“How are you?” a friend asks.
It’s a simple enough question. With lots of easy answers such as,
- “Hanging in there…”
But today, I just want to vent.
So I launch into my laundry list of complaints, telling her—in full detail—about everything that’s happening that shouldn’t be. Plus all the things that should be happening but aren’t.
When I pause for breath, she says she’s sorry but needs to get going. Watching her beat a hasty retreat, I realize:
I’ve become just like Aunt Lucy after all.
My Aunt Lucy was a lot like the woman in My Big Fat Greek Wedding who introduced herself to strangers by saying, “Okay. All my life, I have a lump at the back of my neck, right there, always a lump.”
With my Aunt Lucy, it was lumps and bumps and bunions and intestinal issues—all this (and so much more!) was her idea of dinner conversation. We called her endless list of problems her “organ recital.”
“You have no idea how much I suffer!” she would say, making the silverware jump as she pound the table for emphasis.
She was sure she was the only one who suffered so much. But I was pretty sure I had some idea, because she was so good at sharing her suffering.
As a child, I swore I would never be like Aunt Lucy.
But now that I’m an adult, I find that my brain defaults to negativity.
Just like Aunt Lucy.
How to Stop Being Negative
“Do everything without grumbling or arguing”
I used to believe that venting my emotions was helpful. Letting it all out. Using friends and family as sounding boards for my frustration.
But I’ve come to see each negative word I speak as a one-pound weight I’m adding to my own backpack even as I’m attempting to tread water.
For the last decade, I’ve taken the Complaint-Free Challenge every January. The goal is to go the entire month without complaining, criticizing, or gossiping. I switch a bracelet from one wrist to the other each time I catch myself in the act.
Each year I’m reminded that the more I complain, criticize, and gossip—aloud or internally—the more quickly I succumb to overwhelming emotions. It’s not a coincidence; there’s a direct correlation.
Since I can’t control the outside events that trigger an initial flood of emotion, it’s vital that I control what I can: the words I speak aloud and think inside my head.
The “how to” for this is simple: replace “baditude” with gratitude. Notice I said simple, not easy. It’s been ten years, and I’m still working at it. But even in the first year, my husband and children noticed remarkable changes. So did I.
3 Practices for Breaking Free From “Baditude”
Three practices that help me get out of a negativity rut are:
1 — Break the “baditude” habit. Start by taking the Complaint-Free Challenge. Use a bracelet you already own or a rubber band. The whole point is to prayerfully become aware of your complaining, criticizing, and gossiping habits and be open to the Holy Spirit’s conviction.
2 — Replace “baditude” with God’s Word. I found that just stopping myself from complaining wasn’t enough; I needed something to replace the negativity running through my mind. Rehearsing ANCHOR verses is a great way to interrupt the negative patterns.
3 — Replace “baditude” with gratitude. If you don’t currently have a gratitude practice, start one. Begin with a simple gratitude journal, listing one thing you’re grateful for each day. If you’re already in this habit, start increasing the number of items you write down. Make it a competition with yourself to double, triple, even increase by tenfold!
Complaining vs. Problem-Solving vs. Lamenting
“So, Cheri, are you saying I should keep quiet about my concerns and pretend everything is hunky-dory?”
Not at all.
Let’s get clear on a few definitions:
Complaining is making energetic statements focused on the problem at hand rather than the resolution sought
- to the wrong person
- at the wrong place
- at the wrong time
- in the wrong tone
Your goal is to notice before you start complaining, which accomplish nothing, so you can intentionally switch to problem-solving, which has a far better chance of moving you forward.
Problem-Solving is talking directly and only to the person who can solve the problem
- at the right place
- at the right time
- in the right tone
Keep your person, place, time, and tone on point, and you can problem-solve all day long without changing your bracelet once!
Lamenting is expressing grief … mourning. Lamenting needs to happen
- with safe people
- in a safe place
- at a safe time
As the Psalmist demonstrates, God is your always-safe “person” and place for lament, any time of day or night. Whereas some people can handle some parts of your grief process, God can handle it all.
Start Feeling Better
If you’re at all like my Aunt Lucy and me — prone to noticing the negative — why not try the Break Free From “Baditude” Challenge for 7 days?
Find an accountability partner and commit to
- Breaking the “baditude” habit
- Replacing “baditude” with God’s word
- Replacing “baditude” with gratitude
Your circumstances probably won’t change. But learning how to stop being negative will change the way you respond to your circumstances.
As you change your responses, you’ll start feeling better.
So when a friend asks, “How are you?” you won’t launch into an organ recital. Instead, perhaps you’ll say, “I’m feeling grateful today. How about you?”
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Portions of this post excerpted from You Don’t Have to Try So Hard: Ditch Expectations and Live Your Own Best Life (originally published as The Cure for the “Perfect” Life), which releases on September 4th.
Pre-order your copy today!