“Failures, repeated failures, are finger posts on the road to achievement. One fails forward toward success.”
C. S. Lewis
New Year’s resolutions are the very definition of best-laid plans. Many of us make them, or try to improve our habits and behaviors at other times. Unfortunately, a 2018 study that looked at millions of participants found that most of us give up within two weeks.
Have you ever done that? We all have goals, but we don’t always live up to them. That’s disheartening, but it truly is the effort that matters.
My ideal, my goal for December, was 31 days of no complaints. And to be honest, I failed. Big time.
Here I was thinking I was a pretty positive person. I thought I tended to find the bright side, to focus on the positive, to give people the benefit of the doubt. Ha! What did I discover instead? I complain all the time about things large and small. Even during the “happiest season of the year,” I found plenty that I wasn’t happy about.
How do I know this? One major result of my failed “No Complaints Challenge” was mindfulness. At least I began to notice how much I complain about things! And that’s useful. If I don’t notice, I can be in the middle of a complaint session before I know it. But if I notice, I can DO something. I can stop. I can say instead, “You know, my complaining won’t change this situation. It will just make me mad/sad/feel helpless and hopeless.”
I was able to come up with a list of ten things to do instead of complaining:
- Change the subject.
- Try to think of an action I can take that might make the situation better.
- Accept that I can’t change things, and decide to put up with it while focusing my attention on something more positive.
- Notice when my actions or attitudes are actually contributing to the problem, and try to change them.
- Extend grace to my fellow fallible humans and lighten up already!
- Try to see the humor in the situation.
- Remember something else I am happy about or can be thankful for, and pay attention to that instead.
- Remind myself that I am not the ultimate judge of anyone and that I too need forgiveness and forbearance (so I’d better try to show it).
- Just shut my mouth and listen to someone else (or to some music, or a bird, or the rain, or some children happily playing).
- Apologize and start again with the goal of not complaining – over and over again.
I tried all of these options. And every one of them was better than mindless complaining. As the days went by, I had to start all over with my resolution multiple times, but I began to catch myself sooner.
The overall result was that I complained less. I didn’t stop it altogether, but I spent less time and energy complaining, and put more effort into a variety of more positive actions.
I was consciously practicing a different way of being.
I didn’t become a non-complaining saint. I failed. But I also succeeded. I became more mindful, more aware, and I took responsibility for changing my bad habit. I think I’m on my way to some better habits, so I’m going to continue this challenge: 31 more days of no complaints. I’ll see if I can do better this time.
I still have my high goals. I may not always live up to them, but at least I will continue to make the effort.
What have you resolved to change this year? When you fail (and since you’re human, you will), don’t give up. See if you can come up with at least ten positive alternatives to try as you pick yourself up and move forward.
About the Author: Karen Trefzger is a writer, singer, teacher, wife, mother, and grandmother who has been choosing a simpler life for over 20 years. She is the author of Minimalism A to Z, and blogs at MaximumGratitudeMinimalStuff.