I launched into a new month-long challenge today. I’m going to stop complaining for the month of February.
And just like Black History Month, I chose the shortest month of the year. Except I am not going to give a speech and tell you all that I’ve noticed what a great job Frederick Douglass is doing (yes, in the present tense).
I am a true believer in the power of our minds to shape our realities.
To put it less cerebrally, if you think you’re gonna have a good day, you probably will, and if you think you won’t, you probably won’t.
Exchange “day” for “life” and the same pretty much holds true.
I’ve seen it play out. I don’t know if it’s the Law of Attraction or the hand of the universe. Maybe it’s that humans uniquely understand our own states of mind, and are able to draw connections between “how we feel” and “what happens to us.”
Or maybe it’s just when I choose to let stuff go and I’m nice to people, I get over stuff faster and people are nicer to me.
But no matter how much we set out to “be positive,” life is still a collection of minutes, interactions, decisions, indecisions, and reactions. Just saying “be positive” might work for a minute or a day or a week, but it’s unlikely to really change you at a core level. You have to really work at that.
Many years ago, in the wake of an ugly break-up, I had a major realization and from that, I made an important decision.
I realized that our brains don’t know if we’re acting happy and then we get happy, or if we get happy and then we start acting happy. In other words, happy action can be the result of happiness, or it can be the impetus for happiness!
To put it another way, are you smiling because you’re happy, or are you happy because you started smiling? More importantly, does it really matter how you got happy, if you’re indeed now swimming in happiness?
From that realization, I made a proactive decision: I was going to be positive, happy, and well-adjusted. I didn’t just get over the breakup – quite the contrary, I was pissed about the circumstances for several years, honestly. Rather, I allowed myself to feel whatever I was feeling for a bit (very important in and of itself), but made the conscious decision to return to my baseline of “happy” each time. There was no guarantee I would stay happy forever, nor would that be normal. I simply wasn’t going to be the victim of my state of mind anymore.
If life is just a collection of moments, it made more sense to me to try to stack as many happy moments together than to hope (a) I woke up happy and (b) literally nothing negative happened to me all day.
To that end, I made a list of things that happy people do, and list of things that unhappy people do. I made a lot of copies of those lists, and I carried them around with me. I referred to them throughout the day. I checked them off as I went through the day. At the end of each day, I reviewed the list.
Each night, I gave myself the advice I’ve given many employees in my career: Rickey, you can make 365 mistakes a year, but if you make the same mistake twice, it ain’t a mistake anymore. It’s a choice. So I took 100% responsibility for my own state of mind, and I stopped making so many damned mistakes.
It worked. It didn’t work all at once, or like a magic trick. Rather, it worked by slowly developing my “positivity” muscles. It worked by helping me consider what might derail me any given day, and creating a plan to stay positive even if that eventuality happened.
It worked because I treated it like it was my job.
After a while, it became my default. I used to have a bad temper, I had zero patience, and I was prone to making snap judgments about people and situations.
Today, I rarely get truly mad, I have a ton more patience than I ever did, and I try to view every situation with empathy and compassion. I said “try” intentionally…it doesn’t always work. But more often than not, my default, my center, my baseline, is one of positivity, love, and happiness.
Fast forward to now.
Lately, I’ve been complaining about stuff. Bitching about traffic. Whining about aches and pains. Venting about random less-than-amazing situations.
Long, long ago, I stopped bringing home the daily “vent about my workday” session. I said at the time that I simply didn’t want to relive and rehash the day’s events. But with a little perspective and time, I’ll say now that it’s because I want to keep my home peaceful and happy. I want to keep my home a real sanctuary from the world.
But lately, I’ve been slipping. And I see that it’s tainting my worldview. And it’s setting a bad example for the people in my life.
So, with that, I’ve embarked on a month-long “no complaining” challenge. For the month of February, I am going to do my best to 100% avoid complaining about anything. No bitching about work, no complaining about the bad driver in front of me, no relaying the fact that I stubbed my toe in the bathroom last night, nothing. Zero.
I know this will be hard, but I also know that like any exercise, it will get easier and easier each day. I know that by refraining from stating out loud the negative, living in the positive will be that much easier.
One note of clarification – “complaining,” for the purpose of this exercise, is any statement of negative occurrences without a simultaneous plan of action to solve them. For example, “wow the house is dirty…” is not complaining if it’s combined with “…and I’m going to start cleaning it right now!”
And for those of you who tune in for my more political posts, I don’t consider writing about the state of affairs of the country to be “complaining,” so much as I consider it to be my sacred duty as an American to engage in political discourse. The lawyer in me is pre-answering my smart-ass friends who were going to tell me to quit writing about Donald Trump for the month. Nope, no luck, sorry.
I’ll post a few updates as the month goes on.
And by the way, I’m interested to hear if any of you have had experience with this same idea – manifesting positivity via your choice to live in the positive and keep the negative at bay. Share your comments if you have some personal insight into this!