As I approached the end of January and was thinking hard about the next month’s challenge, a friend suggested something I had never before considered: an attempt at a month without complaining. My first thought was ‘no, I couldn’t possibly!’ and so of course I had to go full steam ahead, as is the nature of a proper ‘challenge.’
This friend told me that supposedly this conscious decision can change our entire mindset. We move from grump-ville to nirvana. The allure was there. The light at the end of the tunnel was glittering. Could this really be what I have been searching for? Was I going to start March feeling like a new woman; a better woman?
On January 31st, I plonked myself down at my desk and began typing a very important e-mail. It went something along the lines of:
Dear All Colleagues,
Sorry if I refuse to engage in conversation with you at any point during the month of February, or if I walk away from you mid-sentence, seemingly at random. The thing is that for the next month I’ll be committing to what I think is an important challenge: a month without moaning – at anything! Please don’t be offended.
I hit the send button and the four other people in my office yelped, gasped, and turned around to face me with jaws-dropped. “You can’t possibly do that!”, they exclaimed. “Is that even possible?”, one asked. After a little bit of mental digestion, each of them started to come round to the idea. By the end of the day there was a resolute commitment to the challenge.
This was highly unexpected, but also incredibly helpful. If some of the people I was going to be surrounded by for the next four weeks were also partaking, surely that would make it much easier for me, right? The temptation to get involved in an office moan would be eradicated!
So, we proceeded. We had bags of determination, a set of rules, a nominated referee to decide on any “was that a moan?” situations, and consequences for complaining. Complainers were to be punished by having to bring in treats for the rest of the office the next day.
The first couple days were really interesting. I noticed immediately how much more mindful I felt. I had to think before speaking each sentence and it made me hyper-aware of how little thought I usually gave to what is essentially verbal diarrhea. I decided I liked this new, more purposeful speaking thing.
I lasted three days before my first slip-up. I got off the phone after speaking to an upset client who – quite rightfully – was complaining about something that went wrong after a series of errors our end. I hung up, huffed and puffed, and said a few words that I wouldn’t dream of repeating here.
When I got some distance from the immediate, reactive feelings, I analyzed the moan. I was frustrated that I had to apologize to the client and listen to her stress when I felt I wasn’t to blame for the mistakes that were made. I realised that the complaining came from not having control over the situation.
Minor glitch (and a batch of cookies) aside, I jumped back on the positivity train. As the days rolled on, I found myself becoming more and more frustrated. I felt myself bloating from all the thoughts in my head that I wanted to express, but felt unable to. What’s more, the office environment spiralled as I realized we all felt deprived of a very human behaviour.
Immense relief can come from a collective grumble. It’s getting upset or stress off your chest and also connecting to others. I am a firm believer in everything in moderation and complaining should be no exception. A healthy moan can get the cogs of your mind turning in finding a solution to a problem. It also allows you to respect the authenticity of your feelings.
A huge problem with the growing self-help and spiritual communities is this idea that the only way to be is positive. That is literally impossible as a human being. We feel emotions across a wide spectrum and you dishonor yourself when you label some as ‘acceptable’ and others as ‘unacceptable.’ It’s like splitting yourself in two and resisting a very real aspect of yourself. And, what do we know already? That what we resist, persists.
Everything we do in this life, we do so that we can feel better. And, having a strong emotion that evokes a complaint is no exception to the rule. We complain because in it comes relief. We feel better because of it. There’s an enormous difference between chronic complaining and using it as a tool to lighten the mental load.
You may well disagree with all of the above and that’s quite fine, but for me I found this monthly challenge very insightful into the importance of living an authentic life. This means being true to who I am and accepting my many emotions. For that, I will always be grateful that I took the plunge and tried this out.
Have you ever taken the challenge? How long did you last? Do you believe in constructive complaining?
Join me next month to see what I’ve been up to in March!
Photo via Unsplash