“Who you are, what you are, and where your life is going are all choices”~Joseph Luciani
It can often be easy to fall into the mindset that life happens to us, and when we experience life from this point of view, we often fall into the pattern of complaining when things aren’t how we’d like them to be. “I hate how I am always so tired” “The house is so messy” “My boss is a jerk” “I hate that my boyfriend is always late” “I am so out of shape” “It is so annoying how so-and-so always complains” (that one is particularly ironic!). All these statements, while perhaps speaking complete or partial truths, send out an energy of helplessness when we just use them to complain. Enter: CHOICE. We can actually choose to do something about most of these things, and at a minimum choose how we respond to it. They need not suck us dry of our energy, which is what complaining does. We can be happier as a result! And that’s kinda the point, right?
The perspective of lack of choice begins at a young age. Back in the day when I guided mountaineering courses for at-risk youth with Outward Bound, I would remind the students that none of them had to be there, and that if they didn’t want to be there, they could go home. To be on a challenging expedition and have it be a success, you had to want to be there. The response was often, “I don’t have a choice. I have to be here or I have to go to a correction facility” or “If I went home, my parents would send me to military school, so I don’t have a choice,” and other such examples…and more complaining. The point, however, was that while the choices available may not be the choices we want, everything was a choice nonetheless. You can choose to stay and play and work hard in the mountains, or choose to go to military school, for example. These choices also shape the next part of your life, as well as how you experience the present moment and circumstances. As the days on these courses went by, these young kids starting saying things to each other like, “Well, if you don’t like what I cooked, you have a choice: either carry it out or eat it, but please stop complaining about it because I worked hard at it even if you don’t like it.” Harsh? Not really. Life is too short for complaining. There are way better things to do at dinnertime in the mountains, like watch the stars and tell stories. Complaining drains not only you, but those listening to you.
This perspective can get even stronger in adulthood after years of feeling limited in our options. In my coaching practice today, a common statement is, “If you only understood the circumstances, you’d realize I don’t have a choice.” Well, as in the above example, just because we don’t like the options doesn’t mean we don’t have a choice. Choices are often tough, and we’d often rather not make a choice at all. Yet, that too is a choice made (isn’t there a Rush lyric about that????). The main distraction in a situation where all our choices, well, suck is that we forget we have a choice about how we respond to it. After all, really we are complaining because we aren’t happy. So…how can we make choices that make us happier when we can’t change the facts?
One woman at a coaching workshop I was at described being targeted at work to be pushed out of a partnership that she had spent years working towards. She felt absolutely helpless and attacked and was complaining effusively about it (note: sometimes when we are complaining, we can convince ourselves we are actually just telling a story). When asked why she was choosing to feel so defeated about this, she responded by saying, “I don’t have a choice about feeling this way. If you just understood the situation, you’d see I have no choice about how I feel right now. This stress is REAL.”
Well, exactly. The stress IS real. However, it is also real that we choose how to respond to a situation. This does not dismiss the complete awfulness of her situation. There is a time and place for processing the grief around that. However, she had already done that, and now her goal was to feel better in a circumstance that wasn’t going to change anytime soon. She spent many minutes describing her scenario in detail trying to get people to understand why she felt so bad. She was asked once again to think about why she was choosing to feel that way. As you can imagine, there was a lot of resistance around this. However, eventually, after quiet moments alone and support from others, at the end of the day she realized she could step out of her anxiety about the situation, and move into a place of more grace and power. She had decided that’s how she wanted to be in this situation. When this finally happened, it was a huge shift for her. It didn’t change the circumstances. They were still very real, and very awful. However, it did change her experience of it to one that better served her and made her happier. It stemmed for realizing choice in what we do and how we choose to be. Her complaining and helplessness were draining her, and now she could come from a place of more clarity and action.
So, what to do when all that annoying stuff gets in the way? If you can, start with trying to make requests instead of complaining. For example, if someone is always showing up late with you, instead of complaining to your other friends about how they always do this, make the request that they be more mindful about being on time because it is important to you, and being on time is a sign of respect for you (some people don’t feel that way!). If they continue to be late, then either don’t expect them to come on time, or don’t make plans where being on time is important. If your dessert at a restaurant is bad, don’t call the waiter over and complain about it. Just make a request to get a different one. If they don’t oblige, write a review stating the facts and don’t go back. Make a valiant attempt to change the situation. Complaining will just wear you down. That’s the last thing we need!
If you honestly can’t change it (not just thinking that you can’t change it, or are immobilized by fear about changing it), then try this: LET IT GO! Try your best to shift your perspective and see the bigger picture; do the work to be in a perspective that serves YOU better and allows you to be happier. How to do that is a huge topic, but you get what I mean. We’ve all done it at some point in our lives: However hard it might have been to let go of being totally angry or jealous or sad, at some point we realized that it was no longer serving us, and we moved on to bigger and better things.
Choose to be happy, either by changing your circumstance, or your perspective. You deserve that…and more! I realize this is easier said than done. But isn’t that the truth about most things in life worth doing?
“If you can change something, why be unhappy? If you can’t change something, why be unhappy?”~ Shantideva