One of the biggest, most empowering things I ever learned was how to turn complaining into actions.
It's very straightforward. Not always easy, but very straightforward.
After complaining, you add, "Okay, so what am I going to do about this?"
It seems so simple, but it might change your life. A friend of mine, really smart guy, was complaining about the political leadership of the United States. I agreed with his points completely, and he and I had a pretty good rant about some things that are screwed up.
We stopped to catch a breath. Then I asked, "Okay. So what are we going to do about it?"
It hadn't occurred to him that we - the two of us - could change things. Well, why not? There's lots of barely-competent totally-dishonorable knuckleheads in politics, so why can't we do better?
How about the weather? Can't change that, eh?
Well, maybe you can. A few Decembers ago, I found myself in a sudden blizzard in Boston. Emerging inside covered in snow and frost, I went into a tirade about the weather. Then I stopped myself, and asked, "So what am I going to do about it?"
I decided I'd never spent a winter in such brutal conditions again. The next year I spent the winter in Spain, the year after Los Angeles, and now I'm in Southeast Asia. It wasn't even all that hard once I set my mind to it.
An acquaintance who works at a medical clinic was complaining that their Chinese patients are most frequently late and mean/demanding to the reception staff. (I like Chinese people a lot, massively respect their culture, and this doesn't match my experience, but I assume my acquaintance's complaints were legitimate)
After hearing a few complaints, I said, "Okay. So what are you going to do about it?" Umm, uhhh...
It changes things. No longer just complaining, but trying to change things. I had a few ideas:
*Change where you advertise
*Set different policies for canceling if people are late
*Reminder/confirmation calls beforehand, perhaps only if the person has been late before
*Learn some Mandarin and try to be friendlier, because maybe you're causing some of the friction due to your expectations
Would any of those work? I dunno. But now we're trying to solve things instead of bitching and complaining.
People like to bitch and complain, but it sucks your life energy away. Now whenever I find myself repeating the same complaint a couple times, I start trying to solve it. I caught myself complaining that my feet hurt a few times over the course of two weeks, and realized my boots were too worn down and affecting my walking. So, what am I going to do about it? New shoes. Problem solved.
Complaining solves nothing, it makes you unhappy, and turns people off. Claim solutions, improve things, build, fix, work, repair, serve.
Things are screwed up? I'm not surprised, things get screwed up a lot. So, what are you going to do about it?
Fascinating little trek I just took through a small corner of your blog and popped out via a comment into a staggering "a-ha!" moment... I won't bore you with the details, but I wanted to at least give you a nod of thanks.
Tim Ferriss has a great post on how to implement something like this in practice with some conditioning:
Will designed a solution in the form of a simple purple bracelet, which he offered to his congregation with a challenge: go 21 days without complaining. Each time one of them complained, they had to switch the bracelet to their other wrist and start again from day 0. It was simple but effective metacognitive awareness training.
Thanks for the well thought out questions and discussion! You are very correct, these are *hugely* difficult problems, that we all face continually. Please do be patient, tho, with us fellow commentors. Conveying tone correctly on the internet is another *hugely* difficult problem, and often where you read condescension, none was intended.
As for answering your questions definitively, I don't think anyone is going to do a better job than Alison in a short comment. But they are fascinating questions indeed! I would encourage you to write any thoughts you have about them, and introduce them to this community through links, in the hopes of us all gaining some more understanding and maybe even some answers!
Wow! I do the same thing, although I wasn't conscious about it until you wrote your article. As you said, it helps a lot.
That's a facile and condescending response that glosses over the great difficulties involved in making beneficial national and global change. That is the issue Sebastian opened this article with, and that is what my comment was interested in exploring.
In response to your comment asking how can he possibly know the best solution:
a) It's called trial and error. You look at what you have and what you know and the changes that you can make. Try them, and if things improve, great! If not, then try something else. You learn a lot both from things that work and don't work, and apply that knowledge to the next iteration. It's the same as testing and refining a design or product, and it works in other ares of life. You just have to stop being afraid of failing and the 'but what if's.
b) That's where you need to take a step back, look at the big picture occasionally, what you want, where you're going. Don't get so focused on the details that you forget all else, but if you take care of the small stuff as it arises you have more energy and perspective to address the larger issues.
c) I don't understand how this is an issue. If there is something in the world you feel strongly about, then volunteer, help out a charity. Make a difference.
d) Change starts with you. Start changing your own life, then blog about it, inspire others.
In relation to the macro-issues you touched upon at the beginning; I'm sure many others have had those sorts of discussions. But it is unlikely that everything will have the same opinions on what is wrong and how to 'fix' things. So how can we answer these questions:
a) How can I be so sure that I have real solutions that apply beyond my little world, and that the people in power weren't convinced of their own ability to 'improve things' before being in a position to do so?
b) How can I know that the micro-solutions that I believe improve my life wouldn't have significant negative consequences if applied on a grand scale?
c) How can I reconcile ideological aims with pragmatic solutions?
d) How can I convince enough people to form a social movement that can prevail against the current hegemonic power? How can we co-opt them to put forward a new agenda without being corrupted or destroyed in the process?
You mention that you travel away for the winter (and travel a lot in general). You happen to be in a position to do it, and benefit from it in the ways you have experienced. While travelling, no doubt, helps to broaden a person's mental outlook it is also an activity that comes with a heavy environmental and social cost. If we were all to travel away from unfavourable winter environments then certain parts of the world would be 'invaded' at certain times of year, communities would fracture on a yearly basis, and the environmental footprint of individuals would be increased. Scaled up, it is likely to be a massively damaging practice. Many modern environmental/social problems are the result of scale and its unexpected consequences - some were even 'solutions' to previous problems.
Just a thought
March 10, 2010. Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Late morning.
I pulled on my swim trunks, trainers, and a tank top and walked out of my little guesthouse room, sliding through the cramped restaurant strewn with tables, and out into the hot, dusty air of Phnom Penh. It's a hot day. It'll be good to swim after lifting weights.
I said, "No no, thank you" to the tuk-tuk drivers offering to take me somewhere in the city, pushed through the little crowd, and out onto the street. The streets in Cambodia more resemble alleyways than streets, and I navigate around people and vehicles.
I went down to the end of the street, turned left, and skirted along close to the local restaurants, half-tent half-storefront type places to get food. I stepped into the crosswalk, the Hotel Cambodiana rising in front of me. I check right and then left, and I watch left as I cross, watching for oncoming traffic.
A loud scream rings out. AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH.
Ah, you there, my Type-A friend. I'm glad you came today. Come in. What would you like? We've got coffees, teas, or clear still water perhaps? No juices at the moment, I'm afraid, I'm not having carbohydrates and it'd be fiddling with the devil to buy juice and then attempt not to drink it. The coffee is good, though, yes?
One moment. I'd like to light the fireplace. Maybe it's technically Spring, but this "Spring" in West Germany is chilly and cold and damp and grey, right down into the bones. But pardon me, I'm near veering into complaint, which is the exact opposite of the place I want to go. I'd much rather pull up by the warm fire's glow with non-carbohydrate beverage-of-choice and muse a little about philosophy and psychology with you -- and maybe it'll even be productive for us?
Ah, the warmth is nice.