Bluebird Lane Blog
Bluebird Lane Blog

Here’s a Challenge for You: Go Complaint-Free!

by Lori Albrough

A while back I was in this seven week program on creativity, and on day one they started off by presenting us with a challenge. It was a contract to sign, and the contract said that for the forty-nine day duration, we would commit to totally giving up the following:

Complaining, Criticizing, Gossiping, and Whining.

Whoa! Stop and think about that for a moment.

Think about, and watch through your day for, how many conversations involve — or are initiated by — complaining or whining or gossip or criticism. Think about how ubiquitous these elements are in our society. As one small example, whole segments of the entertainment industry are founded upon kvetching, ranting, and trashing!

And, while we can all agree that complaining, gossiping, et al, aren’t “nice”, this challenge isn’t about being nice. This challenge is actually about the power of our attention.

I think we all know deep down that what we focus on, what we give our attention to, grows. The plants you focus on with water and care, grow. The ones you ignore, wither. You get that intuitively.

But I think we’ve kind of forgotten that our attention is actually THE MOST powerful tool that we have. So, remember this: what you focus on grows. Or, if you’re like me and like rhymes: “Energy flows where attention goes.”

So once you realize, or remember, the power of your attention and your focus, you will want to be meticulous about where you place it. And when we engage in complaining, criticizing, gossiping and whining, we are focusing so much of our attention on problems, and the verbalization of problems, that we are sending an unending stream of energy to the very things that aren’t working. We really do not want this!

And, yet, we all think it’s okay. Society says it’s perfectly normal. When you think about it, it’s the way most people spend much of their days and their energy. Well, how about joining me and saying “Not me, not any longer!”

The thing is, at its root, complaining is just an easy, socially acceptable way of staying stuck and distracted. What is easier than trudging down those same well-worn neural pathways that you’ve already gone down day after day? Maybe you’re thinking, “But I’m just facing reality! And the reality is that a lot of stuff in my life sucks right now!” Well, maybe so! But you cannot create a better reality by focusing on your current unhappiness and complaining about it. Sometimes complaining is just the way we have of distracting ourselves from taking the action that we know we need to take to effect a positive change.

The exercise of going Complaint-Free teaches us to find solutions instead of staying mired in the problem. Our ego, the part of us that wants us to be “right”, loves to push the blame for everything “wrong” in our lives onto external circumstances. Letting yourself complain is like weight-lifting for the ego! The more we complain, whine, criticize, and gossip, the more our ego can focus on anything and everything “out there” to blame and justify what is less than ideal in our lives, rather than letting us take personal responsibility for the way things are, and figure out what we are going to do to improve things.

Here’s how the Complaint-Free Challenge works. The technique is simple. Every time you find yourself complaining, whining, gossiping, or criticizing, stop! Take a deep breath, forgive yourself, and move away from the negativity. Start your count over at Day One. Continue until you have achieved forty-nine consecutive days Complaint-Free.

I’ve heard that it takes anywhere from three to four weeks of consistent behaviour to form a new habit. But you will probably notice that after about two weeks this starts to gets easier, and you will begin to recoil from negativity and negative situations. You will be learning to request what you want, instead of complaining about what you don’t want. You will stop tolerating people who want to dump negative gossip on you, and begin to attract people with a more positive outlook.

When I started my Complaint-Free challenge, I already had this image of myself as a positive person, so I thought, Hey, no sweat! I can do this! To help me really get into the challenge, I went and bought a bracelet to use as a reminder. If I slipped up, I would move the bracelet from one wrist to another and start my count over. You can buy official purple Complaint-Free World bracelets for this purpose, but I just got an inexpensive red plastic one at the dollar-store. Mine has the word Love printed on it :).

Truthfully, in the early days of the challenge, that bracelet did a lot of moving from wrist to wrist! It was harder than I thought it would be, even going into it thinking I am a positive person. I don’t remember how long it took for me to complete the full forty-nine days, but doing so taught me so much about the power of my attention.

Horses can be the ultimate teachers and testers of our in-the-moment emotional control. Giving yourself free rein to verbally express frustration and impatience throughout your day, and then expecting yourself to stay positive, detached and rational in the face of challenges during your ride, is probably not the best plan for success. It’s like sitting hunched over the computer all day, and then expecting to have tall elegant posture on the horse. It’s your off-horse training that is going to set you up for success.

I was interested to read Courtney King-Dye’s article in the March 2012 issue of Dressage Today, titled “Emotion: Stay in a rational, pragmatic frame of mind when you ride.” She tells the story of training with Steffen Peters before the 2008 Olympics, when she became so frustrated with a young horse she was also training at the time that she begged Steffen to get on. Steffen went six rounds with the horse trying anything he could to get out of work, but Steffen never ever showed any anger or frustration, he just calmly kept asking for what he wanted. Courtney says, after three days you could have put your Grandma on that horse.

I had a horse teach me this very lesson many many years ago. This mare was tense and anxious, but she was my own and I really wanted to train her myself and be successful with her. While growing up in Pony Club I had internalized the belief that problems are never the horse’s fault. So whenever my mare would start getting quick and tense and acting up, I would immediately start thinking to myself, “Oh boy, here it comes again! WHEN am I EVER going to get through to this horse?” Even though I was frustrated with myself, the horse just felt this as negative energy and she would become even more tense and anxious, causing me to become ever more frustrated.

I took the mare to my coach with a laundry list of problems (all caused, at root, by the tension). When mounted by a professional rider who didn’t take the mare’s tenseness personally, and just calmly began using exercises to make the horse feel more comfortable in her body and hence her mind, my little mare transformed literally in front of my eyes, in one ride!

By allowing myself to take the horse’s behaviour as a personal affront, despite my perhaps admirable motivation of caring so much about being successful with the horse, it had actually prevented us from achieving a successful partnership. This mare taught me to keep my focus on the solution, not the problem, by always calmly asking for what I wanted and not taking problems personally. She and I went on to achieve big goals together, and I look back on the mare’s teaching as being pivotal in my development, not just as a rider, but as a trainer.

Going Complaint-Free is excellent mental training for developing yourself to think like a trainer. So, who else is in for the challenge?


One Response to “Here’s a Challenge for You: Go Complaint-Free!”

  1. Becoming Complaint-Free Now wrote:

    […] some parts of your life, but still be stuck in others. Remember, this is a process! In the article Here’s a Challenge for You: Go Complaint-Free!, I wrote about how one of my horses so vividly taught me the importance of keeping my focus on the […]

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