A month or so ago I got together with a good friend for a long lunch, and after initial pleasantries she made a request: She informed me that she was on a complaining fast—eliminating (or at least trying to) all complaints for two weeks. She was more than a week through the fast when we met, and she suggested it was having a bit of an effect: More things were less annoying. Her request was that if she should slip into complaining, that I remind her about the fast.
We talked about it for awhile. Does it include internal complaining? She tries to, she said, but it’s hard. That’s the toughest one. You can muzzle your mouth maybe, but you can’t muzzle your mind.
I was intrigued. I wondered, how much do I complain? How difficult would it be to stop? I loved the idea. I wanted to start right away but decided I should wait until after the republican presidential debates (Oct.28) so I thought November 1 a good target start date.
But it had caught me up. I couldn’t wait. When I realized I was censoring my internal complaints at a late date in October, I realized I was already staring the fast. No complaining—most especially out loud, but internally as well. This includes complaints about self, friends, the weather, the house, the state of the catbox, and pretty much everything else.
It’s been nearly two weeks, and I plan to continue until November 15. I have found the fast to be very informative. I’ve learned that I complain primarily about two things: people who complain, and things driving-related (bad drivers, bad roads, detours, etc.).
I have found it quite a challenge to control my complaining while driving. It’s such a knee-jerk reaction for me, but I had no idea how much I did it (almost every time I drive, apparently). Even after I became aware, it’s been difficult to stop. However, it does seem to be improving. I don’t get annoyed quite as often. And I have started (occasionally) to respond in a positive rather than complaining manner. Example: A man was crossing in the middle of the block of a busy street. I usually find this extremely annoying, but instead of even a short fume, I smiled and waved at him. I think he was a mite surprised, but he recovered himself and smiled and waved back. I think we were both better off for the interaction.
The complaining about people complaining is a different kind of nut to crack. I’m not talking about a friend who needs to vent occasionally, or someone who complains about something in the course of a conversation. Rather, I’m talking about long-term intense and prolonged complaining, usually in the form of a monologue. I do not have a lot of this in my life, and it was much more common in my old work life than it is in my personal life.
But still it happens, an entire lunch spent listening to a complaint monologue. I didn’t realize how much this was getting to me until I started the fast. The resentment (i.e., my internal complaining about the complaining) is like a broken record in my head. I had no idea how obsessed I am with this specific scenario.
So yes, of course, clearly I need to do something about it, but as they say—awareness is the first step! I’ll continue the fast until the 15th, and perhaps by then I’ll have discovered even more.
It’s a fascinating and surprising journey. I did a little research online, and there’s quite a bit out there on complaining fasts. Many people fast for a month rather than two weeks. But I thought two weeks was a good start. I could see doing a month. Actually, I could see this as a way a life. It feels healthy—good for my mind, my spirit, and even my body. (Just in case you think I’m going off my rocker, I’m not taking about critical thinking and debate, disagreeing, or arguing. The best synonym I can think of is “whining” or perhaps “ranting.”)
Others extend their fast to the broader environment, avoiding people or situations where complaining is likely to occur. I am not so comfortable with dictating others’ behaviors, and if I had to avoid everyone I know who complains, well. . . . I was going to say I would have to move to a nunnery but I dare say they are not likely complaint-free either! And while I am not the most social of persons, neither do I want to sequester myself from others to avoid the potential impact of second-hand complaints.
But I do like working to control my own complaining behavior. Already I am thinking of doing it again. And not some vague “sometime” again, but sometime soon.
January, I’m thinking.