One Day. One Person. One Perspective Changed.

by Belinda Munoz on August 18, 2010

one

LIKE THE FIRST DAY IN A NEW SCHOOL

Anxious.  Nervous.  Dubious.  And a teeny bit excited.

That’s how I started my day.  Part scattered and part misplaced.

Why?

I needed to fix a problem that someone else created.  That wasn’t why.  There was bad news that I had to deliver to someone whom I knew wasn’t going to take it well.  That wasn’t why either.  There were people whom I needed to call back with disappointing decisions.  Again, that wasn’t why.

I was anxious, nervous and dubious because I dared myself to live out the following day without a single complaint.

It seemed like a good idea at the time but when the day came, I wasn’t so sure.  (Aren’t those ideas in abundance?)

I thought about how I might limit my interactions with people in real time.  I have far more trouble editing myself, and thus more of a chance to let out a complaint, when I’m communicating on the phone or in person.  But, though time alone is fine by me, my real time life is all about living, working and playing with people.

I considered letting all my calls go to voicemail.  Oh how tempting this was because it would mean I could plan my response, stick to the facts and be mindful of brevity.  But this sort of avoidance is not my style.  Some of the folks I work with have become friends and I like hearing their voices and finding out how they’re doing.  Plus, I’m a fan of the efficiency of real time communication and wasting time playing phone tag gets old fast.

Once I ran out of ways to hide from the day, I got out of bed.

Oh, dear, all this and it’s not even 7 am yet.

DEFINITION

What’s considered a complaint?  The comments from everyone who weighed in were very educational and interesting to read.  For my purposes, I defined complaining as synonymous to whining like a child (no offense, children, but many adults do what you do).  The sort of verbalizing of deep insecurities that requires a skilled professional to listen to such as a therapist, counselor or coach is not included in this definition.

As I went about my day, I found myself evaluating whether something I said was a complaint or not.  I’d alternately think to myself, No, that was a question genuinely seeking an answer or No, that was a fact or No, that was a joke.  (Rationalization skills:  If you’ve got them, why not use them?)

There was an incident when I had to be clear about requiring better service from a vendor.  My words may have been stern, but they were not a complaint.  This was simple communication making it clear that subpar service will not be tolerated.

I said good morning to everyone I saw.  I didn’t once talk about the weather.  Miraculously, the sun came out.  (And if you’re familiar with San Francisco summers, you’ll likely have heard the witticism, The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco, often falsely attributed to Mark Twain.)

This no complaint day?  My dread of it wore off.  I may even have loved it by day’s end.

WHAT’S IT WORTH?

Apart from being happy that the day is over, I learned some things:

I got honest. I needed a little moral support so what better way to get it than to tell a few real time folks that I was doing a No Complaint Day.  After a little explaining, they all wished me luck.  There’s great positive and nurturing energy to gain when we share a little bit (or a lot) of ourselves with others.  I can be a real cheerleader if I know that moral support is needed and I believe that this is true for many others as well. 

I became accommodating. A woman was telling me about her technological problems, a reason she blamed for her delayed response to me.  Oh, I could’ve argued.  Instead of dismissing her excuse or joining in with my own tech tribulations, I listened, let her vent some more until the wave passed.  Whew. 

I got creative. Once, I felt myself feeling the pull to commiserate.  I said jokingly, “I don’t have the wherewithal to follow your riddles.”  I came up with alternate ways to change the subject or diffuse the intensity of a discussion without compromising my sincerity.  I call it a good day when we find new ways to do things.

I sought joy with a vengeance. And was delighted to learn how easy it was to access, not just in myself but in others as well.  I asked people about their children, their grandkids, their pets, their hobbies, their passions.  Many of these conversations were on the phone, but I could sense from their voices that the physiology on the other end of the line was changing to just a little bit happier.  Smiles one both sides equal more joy for all. 

I felt great. I honestly feared I might implode, and husband may have felt the same thing, but each time I resisted the impulse to gripe, I felt like I one-upped a black-jack dealer.  Doesn’t that sound like a win?

One day.  One person.  One perspective changed.

Allow me to indulge for a second what more days, more people might look like.

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  1. How does change (aka improvement) take place?  In your life?
  2. Do you have any stories of doing something new or thinking in a new way that you’d like to share?
  3. How do you move from cynicism to openness to learning to applying what you’ve learned?

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Image by Mrs. Logic

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August 18, 2010 at 5:46 pm

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Katie August 18, 2010 at 5:25 am

Well done Belinda. Sounds like you had to push hard for this day but it worked. You found your own honest ways. Change takes place in my life when I begin my day from a place of loving kindness – judgment and whining are gently pushed aside by an easy, light feeling that helps me embrace every situation from potential road rage to making assumptions about something or someone. A morning ritual of gratitude, running, yoga, eating well or breathing deeply tends to get me there, but tumbling out of bed in a rush and forgetting to eat doesn’t. I love what you’ve been thinking about lately. Keep it up.

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2 Justine August 18, 2010 at 6:54 am

You, my dear, are a star. I said I would join you except the moment a dreaded client called me at work, I lost it. Well, not at her, but I vented to a coworker. I was complaining by 9am that day. Major FAIL.

Glad to see you did so much better than me. Although I had no doubt you would.

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3 rob white August 18, 2010 at 6:56 am

Hi Belinda,
Sounds like a win to me. There are some empowering habits to adopt there. I’ve noticed that change feels awkward at first and somewhat unnatural. If these changes are really supporting my authentic, naturally spontaneous nature they start to feel real good. The ego or counterfeit-self will kick and scream at first, but persistence has my authentic-self shine through.

