), it was only a matter of time before I tackled dinner.

Where was the time suck? Well, I had to think about what I could make, go through recipes I pulled or pinned, and try to remember what we had in the last few weeks so I didn't do a repeat. Then I had to think about how much time things would take to make because on some nights I didn't have as much time as other nights. 

What I often failed to plan for were the nights that I strayed from the menu because I was too tired or didn't feel like spending that much time in the kitchen, so we made sandwiches or breakfast tacos for dinner then I later guiltily threw out the food that I bought for those abandoned recipes.

Then I had to face a hard truth. I am not Julia Child. I do not derive joy from tinkering in the kitchen. That is not my thing. It is, however, one of those things that I wish I liked doing. I wish I was that Mom who whipped up new and delicious things in the kitchen and loved it, but I'm not.

Was my family putting pressure on me to come up with new and exciting meals? No, I mean clearly they were living on sandwiches and breakfast tacos more than fantasy me would like to admit, so this perception of who I "should" be was a weight I chose to carry all on my own, and it was time to put it down and stop worrying about what I thought other people might think of fantasy super mom me. 

Lighter, brighter, real me was ready to simplify this whole process, the menu planning, grocery shopping, and food prep.

First, I made a list of all the things that I know we liked and that were mostly healthy. The list ended up being a mix of things that were super quick and simple, and ones that were more labor intensive.

Second, I categorized them into the following categories:

Bowls (these are things like Buddah Bowls, rice and beans,Shrimp, greens, polenta,  - a mix of food that I put into a bowl that doesn't go into the other categories)
In case of Emergencies (quick sandwiches and cereal) Emergencies have included my husband not being home for dinner, so just me and the kids, and me wanting to finish a book I was almost done with. Fantasy Mom felt guilty, I didn't.

You can make up any categories you like. This is how I like to mix it up so I don't feel like I am making and eating the same things over and over, but you can do anything that makes sense to you.

Some other ideas:

Things that take 15 minutes or less to make
Freezer meals (things you pre-made and froze and are ready to cook)
Instapot/Crockpot dinners
Casserole Sundays
Meatless Mondays
Taco Tuesdays
Friday Make your own pizza night
Chicken Dinners
One Pot Dinners

Whatever works for you. The idea being that on Sunday or whenever you plan you trip to the store you zip down your list, and pick your 7 meals for that week.

After I put all my favorite things down into the list I realized I had way more dinners than I realized (50+ different meals), and that I didn't make my favorites as often as I would like because I was too busy trying new things.

I also realized everything went faster because I was familiar with those recipes, so I knew what I needed to buy, and what I already had on hand. Also, I could tweek things here and there as necessary if I wanted to mix it up or if I simply forgot to pick something up at the store.

I didn't have to think about what we had last week because it was all there on the list.

One thing that has also helped speed things up - the Alexa app. Alexa has a shopping list feature and when we run out of a staple like olive oil or chocolate chips, whoever uses it up adds it to the list and I check the Alexa shopping list before my store run, but if I forget the Alexa app with shopping list is on my phone. The family has been much better at keeping up with this then they were about physically writing it on the shopping list.

I also created a menu and shopping list in Evernote and have it on my phone, so I always have my list with me, and it is organized in categories as well.

My meal planning and grocery list making takes 5 minutes now. My grocery store trip in done in 30 minutes. I spend zero time during the week thinking about dinner while not actually making dinner which leaves more time on things I do enjoy, like reading, which means less chance for emergency cereal while I squeeze in that last chapter (or maybe not, I'm improved, not perfect.)

Monday, January 14, 2019

How to Make Being Angry Work For You

I am mostly a laid back person, but when I blow, baby, do I blow. However, this year I am (once again) resolving to be a gentler, more peaceful version of me. To concentrate on the good, not spend so much time lamenting over the irritating. I want to resolve and move on rather than stew.

Of course I know that wisdom says you should hit the pause button and wait before responding,  count to 10 (or 100) and all of that. That all sounds well and good, but I often am too caught up in my righteous anger at the time to remember that.

When I do remember to count, I really just use that time to come up with something to say that will really make it clear that I am angry and add a helping of guilt to it.

