31 May How To Complain Less
“Some people find fault like there’s a reward for it”
– Zig Ziglar
When I was a kid, I wanted to be a lawyer.
Probably a bit because my mum thought it was a great career but also because I think I was a smug enough child that having a job where I could argue and prove other people wrong sounded pretty good.
I know the exact moment I changed my mind about doing it, too. I didn’t exactly have a well-rounded idea of what being a lawyer was, and all I knew was what I saw on TV, i.e. court rooms with ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’.
One day I said to my mum ‘I want to be a lawyer, but I don’t want to work with people who are guilty.’ She told me ‘Well, you don’t always get to decide that. You might have to.’
So I said: ‘Fine. I don’t want to be a lawyer, then.’
(But anyone who’s ever been in a heated disagreement with me will tell you that just because I don’t get paid to be a lawyer doesn’t mean I don’t still try my hardest to argue like one.)
A couple of years ago, I looked back through some old journals where I’d write out my thoughts and reflections on stuff, and I’d do it every day. This was around the time that a friend recommended The Secret to me and I’d read the book and watched the movie (maybe 2013). You could tell I was ‘trying’ this positive thing.
So these journals. Basically, I’d spend a couple of pages writing out all my complaints about my job, my house, my family, my love life, then at the end I’d write about 2 sentences that went something like ‘Oh but I’m so grateful for everything I have!’
When I read them back I rolled my eyes so hard I think I saw the back of my own head.
Did I think someone was going to give me an award for complaining?
(Hey, if it existed, I wouldn’t even have wanted a nomination, so I don’t know what I thought I was doing.)
Keep in mind if you’ve read or watched The Secret, you’d know that’s not really even how it works, by the way. Not only that, but what was the point? I know I still have a bit of a rant every so often, just to get things off my chest, but I’m pretty confident that all the time I spent complaining didn’t make me any happier.
Why am I telling you this now?
Well, this week I took stock of how I was doing in life. My first thought was ‘Well, I’m still not quite where I want to be.’ (True – I have an ambitious To Do list.)
If you read my post about stress during Mental Health Awareness Week recently, you’ll know I’m really fantastically good at putting pressure on myself. But this week, even though I had that thought, I then told myself straight away ‘Yeah, but I’m not where I used to be, either.’
I’m the kind of person who needs proof that I’m doing well, and just working my butt off doesn’t always count as proof to me because it’s not super tangible. I like results. I like specifics. I like EVIDENCE. (I really do think I’m a lawyer.) But sometimes that ‘evidence’ can take a while to come through and I’m pretty impatient.
So I might feel a bit annoyed by that sometimes, but I like to think I’ve stopped finding fault like there’s a reward for it. (Unless there is. Is there? How do I win it?)
How’d I get there?
One of the things I was great at was doing my pretend-lawyer bit and looking for evidence for why everything was so rubbish and needed moaning about. When I started learning more about changing and challenging my own negative thoughts, I remember getting into a little back and forth with a CBT practitioner.
So there’s this thing where you do an exercise where you take a negative thought that keeps coming up for you and writing arguments ‘for’ and ‘against’ it to show that maybe it’s not as true as you thought.
We’d got talking about how to use it and I started saying just how unconvincing the positive thought could be, and all the reasons it might be wrong. Then they said:
‘You’re great at disproving and discrediting thoughts. You’re just doing it the wrong way round.’
Well didn’t that just put me in my place.
I hated to admit it but they had a really good point – I was amazing at finding evidence, I was just doing it in a really biased way and it might just help to do it for the other side.
(Basically what I heard was ‘You know, you can use your powers for good instead.’)
Considering I’d quit my lawyer ‘career’ before it ever started, I’d come full circle – I was defending the guilty party.
Now, when I’m finding myself wanting to moan about things, I look for all the proof that there’s still good stuff – ‘cause doing the opposite is all that complaining is. It’s trying real hard to find proof that things are crappy. But there’s always proof that things are actually beetter than you think.
There’s a weird sense of satisfaction that you get when you prove yourself right – and you can do it for either side. But that’s the only real reward for finding bad stuff, especially when the only person you’re proving it to is yourself. And for me, that wasn’t quite a good enough reason to keep doing it. Finding the good stuff just makes you feel better, physically and mentally (and these days my aim is to be as chill as possible, so that helps).
(I’m still a great pretend lawyer, though.)