by Joy Stone
What do you really want?
What makes you happy?
What gives your life meaning?
What are your strengths?
I ask my clients these questions all the time and almost always they respond with a long silence followed by “I don’t know” or “I’m not sure, I’ve never really asked myself those questions.”
When we’re at a point in our lives where we feel unhappy, overwhelmed, stressed, anxious, or depressed, we’re often consumed with complaints, excuses, and reasons why we can’t have what we want.
Yet, many of us find it difficult to clearly articulate what it is we truly desire. We’re trapped in the mental loop of what we don’t want. We feel stuck. Life becomes heavy and we feel compelled to complain.
In reality, complaining is one of the most toxic barriers to long-term happiness, because it leaves us a victim to life, and too often blocked from any new or positive ideas or actions.
But the truth is, most things we complain about are changeable. So why don’t we just stop complaining and change the problem?
A chronic complaint likely falls under one of these three categories:
1. We’re unwilling to change what we can, and instead focus our attention on what we can’t change about the person, situation, or relationship—and get stuck in the problem.
2. We’re not ready to change. We have an excuse why now is not a good time or the right time.
3.We simply don’t know how to change and we need help.
Here are four key factors to embrace when it comes to letting go of complaining—and creating positive change:
1. Most of what we complain about is changeable.
2. We are hardwired and designed for change.
3. All of us are capable of learning and developing the knowledge, wisdom, and inner resources to make the necessary changes we desire.
4. Change requires action.
Deep down, we know this. In fact, the very reason we complain is because somewhere in our imagination and desires we already know there is something better for us—we can see it and even feel it.
This vision—even if unclear—creates a tension between where we are and where we want to be—and what we ultimately want to experience.
Most change, however, involves taking risk and stretching beyond our comfort zone—so instead we complain and avoid taking new action and/or building the inner resources we need.
The result is that chronic complaining produces stress, anxiety, and overwhelm.
And eventually that tension between what we’re experiencing, and what we want to have, is too great—and we suffer.
Thankfully, there is another way.
Positive psychology shows us how to take control of our focus, clean up our thinking, and, most importantly, pay attention to where we want to go and what we want to have—and gives us step-by-step positive, consistent, and sustainable action.
The next time you find yourself complaining, try this simple practice that combines both spiritual practice and modern positive psychology, utilizing the power of positive questions.
Sit quietly, and gently put your hands on your heart. Take three deep breaths in and out as if you were breathing through your heart. Then, bring to heart one thing in your life that you’re grateful for, and breathe in and out three more times into your heart. Continue to breath until you begin to truly feel gratitude.
When you feel settled, ask yourself these five questions:
1. If I wasn’t afraid, what would I do?
2. What part of what I’m complaining about can I change, accept, or leave behind?
3. What is holding me back?
4. What action am I willing to take now to overcome my fear and move forward and toward a solution?
5. How can I be kinder to myself today?
Another way to get unstuck is to increase the positive creative energy within us—and to connect with the larger creative energy around us.
To do this, try the following exercise, a transformative twist on the traditional gratitude journal. It comes from Martin Seligman, PhD, often referred to as the father of positive psychology and a leader in the study of happiness and life satisfaction.
At the end of your day, write down three things that went well and why they went well.
You can answer these questions to help you get clear on why it went well—and learn to retrain your brain to think more positively and constructively—and leave complaining in the past.
1. Why did it happen?
2. What did I do to help this happen?
3. What did I do well?
4. Why did I do that?
Next, write down one thing that didn’t go well today.
Then answer these two valuable and transformative questions to help develop inner awareness, resilience, and confidence—and get into action, if necessary.
1. If I focus on this, how is this keeping me stuck?
2. When I feel stuck, what are the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that can help me get unstuck?
Practicing these techniques on a daily basis will aid in transforming our thoughts and emotions from a negative and disempowered state to a positive and expansive one.
In this mental and emotional condition, we become much more open to good possibilities and to solutions.
Make these practices a daily discipline. Pay attention when wonderful new insights surface.
And remember, happiness is not just the absence of misery (anxiety, stress, overwhelm), it is also the presence of joy, hope, and resilience.
Joy Stone is a Positive Psychology Life Coach and a yoga teacher. She combines the yoga tradition with modern positive psychology to help people move beyond anxiety, fear, and overwhelm, without medication or traditional talk therapy, so they can move forward in life and thrive. Joy works with individuals and groups from all over the country via phone and Skype, and locally in the Nashville area. Find out more at joystonecoaching.com.