“My kid has too much autonomy. I just had to calm her down from a screaming fit,” my manager told me as we have a one on one monthly meeting via Skype for Business. “I am so tired. A day feels like a month and a month feels like a day. I can’t even keep track anymore.”
“I can’t wait to get back to normal when my kid can get out of my hair for once,” a friend expresses over a virtual cup of coffee.
“Can you believe the curriculum they are teaching? Who comes up with these questions?” A post repeated on social media.
“I can’t wait for my spouse to go back to work so I can get back to routine with my child. My spouse just gives in to any whim. I am going backward,” said spouses across the world who are not used to 24 hours 7 days a week contact.
Sound familiar? Maybe you have said one of these? Thought one of these? Posted one of these?
If you have, you are not alone. What do all these things have in common? They are all complaints.
What Complaining Does to the Brain
According to Travis Bradberry, Co-author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0 and President at TalentSmart, a typical person complains once per minute in a typical conversation! This is very unhealthy because our brains are creatures of lazy habits. When we repeat our pattern, our brain takes less work to repeat than learn.
Think of teaching your kid to tie a shoe. When we first begin the process there is push back, frustration, a lot of concentration. But once it is learned, and repeated (usually multiple times a day), it becomes second nature, and the child no longer thinks about the process.
The same is true with our words.
Words Have Power
On Solomon Island giant beautiful trees sometimes need to be cut. When this is a particularly challenging task, the locals perform a special curse. They join together and yell insults and other derogatory words at the tree, and according to local legend, the negative energy transfers to the tree which then falls within a couple days.
In his book, The Hidden Messages of Water, Dr. Masuro Emoto, reports on his studies on the effects of words on water crystals through high-speed photography and found water crystals formed beautiful geometric shapes when words of love and gratitude were spoken near the water, but destructive shapes when evil words were spoken.
If this is what happens to plants and crystals, how much more does words affect the human mind and health?
According to Stephen Parton, complaining actually KILLS YOU.
How to Move from Complaining to a Gratitude Attitude
Solomon, credited as the wisest man ever to live, said “the soothing tongue is a tree of life, but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit,” (Proverbs 15:4) and “the tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit,” (Proverbs 18:21). Did you know there are over 126 passages in the Bible discussing the tongue?
It appears, in this matter, faith and science agree. Stop complaining!
But how do we do this?
There is a lot of research on behavior showing numerous ways to modify behavior from eating too much to not sitting down while doing school work. The same theories and practices apply to our minds. Here are three simple ideas on how to move from complaining to a gratitude attitude.
1. Replace your focus: How many times have you watched a movie or show and fixated on the message, the scenes, the story long after it ended? Read a book you just couldn’t put down? Where you focus is where your brain will go.
When I was learning to drive, my mother told me, “Where your eyes look is where the car will go.” I have learned this principle applies to my mind as well.
If I focus on negative, my tongue is negative. If I focus on what is wrong with the world, my tongue reflects that. But, when I focus on whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable– anything excellent or praiseworthy—my entire world changes from all things against me to peaceful, strong and enduring.
2. Replace your behavior: It is easy to say think about good things and entirely different to actually do it. One way I have replaced my tendency to complain is (as trite as it sounds) is to count my blessings.
In our family discussions of the day, for every bad thing we say, we must say three positive things for the day. If I had a bad day at work, I am now forced to think of blessings (that car that let me in before the light changed, my son getting his school work done early, lunch at the table with my hubby). Suddenly, what seemed like the worst day has transformed into a really good day.
3. Practice. A great way to do this is by keeping a journal. There are a lot of calendars and planners that actually have recording your blessings as part of planning for the day; our favorite one this daily planner.
I enjoy doing this as part of my daily meditation when I work out. Using that last little bit at the end of a work out (when endorphins are naturally high) to focus on good, re-sets my brain.
4. Accountability: We are only as strong as the team we have around us. The American Society of Training and Development (ASTD) did a study on accountability and found that you have a 65% chance of completing a goal if you commit to someone. And if you have a specific accountability appointment with a person you’ve committed, you will increase your chance of success by up to 95%.
Share your desire to change focus with your spouse, friends, and family. Then ask them to hold you accountable to this.
It is easy, especially in quarantine, to focus on the negative. It is easy to want to vent this to your spouse, friends, the world. But, I caution too much of this will physically and emotionally destroy.
I encourage you to make shifting your focus from negative to positive a priority. Ask for an accountability partner in this. And remember, this is a daily discipline. This will not become second nature until you make it a discipline. Like all disciplines, it grows with you and molds to where you are and what you do.
Let me know how this works for you. What is working for you? What strategies have you used? What did not work? I love hearing from you.