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Beyond Grateful

Updated: Sep 17, 2020

I’m a recovering complainer. I used to be quite skilled at it. I complained about my job, my house, my spouse, my never ending to do list, my bank account balance. Oftentimes my complaints came out in conversations that took the form of a mini contest of who could “one up” the other with a worse complaint.

Worse than this, was the times my complaints came out “sideways.” Instead of complaining, I blamed or criticized loved ones. I got defensive.

Here's what I discovered:

· The more I complained, the less content I felt.

· The more I complained, the more stressed I felt.

· The more I complained, the worse my relationships became.

It was ugly.

Have you been there? Are you there right now?

So far 2020 has been a trying year for everyone. If we had a lot to complain about before, we surely have more to complain about now.

A common and healthy way to deal with complaining is to make a list of things you are grateful for, to switch your attitude from the negative to the positive. That’s great! If you haven’t done that, or don’t do that regularly, it will help.

But, sometimes being grateful is not enough.

What if we looked deeper into our complaint? What if our complaints are instructive? Instructive into who we are, what we value, and how we grow.

Perhaps, if we are willing to look closer, there are life-giving insights in our complaints.

Here are 5 Strategies to Combat Complaining

1. Sweet and Sour Pair Well

Usually the best lessons in life are paired with REALLY HARD times.

Last week I talked with a friend who is a Hospice Chaplain. He was reflecting on his times as a Chaplain Resident at a hospital and how hard that time was. In that season he had a lot to complain about.

After completing his residency, he learned he could have done the same residency at a different location, where it would have been much easier. I said, “I bet you wish you would have known about that sooner!” To which he paused, and then replied, “I don’t know, even though it was really hard, I am glad I went through it. I’m a better person because of it. I grew a lot.”

While what we eat is called Sweet and Sour sauce, our life experience is usually reverse - sour and sweet sauce.

Are you in a sour season? Is it time to switch your attitude from focusing on the “sour,” to actively looking and waiting for the “sweet”?

Sometimes it helps to simply acknowledge you are in a sour time. It's difficult!’ won’t last forever.

2. Look Inside

What can you learn about yourself through this complaint? Try answering questions like these:

· What exactly are you complaining about? How often do you complain about it? For how long have you complained?

· Why is it bothering you? What triggers the complaint?

· What does it reveal about what is or isn’t important to you?

· In what ways are you contributing to the problem?

· Is it something that is so important that you want to do something about it?

· What steps can you take to understand it from another angle? Check out my blog on how a Question Burst can expand your understanding of the problem.

3. Spend Emotional and Physical Energy Wisely

Complaining is one indicator of stress. We can’t, and probably shouldn’t, avoid stress; nor can we prevent stress from entering our lives. What we can control is what we do with it.

Dr. David Olson, who developed an assessment and skill building exercises for couples to strengthen their relationship, provides this guidance for managing stress:

a. List what is stressful in your life (what you are complaining about).

b. Prioritize the issues that are most important to you.

c. Decide which can be changed or resolved, and which ones can’t.

d. Focus on the ones that are high priority and that can be changed.

e. Work with a friend, co-worker, or Life Coach to identify changes you can make.

Reinhold Niebuhr says it this way, “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can’t, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

4. Play the Long Game

Years ago, I was packing things in the back of my trunk with a co-worker. Our conversation consisted of complaints about work. This co-worker was older than me, someone I considered a mentor. Her advice to me was, “This too shall pass.” While I didn’t want to hear that, and it didn’t solve the problem, I think she was right.

I realize that the attitude of “this too shall pass” can lead to feelings of “throwing in the towel.” But, at times, it really is the best attitude to have. Some things we can’t change, now or ever. Complaining about it only makes us feel worse.

Just because we are letting it go for now, doesn’t mean that we won’t pick it up again later.

One thing in life that is consistent is change - things will keep changing. Maybe we need to wait for something else to change first. Maybe today isn’t the day to take action on what you are complaining about, and maybe tomorrow isn’t either.

Sometimes we need to let go, let our emotions and thoughts simmer, and then revisit our complaint.

5. Help Me See

One of my coaching clients was reflecting on the stress of setting up a meeting with an aunt. It wasn’t coming together when she wanted. She didn’t want to wait three weeks.

It just so happened, that during the three-week wait, she met with another relative and had a deep conversation about family of origin - a conversation that totally changed the focus on the upcoming conversation with her aunt. My client became grateful that she had not met with her aunt three weeks prior. The timing would have been all wrong.

There were simply other things going on that she didn’t, and couldn’t, see or know.

May we have the attitude of the man who came to Jesus and said, “Rabbi, help me to see.”

Are we willing to open our eyes to what we are not seeing?

Has complaining been an effective strategy in managing stress in your life? In finding contentment? In having healthy relationships? It hasn’t worked for me.

I’ve given you five strategies to become a recovering complainer.

What are some additional ways we can learn about ourselves from our complaints? What has worked for you?

Put it in the comments.

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