Rational me knows it is better to calm down so we can discuss the problem and mutually look for a solution, rather than spend that time informing the transgressor of all of their character flaws that led to this situation.

Angry me does't even think about solving problems. Solving problems is hard. Talking about what is wrong with someone else is easy, and doing this ensures that I don't have to change anything, you do (because it's our fault. DANGER: This is victim thinking).  Not to mention people usually defend (fight) or flee when being attacked. They don't participate in problem solving.

If you want to be happy, truly happy, you have to get over feeling justified in being angry. You have to stop believing in the illusion that showing how angry you are with the someone will force them to change, or will punish them for their perceived crime.

It may do some of that, but it will also fundamentally change your relationship with them. We tend to move away from things that make you uncomfortable or bring you pain, so if you keep being the source of discomfort, then that person will move away from you. Plus, it won't make any similar future occurrences conclude any differently. Lose Lose for angry me.

as Aristotle once said:

So, rational me has come up with this plan of a 24 hour hold on responding to something I am angry about. I need something a bit more drastic than counting. I need a rule to keep me in line, not a suggestion, or 'it would be nice if', but a simple rule.

Why 24 hours? A lot can happen in 24 hours. Something is bound to make me laugh or cheer me up, perspective will be gained. Also, then I know I am not responding angrily because I am hangry or irritated with something else.

Most importantly, it also gives me time to think.

I'm not saying being angry isn't okay, and there are times when it is deserved. Any feeling is okay. You can feel however you want to feel. BUT.....You can't (or shouldn't) always act how you want to act (that serves no one).

For you to be in charge of your emotions, you need to name them. In order to name them properly, I need to get past the blanket "angry" label.

Some people (old angry me for instance) label every strong emotion anger. Instead of sad, they become angry. Instead of admitting to themselves that their feelings are hurt, they are frustrated, or feel left out, they get angry.

For me anger is a tool I am used to and comfortable with. I can wield it and its sister guilt very well. The problem with that is that the same tool is always being used for every job when another one will work better. Anger is a hammer, and you can't build a house with just a hammer.  So when I feel angry, that is a clue that there is something else going on that I need to take a look at, and I feel like I need 24 hours to do it.

My first test came this weekend. I get the children up every morning and get them ready for school, which is fine. That makes sense because I am the one with flexible time in the AM.

However, on weekends, each of our kids has an activity pretty early and in two separate places. I take one, and the hubs takes the other. This Saturday, no one (as in my husband) woke up the kid with the earliest activity. The kid he was taking to that activity.  It fell on me to be the one responsible for this. It was assumed, i.e. taken for granted that I would do this. The only person my husband got up and ready was himself.

I was all ready to unleash my my sarcastic comments when he finally came downstairs to take the kid to his lesson, but before I did so I was going to wait to see if he would even acknowledge that I took care of the situation.

And........he didn't. No thanks. Nothing. Not even a hint of "maybe I could have/should have done that, and boy was I angry, but I remembered the 24 hour rule, and it seemed like a really good time to use it.

It took about 10 or so minutes of cleaning up the kitchen before I could calm down enough to ask myself, "What am I really upset about here?" I'm not upset, I'm resentful.

Keep going...What about that makes me resentful? Don't I deserve a day off from my "job" every once in a while too.

Well, hello, now we are getting somewhere. I resent being treated like an employee and not a partner. I resent not having someone look out for me and take care of me every once in a wile.

You may feel guilty here, and think you don't have a right to feel resentful for/because [insert whatever reason]. Once again, you can feel however you feel, properly name it so you can choose the proper tool to deal with it.

I need the right tool to effect future outcomes, so the even better question is "what would I like to have happen?"

I would like to be able to depend on him to notice what needs to be done and not always ass-u-me that I will do it like it's my job. I would like to be asked, like a partner. Like a partner that you notice does a lot around here to keep things running. Like a person who may also want to sleep in.

See, that still sounds angry, and I can't make anyone do anything, so I waited a few more hours and thought on it some more.

