I think this month’s challenge to stop complaining is my hardest yet! I will fully admit that I don’t think I’m making much progress thus far, but I’m hoping to turn that around this week.
Looking at “no complaining for a month” under the framework of SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timebound), I think it is achievable, (somewhat) realistic, and timebound. But where I’m struggling is that “no complaining” isn’t really specific or measurable.
How do you define complaining? It seems easy until you try to catch yourself doing it. Over the last week, I’ve found myself in a number of situations where I’ve wanted to point out something negative but factual. Is saying “It’s raining” a complaint on its own, or does it only count as a complaint if I say “I wish it weren’t raining” (which is my point in bringing up the fact that it’s raining)? I thought I could solve for this by declaring that I wouldn’t say anything negative unless I’m asking the other person for a solution; however, some things aren’t controllable but are still relevant and worth mentioning. (Or maybe that is just me railing against giving up venting?)
Plus, how does sarcasm fit into this? Today while driving to the airport, I encountered two cars on the two-lane highway that were going well under the speed limit but at the exact same speed – which meant I couldn’t pass them. Normally, I would complain about that; today, with my goal in mind, I said sarcastically something like, “I am so happy that you are both working together to keep everyone else on the road from speeding!” But I think a complaint veiled in sarcasm is probably still a complaint :)
Even beyond defining specifically what a complaint is, though, I’m also having trouble measuring my progress. I’m finding that probably the hardest part of all this is recognizing when I’m complaining and catching myself in the act. As I mentioned last week, I did create a complaint tracker in Google Docs (so I can get to it from my phone, a la my to do list). I was hoping that would make my complaints measurable by assigning data to it: how many times I complained each day, what situations caused me to complain, and who I was around when I was complaining. One of the impetuses for this challenge was that I felt like I was complaining around coworkers too much, which is definitely not professional, and the one bit of success I’ve had so far is that I think I’ve reduced how much I complain to coworkers (vs complaining to close friends).
However, I’ve logged a paltry 1-2 complaints per day so far… and I can assure you, that’s not because I’ve been super successful overall :) The toughest part of this challenge is just remembering not to complain, because it means I have to be on guard every second of every day. (For comparison, even going on the strictest of diets means you only have to think about your goal when you’re about to put food into your mouth.) It’s easy to tell myself I just need to be more mindful, but as anyone who’s ever struggled with changing their speaking habits can tell you, having a conversation also requires thought, and the brain has trouble focusing on two things at once. Most of the complaints I’ve logged so far have been when other people call a complaint out to me, although I’ve caught myself a few times as well.
I found this article on correcting verbal tics to be useful in figuring out how to attack this next. While complaining isn’t a tic, it’s definitely not a conscious choice for me to do it so much, so I thought figuring out how to correct unconscious behavior would be a good starting point. Since awareness is the first step toward correcting a speech pattern, I’m going to start asking more people in my life to call me out if they hear me complaining. The more ears the better! Everyone I’ve told about this goal has been incredibly supportive (and many have mentioned that it would be good for them to cut back on complaints too), so hopefully I won’t take flak for sharing.
One other mini-goal for this week: I found Will Bowen’s A Complaint Free World at the library, and I’d like to read it by the end of the week. From what I’ve seen of the summary, it includes a 21 day challenge, so starting that challenge ASAP will let me finish right around the end of the month. I’m looking forward to getting some structure from the book that will hopefully make this a little easier!
Anyone else trying to cut back on complaining along with me? What tips do you have?