Written for & published by In Her Shoes Foundation (June 2014)
Hearing people complain is pretty much as normal as hearing someone breathe or sneeze.
You know it’s true.
The odds of you going through your day and not hearing someone complain about trivial small things that have no bearing on their well-being, those around them, or the universe are slight. And, odds are, you’ve probably done that too.
There’s no need to turn red and be embarrassed. Everyone does it. Congratulations – you’re human.
Although, the thought I want to pose to you is this: did you ever consider that consistently complaining, whether about things small or large, could be making your daily outlook/perspective inherently negative? Even taking it a step further, consider this: did you realize you may be focusing unnecessarily on the dark cloud so much so that you forget about any silver linings in most situations?
I’m not saying you should never complain again. That’s both unrealistic and just plain stupid. Stressful things happen all the time that absolutely warrant a negative response and feeling downright crappy. But, the point of this thought exercise is learning how to keep things in perspective and being aware of what shouldn’t warrant your energy or focus (i.e. accepting silly things you can’t control).
Unfortunately, complaining has become so common place that it’s even a form of bonding in social circles.
I know this next reference is very pop culture, but it holds a lot of water.
Do you remember in the movie Mean Girls when the three main character girls are being self-critical about different aspects of their physical appearance, and Lindsay Lohan thought it was odd, but felt the pressing need to be self-critical as well to fit in? Well, that’s actually a real thing. That old saying of misery loves company is seriously true. People find commiserating about the state of affairs is a way to be socially accepted by those around them and can even serve as a conversation topic.
So, what would happen if you refocused your vocal chords towards something happy or optimistic?
I want to warn you ahead of time that making this change may feel odd or uncomfortable. If you’ve surrounded yourself with people who complain regularly, and you’ve taken part in that and you stop, they may think you’re being distant or that you’ve changed (i.e. can’t relate as much to you anymore). If you’ve previously bonded with these people about misery-laden things and you no longer do, be prepared that you may ruffle the feathers of those around you. In personal growth and change, it can create ripples in relationships. It will ultimately show you who’s growth oriented versus who wants to be a stick in the mud.
If you serve as a positive model and others want to grow with you, great! For those who want to stay cemented in negativity, they may not jive with your new outlook. While that may be hard, that’s ok. Don’t be afraid to shake off that negativity bias you have and embrace positive alternatives.
If you’re interested in learning more about the background of our greater skew towards natural negativity, here’s a spiffy New York Times article to read:
Enjoy your optimism journey!