Rational 8 hour after the incident (notice I couldn't wait 24 hours) me knows that my husband loves me, and wouldn't do something intentionally to make me feel like I don't matter, so that helps me to be able to calm down enough to talk specifically about the situation (and not his personal failings in the situation), and offer a possible solution. Like, "Hey, could we be a little more clear on who is doing what on Saturday morning because I was looking forward to sleeping in a few minutes longer."

See, totally rational and not angry.

In full disclosure, the conversation didn't go exactly as planned, and I got angry again, but because I put so much thought into what I wanted to achieve, I was able to hold off snapping, take a deep breath and explain how his behavior made me feel in addition to wanting to sleep, so how could we change this together? And, I got a solution and an apology (and I didn't gloat until I was alone).

It's been a week so far. I have had a couple of opportunities to practice. I've missed the pause button a few times, which is fine. I'll keep working on it building the new habit because I have also hit it a few times with success, and success feels better than anger.

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Friday, January 4, 2019

2019: Resolving to Be More Intentional Starts with Being Less Busy and Here Is the Plan

How to live simply

It all keeps coming back to my circle of influence. What can I do with what I have to work with?

But, if I have too much, then I'm paralyzed and do nothing.

I love reading the Little House books. I read them every year or two and have done so since I was 8. They have gotten me through more than one down period in my life. I think it's the atmosphere of home and family that I love and maybe the cozy factor. Here is a family that really had very little, yet lived large. I want that. I want simple baked bread, red and white checked tablecloths. Warm light and family reading, knitting, being together.

Simple doesn't mean easy. In fact, what is simple is sometimes the hardest thing. Having nothing to distract you from you. That's hard. Nothing to hide behind when you turn a blind eye to what you should do, your values, your dreams.

So this year my one little word is simplify. Simplify excuses, simplify stuff, simplify relationships, simplify distractions and obligations that don't support me and what is most important to me.

At the end of the day, I figure it comes down to Me, my Relationships, my Work and my Legacy.

Me. Meaning this is the body and mind I have. Simplify until I can get down to the essence of me. If I strip away all the stuff and the labels, who am I? What do I stand for? How do I want to spend my precious time? What do I need from my body and mind to support these things? What things do I want to keep that bring me joy? What's simply a distraction and not worthy of my time and energy any longer and keeps me from being an even better version of me?

Relationships. Relationships are what keeps you living longer and happier. Study after study proves that the bonds you form with others and the quality of your friendships are the secret to a life without regrets, one of meaning and happiness. Yet, we continue to be too busy, trading virtual time for real face to face time.

It is really hard to grow good quality relationships if you don't nourish them. How often am I "too busy" to spend time with my friends, my family, my children or spouse? And what am I busy doing? Looking at my phone or some other mindless triviality? Am I too busy running errands? Cleaning stuff I don't even like or need?

Are these things really more important than meeting a friend for lunch or coffee, or taking the kids to the park or for ice cream or simply giving someone your undivided attention for 5 minutes? It doesn't have to be a lot of time, but it has to be quality time. So, simplify until I am down to the stuff that really is more important than the most important people in my life (I'm thinking it will be a small list).

Work. How do I spend my time and energy? How do I use my strengths and talents? It is in serving something larger than yourself that you feel most connected and alive.....happy. It is up to me to find my meaning, or my "why" in what I do and how I spend my time. What makes me feel good about how I spend my time and what doesn't?

Working in a traditional environment (for a paycheck) doesn't jive with what my family's goals are right now, so how can I feel like I still contribute in some meaningful way? How can I still use my brain for a greater purpose than laundry and schlepping my kids around (although there will certainly still be that, but maybe I can simplify it to less....)?

One way is this blog. I get to learn stuff, try stuff, connect with and learn from others.

Second is volunteer time spent with people I enjoy, doing work I enjoy for a cause I believe in. I need these three things to be present for it to be worth my energy and time.

Third is my home work. Since I do stay home, the primary care of the home falls to me, and it's a job I haven't always relished, I'll tell you that. This year though, I making a mindset shift a little. Taking care of it is taking care of my family. Providing us sanctuary and a place to come together, to share, to live. Perhaps there will be a marketing plan implemented around the house to remind my customers of that (I didn't say simplifying would lead to me being a saint and above a good guilt trip).

