Want to give something up for Ash Wednesday, but not sure what? Might I suggest giving up complaining?
I took a workshop several months ago sponsored by an amazing nonprofit called A Complaint Free World. The organization’s overarching goal is to create a complaint-free world. The short-term goal is to help each individual to go 21 straight days without complaining. To help you do so, you wear a wristband (or rubber band) and move it from one wrist to the other if you catch yourself complaining, gossiping, backbiting or criticizing. Good news: It’s okay to think these things, but you cannot say them out loud.
As a therapist who specializes in positive psychology, you’d think I’d have a handle on complaining, wouldn’t you? Yeah, well, I learned that complaining also includes criticism (including self-criticism) and gossiping. Try catching yourself every time you complain, gripe, gossip, criticize or put anyone down!
So far I’ve been able to go seven days without verbalizing anything negative, and I’m working on 21. It takes most people one entire year to meet the 21-day challenge. After that, it purportedly becomes a way of life. And a great one. Imagine living in a world where we all only emit positive, life-affirming statements about ourselves, others and life in general!
Since every human behavior has a positive objective, it’s interesting to look at the “pay-off” we get when we complain, criticize or gossip. We:
1. Get attention. “Please send this steak back to the chef, again. I mean really, how hard is it to get it right?” 2. Feel/look superior to others. “Why do I have to attend this training session? I’m not the one that can’t get the job done right.” 3. Avoid action or responsibility. “It is pointless to have to take chemistry. I’m never gonna use it!” 4. Have a sense of control. “I have to keep a keen eye over my employees. I don’t trust those people for a minute.” 5. Pre-excuse poor performance. “Don’t expect me to manage our finances…I suck at math.” Simply knowing the “why” generally makes it easier to change the “how.”
I challenge you to start wearing a wristband/rubber band, and every time you hear yourself say any thing critical, complaining, griping, gossiping, denigrating toward anyone, simply acknowledge it, move the band to the other wrist. The more you do this, the less you have to. The awareness of toxic talk is the first step toward releasing it.