Monday afternoon I spent a good 90 minutes with my therapist trying to figure out why my two abhorrent friends (Debbie Downer and Negative Nelly) have come for an extended stay.
Yes. I have a therapist.
No.. I’m not ‘one of thoooooose people’
But I am all in favor of therapists. Especially when you live alone without a significant other, your family is 3200 miles away and you don’t want every social occasion to turn into a Dr Phil moment. Yes, friends can be great to unload on, to discuss ‘what should I do’ decisions or ‘why did I do that’ moments.. but they’re only human and its not fair to ask them to gaze at your navel for hours every week.
My chesticals maybe… navel… not so much.
So I like to spread my musing around a bit, and if I have to pay one of them.. its worth every penny. Plus she has mints.
Anyhow, after both of us navel gazed for an age about my startling negativity of late, she suggested that I go ‘complaint free’ for 21 days.
Somewhat like any recovery program (but drinking allowed), the goal to go without complaining, ‘negging’ , moaning, being rude or sharp, critical, whining or gossiping for 21 consecutive days. At the end of which you’ve apparently broken the habit.. aaaaaaand hopefully not been sectioned to the local pysch ward or recruited by the Mormons.
21 days without a single negative word? Now that’s a challenge for a Brit. We’re brought up on moaning. Its second nature to be sarcastic and don’t get me starting on complaining. Its wrapped around every strand of our DNA. Brits are polite to a fault, but behind closed doors or under our breath, its a whole other story. We need it. All that rain, dealing with the class system, lack of ice and foreskins… you need to moan a bit.
This challenge was designed for me. If challenge means ‘literally impossible’, ‘requires no training’ and ‘doesn’t involve heights’. This is my Annapurna. I may check out North Face and see if they have anything suitable to assist me in this herculean task. A gag perhaps?
What do I have to lose? It might help me kick my inner Eeyore to the curb before I get fired and if I fail? I’ve been a bit nicer for a bit.
To help with recording complaints, (since complaining doesn’t give you a hangover or cost anything), you wear an elastic band on your wrist. Every time you complain, whine, moan or bitch, you switch the band to the other wrist. Goal = band stays on the same wrist for 3 weeks. If you switch the band just once … you go back to Day 1. You don’t get to progress to Day 2 until you’ve made it a whole 24 hours without complaint. And even if you’re on day 20, one moan and you’re back to Day 1.
Now this doesn’t mean that you’re sallying around chattering about butterflies and unicorns; you’re not expected to become Tony Robbins either. This isn’t thought police either – you can think whatever you want.. but the words. The words can’t be negative or gossipy or mean or rude. And if the facts invite a negative discussion, you have to stick.to.the.exact.facts. Without adding a tone, a sneer, a sarcastic remark or chiming in on someone else’s negative moment. If you have nothing positive or neutral to say, you say nothing.
For those who know me… stop laughing. I’m not that bad.
Except I am. *sigh*
I invite you to try it for just a single conversation with someone you know well. Its so very ridiculously strange. And alarming to realize how much you say without actually saying very much at all. Suddenly I realize how often my default is sarcasm or rudeness. How sharp I can be in simply stating facts and under pressure?
Not surprisingly I’m three days in and still on Day 1.
Day 1 (my first Day 1), started out easy. I live alone and I didn’t have any calls for a few hours. By 4pm I’d made it through 2 conference calls and not a harsh word, sarcastic comment or criticism made. I was verging on smug, after I’d been warned ‘you’ll be on Day 1 for quite a while’, here I was only a few hours from bedtime and, well, call me Miss Positivity.
Until I stepped outside to walk the dog and ran into a neighbor.
We chatted for about – ooooo – 10 minutes. By which time I’d switched the band about 5 times. My mind was scrambling to try to direct our conversation away from complaints to something positive, something neutral… but I couldn’t help it. I dived right it and complained along with her. I literally couldn’t stop my mouth from moving even as my brain was screaming ‘NOOOOOOOOOOOOO’.
Later on the phone with a friend I resolved to make it through one of our usual hour long chats without a complaint or a negative comment, even though I’d already fucked my Day 1 chances of moving to Day 2. After a while I noticed that having to pay 100% attention to her words (and mine), not only energized the shit out of me, but I felt good. Really good. For no reason. Now obviously chatting with a friend should make you feel good. You’re connecting, your laughing, you’re nattering on about nothing… its fun. That’s why you’re friends. But this was something else. As I hung up the phone, I felt … well… joy.
In really engaging with her, focusing on the great things happening in her life, I found myself talking about the awesomeness that is going on with me. She responded to my positivity in kind and in an hour, my mood was positively giddy with joy. Something that I’d not been able to locate for myself with a therapist or a bottle of wine. Apparently focusing on the positive…. makes you positive?
Day 2 (though its still Day 1 according to my wrist). A full day of conference calls and face to face meetings, and by mid day I’ve noticed that I need to give my full attention to each meeting in order to stay positive and factual. I’m more careful when I speak, and I’m actually having to think about my words before I use them (first time in 42 years kids!). I still failed to make it through the day without a neg sentence, but my awareness of doing it – switching my elastic band each time – helped me try harder with each call. And most strange of all, I felt more positive overall. I was excited about work. I noticed more of the good, less of the stuff which generally drives me nuts. Its so unbelievably weird.
If your life is really determined by your thoughts, and your words reflect those thoughts. Then words really do matter. But can you really change your thoughts, by changing your words? I don’t know, but I’m interested to find out where this goes.
I’ll be over here, snapping my elastic band and frantically trying to steer the conversation away from the weather.