I have recognized a negative trend developing in myself in the past few weeks. My thoughts are being poisoned by events around me – nothing earth-shattering, just the normal stuff that is part of day to day life. Yet these events have hurt and impacted those I care deeply about. When I allow poison to seep into my thoughts and stay, my words and actions begin to reflect that poison. I begin to engage in complaining, gossiping, and criticizing. When this happens, I have lost sight of maintaining my integrity. I am reminded of a need to recognize those things that are outside of my control and those things within my control. I need to focus on those things within my control: my own thoughts and actions.
According to my handy Google Dictionary extension, integrity is defined as “the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness.” This is a quality I believe in, strive for, and do my best to instill in my children and my students. Integrity is quickly lost when we give in to the temptation to complain, gossip, or criticize. It’s easy to lose sight of when we spend time with those who do the same.
It has become more important than ever to rely on the folks that have guided me to a better path. I mentioned a few in a recent post about my coaching beliefs; I want to add to that list (as I could probably do every day!): Dr. Jody Carrington, Jennifer Gonzales, and Brené Brown. Today’s post, though, will go back to the work of Will Bowen and his book, A Complaint Free World: How to Stop Complaining and Start Enjoying the Life You Always Wanted. In his book, Bowen challenges his readers to do three things: stop complaining, stop gossiping, and stop criticizing.
My Google Dictionary extension defines complaining as, “the expression of dissatisfaction or annoyance about something.” This expression is most often voiced, out loud, to others. And that should be OK, right? If we are dissatisfied with something, we should voice it. Bowen’s challenge is to think about what you complain about. He writes, “If we are honest with ourselves, life events that lead us to express grief, pain, or discontent are exceptionally rare. Certainly there are individuals around the world who are facing very difficult lives and everyone goes through hard times here and there. However, many people today are living in the safest, healthiest and most prosperous time in all of human history. And yet, what do they do? They complain.” Yes, this book was written in 2007, pre-pandemic, but I believe the words still ring true. If we save our complaints for the really bad stuff (war, famine, disease, death)… would we have much left to complain about? Bowen challenges us to become hyper-aware of our tendency to complain by engaging in a 21 day complaint-free challenge. In this 21 days, he asks that you wear one of his purple A Complaint Free World bracelets (a rubber band will do the trick). Each time you catch yourself complaining, gossiping, or criticizing, switch the bracelet to the other wrist. I wore my bracelet faithfully for about two years; although I rarely made it through two or three days without complaining, my awareness of the amount of complaining I did was greatly increased and the amount of complaining I did greatly decreased. I have decided to break out my bracelet again – my complaining tendencies are in full gear these days and I want to get a handle on it. NOW.
The Google Dictionary extension defines gossip as “casual or unconstrained conversation or reports about other people, typically involving details that are not confirmed as being true.” Gossip is easy to engage in, it is toxic, it is damaging, and it destroys integrity. My mother’s voice rings loud in my head when the temptation to gossip comes along, “Were you there? Did you see it and hear it yourself? Even then, do you know it to be true?” My own method of avoiding gossip involves putting my own name (or a loved one’s name) in place of the name of the person being talked about. We don’t want to be the target of gossip; let’s not gossip about others. I think the Golden Rule is alive and well, eh???
Our trusty Google Dictionary extension defines the word “criticize” as “indicate the faults of (someone or something) in a disapproving way,” which brings to mind the question, who are we to judge? The faults and actions of others belong to others. When their faults and actions impact us, it’s upon us to engage in reflective conversation with them, if invited, not to judge or criticize. We’re all human, not a one of us better than another. When appropriate, transform criticism to constructive criticism, which is “a helpful way of giving feedback that provides specific, actionable suggestions” such as when working with employees or students. If we aren’t in a position as parent, guardian, employer, or educator, perhaps we should avoid criticism all-together.
In addition to donning my purple Complaint-Free bracelet, I’m going to continue to lean heavily on those who are so much wiser, I’m going to remember that maintenance is an important part of everything (regular house-cleanings, dental check-ups, spiritual check-ins – church, meditation, whatever works for you – daily exercise, car tune-ups, physical exams…). I’m going to avoid self-criticism about the place I’ve recently landed; I’m going to celebrate recognition of said place and move to a better place. I’m going to focus on what I can control, and I’m going to regularly revisit Jon Gordon’s 2021 Positive Tips.