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.

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