However, I don't want to spend my whole day cleaning and cooking, and getting in the way of the other important things, so how do I simplify?

My legacy. What do I want people say about me at my funeral? What do I want to leave my kids, as in what values, what awareness, what skills, what memories?

I figure every day is an opportunity for me to touch someone in some positive way. To help someone. It can be something as simple as a smile, holding a door, an unsolicited compliment that I think in my head, but don't say out loud, or my patience when I feel anything but patient with the flustered barista making my coffee. Also, I tend to collect bits of information, so maybe it is passing on one of these bits to someone who needs it, be it a great bra, a good doctor, an easy dinner, a good book, a possible business or friend connection.

Bottom line, how can I help someone today? Well, I can't if my life is so busy I don't look or see ways to be helpful.

My legacy may also be what I don't leave - a bigger carbon footprint than is necessary. What that looks like, I don't know yet. How far I am willing to go in trading modern convenience for a larger carbon footprint remains to be seen.

So those are the 4 areas that I figure are the most important to me right now. How or what it looks like, I am not quite sure yet. Those are pretty big areas, and I figure the best place to start is by simplifying. Taking away stuff that takes up my time until I am left with just truth, time and space to make meaningful decisions, to figure it out.

Maybe peace of mind won't be baking bread and knitting by candle light, and maybe it will be, but I won't know until I stop being so damn busy to find out.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

2018 Round-up: Lessons Learned from a Year Pursuing Happiness

I started 2018 off with "Resolving to Be Happy". What does being happy even mean and what makes one happy?

What better way to measure happiness is there than by comparing it to what one wishes they would have done differently while staring mortality in the face, so I looked at the Five Regrets of the Dying.  

To sum it up: wishing the had the courage to live true to themselves, and not other's expectations, not working so hard, having the courage to express feelings, staying in touch with friends, and letting oneself be happier.

This led to me asking myself how I could make sure that wasn't an article I would be contributing my experience to. How to Live a Life with No Regrets . Learning: Keep doing things that won't leave me regretful. This will require me to be mindful and intentional.

A big research project took a close look at the circumstances that influence happiness. Big take-away for me was that it's not winning the lottery or other external circumstances that make up the bulk of your happiness. In fact, you adjust pretty quickly to windfalls (and disappointments) and go back to pre-happiness levels within a few months, so if you are going through a little rough patch, take heart because this too shall pass. Science says so.

However, changing your mindset can have a huge impact. Read more about how here. How Circumstances Influence Your Happiness. Learning: Use some of the tips in this article to change my mindset, namely reframing and gratitude.

I also learned about 3 types of happiness and why you need each of them to truly live a fulfilling life.

I think I have the first (simple pleasures/gratification) one down pretty well, but I sure could use more of two (finding and using your strengths) and three (serving something bigger than you). I took the quiz (link in the article from the University of Pennsylvania's Positive Psychology department's website) to tell me what my strengths are, and I made my kids do it too. Learning: try new things that use your strengths and find a place to use them that contributes to something bigger than you.

I found when I did things that used my strengths, I was happier. For example, I want to volunteer more, but what I found what I was doing to be not so fulfilling. Once I found opportunities that allowed me to use my strengths, I found a lot more satisfaction in my experience.

I researched how to get more done in my life (How a Simple Routine Can Transform Your Life), How to Get Stuff Done, and Productivity Tips and Tricks for Every Personality).

You know what is even more important than organizing your 'to do' list and getting loads of stuff done? Deciding what not to do, and choosing what is the most important stuff to get done, 4 Things I Want to Accomplish Before I Die, Be a Quitter and Get More DoneHow to Go From Busy to Meaningful.  Learning: sometimes good enough is enough. Listen to your body, remember the things that are truly important, and let go of the rest. 

When striving to improve at something, it is inevitable that you stumble. Life gets in the way, you lose your way, you get sick, life happens, you lose your focus. Researching these articles: How to Make a Resolution You Will Keep, 8 Seconds That Could Change Your Life, What Your Best Really Looks Like, helped me pick myself up and keep stepping forward, no matter how small that step might be. Learning: It is never too late to start or start again, even if it is the 10th or the 100th time you have started. 