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4 BigLittleWolf August 18, 2010 at 8:33 am

It sounds like a fascinating experiment, all in all. And I love the explicit nature of what you learned about yourself and the communication process. I think it behooves us to find specific words for things (as you did, as you always do) – and thus – be less judgmental of our own actions / thoughts / feelings – recognizing they are what they are, and aren’t inherently bad.

As for change, sometimes life thrusts us into it. It’s sink or swim. Other times, it is an evolution that may be barely discernible. Only in looking back at a period of time can we ascertain the changes that took place – some for the better, hopefully.

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5 Cathy August 18, 2010 at 12:14 pm

I must say that I am a complainer and reading this post of your is almost inspiring me to take the challenge. The question is, do I do it on a weekday, or when I go to work.

And, just from my perspective as someone who did several years of “service-oriented” jobs, I never complain about poor service. I always simply state the facts and the inform the vendor/provider how he/she can fix the situation.

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6 Madeleine Kolb August 18, 2010 at 2:39 pm

Belinda, I don’t think I’m a complainer, although I have some reactions that people would probably call negative. Take road rage which Katie mentioned. I don’t experience rage when I’m driving, but I can’t avoid noticing the driving-too-close, driving-too-fast behaviour which is prevalent where I live now. I don’t honk or jam on my brakes when someone is following super-close; I don’t feel angry or scared. I just think how stupid and dangerous such behavior is.

One thing I’ve been trying to do lately is give more praise when someone does a good job or goes the extra mile. Several times lately, I’ve asked for a supervisor’s name and said that I’d like to let him know what a good job someone did. I note that people are quick to criticize but often fail to acknowedge a job well done.

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7 Sandra Hendricks August 18, 2010 at 2:56 pm

What a fun idea Belinda, a day of awareness. Will you experiment with it another day, to check your progression?

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8 Belinda Munoz August 19, 2010 at 9:32 pm

Hi Sandra, good question! I wasn’t considering a follow-up, really. If anything, I’d like to eliminate as much of it as I can. I know how it affects me when I witness it as well as when I’m the, uh, instigator. What I’d like to do is not to subject others to the “whining like a child” sort of expression that I know I’m very adept at doing. I suspect that nobody really needs it and I now know that I can get on without it.

Thanks for visiting!

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9 Sarah August 18, 2010 at 3:32 pm

What an extraordinarily insightful post on an even more extraordinary day. Complaints. We all have them. I’m actually shocked by my own amount of small complaints that drop throughout the day and land on anyone who’s near–friend or mild acquaintance or sister, it does not seem to matter.

This is a fantastic challenge. Not one I think I could take on right this moment, but one that will be kept in the back of my mind and will help keep me more conscious of my everyday dwellings and arguments. My negative internal dialogue.

!!!

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10 Tony Single August 18, 2010 at 6:01 pm

Belinda, this challenge clearly isn’t for the faint of heart, so kudos to you for meeting it head on! I think I am going to have to take a leaf from your book and do this kind of thing more often. Yup, I do actively set out not to complain occasionally, with varying levels of success. Imagine how effective I would be if I actively did this more often…

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11 Tess The Bold Life August 18, 2010 at 6:44 pm

Hi Belinda,
What a great day you had. And your final 2 sentences were icing on the cake. As a speaker I’ve invited audiences to to experiment with not complaining for 3 weeks. And each time they catch themselves they need to begin their three weeks over again. They moan. The point is to get them aware of how much they complain and the second point is they’ll notice they complain about the same thing over and over year after year.

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12 Keith August 18, 2010 at 6:55 pm

Hello Belinda,

You have guts! I have done this experiment and it is a real eye opener. As Tess mentioned in her comment, we don’t realize how much we complain and doing what you did is an excellent tool for finding out!

What a change it makes though, right? It revolutionized my day when I did it. It also had a wonderfully positive effect on others! The experience has stayed with me as it permanently altered the way I interact with people.

Wonderful job and kudos to you!!

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13 The Exception August 19, 2010 at 11:55 am

I love this. My daughter has a tendancy to complain so I have, at times, offered her this challenge – just one day without complaining. i have also requested that a complaint be bollowed by ideas as to how to resolve the issue. I think I will take on this challenge myself – a new perspective is always appreciated. ;)

My daughter’s father complained endlessly about traffic, work, people, lack of money though the lack didn’t exist. I found the conversations draining. it felt as if the happiness was being sucked from me – a vampire living on my optimism. It is amazing what the complaining energy does to us and those around us.

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14 Sara Healy August 19, 2010 at 12:29 pm

Belinda — I liked what you did. It’s not easy to work through something like this and find alternative routes to issues, like complaining. I also liked what you learned. It makes me want to give this a go. I don’t see as many people as you do because I work at home, but I still find many ways to complain. At least the dog and the cat will be much happier…well, maybe even the computer:~) Still, I think this a good idea and I’m going to try it.

Regarding your question, the one thing I do is occasionally have what I call “go gently” days. Because I tend to be a person who gets annoyed and impatient easily, these are days when I really work at being more peaceful with people and situations. I have tokeep myself in a gentle, more accepting mood.

Some days, I’m better at it than others, but I always feel so good when I see how others respond when I’m doing this right.

I’ll come back after I try a non complaint day and tell you about it. Thanks for this post:~)

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15 Maggie August 19, 2010 at 5:56 pm

Hooray for you! What a fun idea. I love challenges that try to shake me out of habits I didn’t realize I had, and I’m sure complaining has got to be one of them! It seems so normal to complain about things with others – after all, they are probably complaining to you, too. But how much more interesting would our conversations get if complaining were just off limits? Thanks for sharing your experience, Belinda – I think I might have to try this one. :)

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