Earlier this week I dared myself to refrain from complaining for 24 hours straight. I thought it would be impossible. And let’s be honest – it was. But what I learnt from the experience is what’s most important, right?
Rewind to Monday when all was going well. Then cue road rage. Not a big complaint, just an out loud exclamation about how ludicrously slow the car in front of me was creeping along, or as I articulated, ‘we’ve all got places to be, douche canoe!’. It immediately became apparent that this was going to take some careful planning and self-restraint.
In the past I’ve justified complaining; I can hear myself saying to others, ‘I vent, that’s what I do, then I do whatever’s asked of me, I vent a bit more and then it’s over’. Colleagues at work shared their similar inclinations – it’s about the release of an emotion, the empathy you feel from others, and almost a signifier that now someone else is sharing your pain and ‘perhaps it ain’t so bad’.
Tuesday I decided to give it another red hot crack, yet I again found myself traffic-whinging. The cars in front of us were all wanting to turn right (and in my opinion, absolutely unnecessarily and with no hope in hell of crossing the multiple lanes of traffic during peak hour). And if you ignore the clear road rage theme here, it became bleedingly obvious that I was going to instinctively complain about mundane things, so I made a promise that with every knee-jerk complaint, I’d follow it up with a positive. In this case, I remarked how opportune it was that my partner and I were getting extra minutes together during the work commute (this may sound sarcastic but I swear it was genuine!). This technique actually worked really well for me, making light of a situation shut down my negativity very effectively.
The second promise I made was that it was okay to complain to myself, in my head. I immediately knew it was going to get loud in there, but it was a self preservation technique more than anything. Again I had some success – acknowledging my problems internally gave the majority of complaints zero clout, therefore shutting down the need to repeat myself out loud.
As the day progressed, I found myself saving time as I asked more direct requests for opinions and assistance, rather than a no holds barred vent, followed up later on by similar questions. I found that I was assessing situations with a more level-headed approach, focussing in on the task itself, not the personality who had made life a little bit difficult. But then again, the feeling of calmness and control may have been the prospect of the post-work meditation class I was looking forward to.
Today I went back to my usual routine, and found my day to be more stressful. I noticed my emotions swing in extreme ways, the highs were high and the lows were low. But then again I did get a couple of really curly problems today, but I also won a pair of super rad running shoes (!). Plus after securing a big win with a customer, an email followed not 20 seconds later with a different problem to resolve ASAP.
This hasn’t been the most science-y of experiments, but it did make me think differently about my behaviours and triggers. I know I enjoy a good vent, although it seems that I work more productively when I keep my emotions better in check. I also clearly recognise that (what I perceive as) laziness of others is what frustrates me, and now I have a few techniques up my sleeve to help people help themselves (therefore helping me).
Going forward, I’m going to continue to challenge myself with the goal to complain less, but not nix it completely. Or more specifically, I won’t let things get to me unless it’s really worth it. So I’m going to chalk this up as a win for my fellow road users, but potentially a loss for my fellow colleagues – sorry dudes.