One of the biggest predictor of happiness is the quality of your social relationships, so know when to let go of a relationship and move on (How to Know When It is Time to Let Go of a Relationship), and check in to see if maybe you are inadvertently damaging your relationships (Are You the Toxic Friend?)

I also learned that I really suck at 30 day challenges. I tried not complaining for 30 days and I failed miserably, and that't okay. What I did learn was there is a recurring theme of gratitude as the antidote (The Cure to Not Complaining).

In fact, gratitude is mentioned in almost every book or article on happiness I read this year. Is there a way I can take a baby step forward and incorporate more of it into my life? Don't know how yet (although I know it won't be in the form of a 30 day Challenge), but it's a goal for 2019. Learning: 30 day challenges aren't for me, but they do offer some bite size goal ideas for me to work on, and it is okay if I take the Day 1 challenge and take 30 days to work on it.

A big takeaway for me this year, experimenting on finding stuff I enjoy, and making the time to do it.

For example, I've been afraid to learn to paint for a number of reasons, not creative or artistic, no time, etc. the time to do. Despite all those nonsensical reasons, I told a friend I was going to do this beginner painting class and would she do it with me. Then I procrastinated, and she reminded me (wouldn't let me wiggle out of it. This is why you enlist others, to bug you, I mean hold you accountable). I showed up with low expectations, and it turns out I really, really enjoy it.

Another takeaway is treat a nagging task like an appointment and schedule the time time to get it done. It feels really good to get something done that's been bugging you.

And lastly, using some of this available time created by getting rid of the unimportant and the not so useful/critical to spend time with those near and dear, strengthening relationships or creating new ones (which takes lots of time, but is oh so necessary to your health and happiness).

Going forward to next year: 2019 is going to be a year of Simplifying for me with the goal of getting to the core of what makes life happy fulfilling for me, and eliminating as much as possible of everything else. 

This will require some tough decisions because often it is hard to let go of the comfort of the mundane and automatic and it is hard to be brave enough to buck against social expectations that don't really serve you.

So, I have a lot to think about. First, what is most important? I mean really the most important. Second, what do I need in my life to not just make me happy, but fulfilled (which isn't always what makes me happy in the short term)? Third, what do I need to get rid of or reduce in my life to leave room for the most important things.

We are taking happiness to the next level in 2019.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

No Complaining Challenge Day 21: Implementing "The Cure"

Well, the no complaining challenge has been a struggle for me. Mostly because I have too much else going on, and haven't been giving it the attention it needs (meaning, normal everyday life is distracting me, and I forget I'm trying to do this no complaining challenge thing). 

So, I goal without a plan is just a wish, right? or something like that.  So, action is called for this week.

I have been passively observing the complaining and not complaining and that has been okay. I have also observed how much those around me complain, and have tried to reform both my husband and my children, and may I say, their gratitude has been strongly lacking.

However, and much as I would like to cure my loved ones of their complaining, rule #1, you can't change anyone but yourself.

Since I have not been doing a great job on always catching myself in the midst of complaining, unless I am on a major venting rant (more on venting next week), I am going to try the gratitude thing with the hope being that gratitude will replace complaining as my auto response.  I believe practicing gratitude will be the cure to complaining. 

The key is to make feeling grateful a habit the same way complaining has become a habit. It is far easier to replace a habit than to stop it.

To develop a habit one has to be consistent. Makes sense because by definition a habit is something that you do over and over again without thinking.

However, if you recall, I am having trouble remembering to do this in the first place, so I need to make it easy. It takes time to build up those gratitude muscles (or build those neuron bridges), and since I know that life will get in the way, I will dedicate some time to working on those gratitude muscles.

The best way to make sure that you work on your new habit is to link it to some habit you already have. I journal in the morning, so that is a habit that I already have established. I'll leave myself a little sticky note on my journal to remember to reflect for a minute on what I am grateful for.

I also want to do this at dinner as well. We have the habit of eating together, so why not make this part of our dinner conversation? All too often we talk about what went wrong in our day, and this would be a good reminder of what also went right, no matter how small.

