Several times this week, I caught myself complaining when someone asked me how I was, or how my week was going. Why did I do that? Why did I respond that I had spent a lot of frustrating time on hold on the phone instead of saying that I was enjoying the early spring? Why do we often try to connect with each other by sharing our annoyances rather than by sharing our joys?
Complaining is a habit. It keeps us from our happy place. We can change this habit. Will Bowen started a program at his church called A Complaint Free World. (You can learn more about it at www.acomplaintfreeworld.org.) Based on studies showing that it takes about 21 days to form a new habit, he encouraged his congregation to replace the habit of complaining with the habit of being positive. Everyone wore a purple plastic bracelet as a visual reminder. Each time a person caught herself complaining, she would switch the bracelet to the other wrist. The goal was to go 21 days without complaining. (I would be happy to go 21 minutes!)
To change a habit, we must first be aware of it. Try to notice when you complain. When do you tend to complain? To whom? About what? Once we become aware of our complaint habits, we need to substitute a more desirable habit. If you want a toddler to hand over some inappropriate but coveted object, what is the best approach? Yank it from his hand? Or offer him something more attractive?
Our minds work the same way. If you simply try to stop the bad habit, it will flow back in to fill the void. So when you catch yourself complaining, substitute a positive thought. You will feel happier yourself, and you will lift up those around you. Misery might love company, but joy creates company. Good company. Martin Luther King, Jr., inspired millions by describing his dream rather than by describing his pain.
Watch out–if you catch yourself complaining and then criticize yourself for the lapse, that is two complaints! Give yourself a thumbs up for every complaint free period you have, however brief it is. When a nun complained to Father Keating that during her time of contemplative prayer, she had to refocus her wandering thoughts a thousand times, he opened his arms wide and exclaimed, “That’s wonderful! That is a thousand times you were connected to God!”
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