Some like to do a gratitude list at the end of the day, and if that works for you, go for it.  If you are a planner type person and spend some time each day planning out what to do the next (even if it is a work planner, I still think you can link it if it is something you do consistently), then maybe this is a good time for you to take a minute to remember what is right in your world.

Other articles in the No Complaining Challenge:
The 30 days to No Complaining Challenge
How to Make Complaining Work for You

Sunday, October 28, 2018

How to Make Complaining Work for You (Week 2 of 30 Day No Complaining Challenge)

30 Day Complaining Challenge

Over the week I tried to notice when and about what I was complaining, and I also found I had a hard time deciding at times what fell under the umbrella of complaining.

Let's start with how Merriam-Webster defines complaining.

1) to express grief, pain, or discontent
2) to make a formal accusation or charge.

Synonyms include: bellyache, caterwaul (I love this one, and I'm going to now tell my children to stop caterwauling because it's fun to say), fuss, gripe, nag, whine.

For example, is it complaining to ask my kids, yet again, to please close the dog food container all the way so that the dog doesn't eat all the food in it (or let's say, a whole bag of greenies). This is necessary to say for the good of the dog's health and my sanity. Could this be described as nagging? Is there a better way to get the results I desire without the nagging?

Why do we complain?

It feels good because it gives us a sense of power and hope.

We bond over it. Misery loves company, right?

It does sometimes bring about a desired result and effect change. The squeaky wheel does in fact get oiled sometimes.

However, as often is the case, too much of a good thing is not good at all.

Too much complaining can lead to a false sense of power and hope that actually prevents you from making any real change to the very situation that you are complaining about. You often hear it expressed as, "Well, what can you do?" after a long tirade.

While it might bond you with others, it bonds you to other complainers. 

Humans being the social animals that they are are biologically wired to mirror the emotions in others around them. It is called neural mirroring and is the basis for our ability to feel empathy. Empathy is good, but in the case of too much complaining though, not so good.

Think of it as chocolate or bacon (or whatever else comforts you). A little bit is good, too much of it makes you feel nauseous. At some point, you get labeled as the "toxic friend" others are trying to avoid (Are You the Toxic Friend?).

While you may get stuff done (liked your meal comped after bad service), it could come at cost to your physical health.

We are predisposed to see the negative over the positive. It isn't just you, it really is easier to complain than not complain. The thing is, the more you do it the easier it is because you are literally rewiring your brain to make complaining even easier

When you repeat a behavior, your little neurons reach out to each other and build a temporary bridge. You repeat it again, and those neurons say, "Hey, it looks like this is going to be an ongoing thing, so let's build a permanent bridge to make it easier." (Your brain is super helpful and efficient like that.)  The more you repeat, the stronger they build that bridge.

While your neurons are being efficient and building bridges, your brain is also releasing the stress hormone cortisol, preparing you to fight or flight, directing blood, energy and oxygen away from everything, but what is needed for immediate survival.

You see, your brain is a wonderful thing, but left undirected, it is not good at deciding what is a real emergency and what you are just "venting" about.

Overtime, cortisol impairs your immune system, and makes you more susceptible to high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease, and weight gain, and some evidence suggests stroke. Remember, your neurons are busy making this work easier.

So What Can You Do?

How do you get that brain of yours back to working for you and not against you? How do you regain control as the Director versus leaving it up to your brain?

Practice Gratitude. 
You have heard the praises of grateful living and I am sure your have read/heard many ways on how to do it. You can commit to writing 3 things to be grateful for each night. You can make it a family dinner event and have each person say what they are most grateful for that day or do this as part of your bed time routines with your kids.

But here is why you should do it.... because those helpful neurons will also work to build strong bridges with good habits, and overtime the old bridge will become weaker through neglect, so work to build a new bridge, and being grateful will get easier over time thanks to your very efficient and helpful neurons.

What else is in it for you? Practicing gratefulness reduces the cortisol by 23% (According to the University of California, Davis). People also report improved mood and energy and reduced anxiety.

Use mindfulness to make complaining work for you. 
These strong efficient complaining bridges also mean that complaining becomes a auto-response, and a little complaining can be a good thing, remember? Make complaining work for you by asking yourself some questions:

1)What about the current situation is really bugging me? 
Be specific here. Just like we did when we learned to use our words to regain control of our emotions (How to Get a Hold of Yourself When You Start to Lose It) Use your words to identify what is really bugging you about this situation. A friend or journaling can be really helpful on working through this.
2) How would I like the situation to be? 

Once you know what is really bugging you, you can move onto admitting to yourself what you really want the situation to be. Then instead of nagging, you can ASK for what you really want. 

I don't want to make light of this step because it sounds easy, but it's hard. It comes with a lot of baggage that comes in a suitcase named "What if?" 

What if I can't have it like I want it? What if he/she/they say no? What if I try and it doesn't work? The unknown is scary. Complaining is safe, but you don't have to do anything at this point. You are just exploring your options, and one option is always, do nothing, so dream big here. 

3) What can I change? 

There is always something that you can do. You may not want to or be ready to, but there is always something you can do

You can't change the weather, your kids, your family, your spouse, your neighbor. Maybe you can't change your job or your health or other circumstances right now, but you can change you

You can change how you react or you can choose to stop reacting. You can change how you think about the situation. It's not easy. You are, after all, building new bridges, but you can do it if you choose to do it. It will be messy and it will be imperfect and there will be setbacks. Keep at it.

4) What is good or right about it? 

Well, then what is good about the situation? What is right with it? This is a good exercise to do to help you think of even more options open to you.

What about bonding socially over a good complaint? What will I talk about instead?

Go through these questions with your friends. People also bond over creative problem solving. People also like being asked for help and being helpful (which will also get you off the toxic friend list). 

There is a huge difference between dumping (complaining) and sincerely asking for help. Dumping on someone makes them feel useless and it gives them your garbage without a means to get rid of it. Asking for help makes them feel useful. Which ones makes you feel better?

Problem solving is a real mood booster to all involved, even if you don't actually put the solution into action. Obviously, putting said plan into action will boost mood further.

Another benefit of enlisting a friend is that friend will serve as a support to you in putting your plan into place and making it work. If we are being honest, we get more done when we are being held accountable, right? 

So this week..... 

Practice Gratefulness.  Personally, I am going to do the dinner table thing because it is really hard being a non-complainer when those around you are complaining. I mean, because I am interested in improving the health of my loved ones.

Ask some questions when you find yourself complaining

For a real life, imperfect example of this, back to my dog food example. 

To be honest, I yelled a little (or maybe a lot), then I asked some questions.

Again to be honest, they weren't helpful questions at first. They were venting questions. Didn't I ask you to close the dog food container? Didn't you tell me if I bought a different dog food container, an easier dog food container, you would keep it closed? Then why am I seeing the dog's head buried in the new dog food container?

Then, I was able to ask some good questions fo myself.

What am I grateful for? That my kids feed the dogs and I don't (even a sarcastic grateful is better than none at all. It is a new habit after all, and imperfection is to be expected.)

What about the situation is bugging me? I don't want the dog to feel sick, and I don't want him to get sick and I don't want to clean it up (because it will be me).

What do I want the situation to be? I want the damn dog food container closed, always, and I want my kids (not me) to continue to feed the dogs.

What can I change? I can do it myself, but I don't like this option, so.....

I ask a friend or the person responsible for the current situation. First I share my answers above including that I was grateful that she did this, and what my concerns were with current situation and not wanting to have to feed the dogs myself, then I asked, "What do you think would help so that this situation doesn't happen again?" Now she felt better because not only was she not feeling like she was in trouble anymore and helpless to change a situation that was in the past, but she could talk about what could be done in the future. So, we came up with the solution that she would ask me to double check the container when she was done. Not an ideal solution for lazy me, but we are building new habits here, so I'll do it.

On the third day, she wanted to just tell me she closed it. Now it is getting closed without my help at all. We may have a slip up again in the future, but now we have a mutually agreed upon plan to get us back on track, and as a added incentive, I told her I would have her brother check on it if it happened again. He would love to check up on her, and she would like anything but that to happen, so I'm thinking Duke the dog's days of easy, free, eating are over (I hope). 

If I'm wrong, and my experiment fails, I still have these tools available and complaining alone is still not helpful.