That’s right, you read correctly: today I’m going to share a concept with you that can change your life. It’s definitely changed mine and those of my clients. Like all LOA techniques, it’s not really difficult, and yet you may find yourself struggling with it at first (then, it’ll get easier). In fact, your mind may tell you that it’s far too simple to make a real difference. Don’t listen to that crap. Your mind is an effing liar. Are you ready? Here we go:
Bob is having a hard time lately. He really, really hates his job. When he comes home at night, he tells his wife all about how his boss is a jerk, his co-workers are back stabbing, credit stealing douchebags, how his work is so deeply unsatisfying that he spends his days thinking up creative ways to commit suicide using office supplies, how the commute sucks, how the economy is in the crapper, making it impossible to find a new job, how even if he did manage to find a new job it would just suck, too because all companies are the same, how everyone but him is a total idiot, how all those idiots are making his life hell, and what’s the point of any of this anyway… Bob will give the same speech at the pub with his friends. They’ll sit around drinking one beer after another, hoping to numb the pain a little bit, while dissecting in minute detail just why exactly everything sucks so badly. Theories about whose fault it is (government, the CEO’s, the Illuminati, parents, other people i.e. “idiots”, women, fathers, the greeting card industry, the flying Spaghetti monster, etc.) will abound, with reasons laid out so logically and well prepared it’s a wonder there aren’t any Powerpoint slides to back up the presentation with.
Bob and his friends put a lot of thought and effort into figuring out just how bad the magnitude of the general suckitude is, why and how it got that way, and why it’s impossible for anything to change.
Sound familiar, anyone?
Focusing on the problem
Now, Bob might think that what he’s doing is “defining the problem”. He’s figuring out what he doesn’t like and why he doesn’t like it. And I’ll agree with him on that point. He is doing that. Only, he’s doing it and doing it and doing it and not doing anything BUT that. Defining a problem doesn’t take long. You can generally figure it out in a few minutes, sometimes even seconds. Some really big problems might take a few days. But if you’re defining a problem for weeks, months, or years, you’re not figuring out what you don’t like. You’re pushing against a door marked “pull”, while bitching about the fact that it won’t open.
When you focus on what you don’t want and why you don’t want it, you’re adding energy and momentum to what you don’t want. That means, you’re going to attract more of it into your life. Bob’s incessant complaining about and dissecting of his sucky job is causing him to experience a worse and worse environment at work. He’s meeting up with his boss and co-workers when they’re in the foulest of moods, calling clients at the worst possible moment, and leaving work when the commute is at its most awful.
But, this is generally what we do: We define a problem to death. If you’ve ever heard yourself say “And I’ll tell you another thing that sucks about…”, you’ve experienced the downward spiral that focusing on what you don’t want causes. It becomes easier and easier to think of aspects of this situation that you don’t like. In fact, you never realized just how bad the situation is, until you had a chance to bitch about it incessantly for two hours with your friends!
I’ll give you another example: Suzie went on a date last night. The guy seemed pretty nice, and they had a good time, but at the end of the date, he didn’t kiss her good night. The next day, Suzie has lunch with her friends, where they dissect the date in minute detail. The overall date was quite a good experience, however, Suzie is disappointed that the guy didn’t kiss her and sees this as a sign that something must’ve gone wrong. First, she gives her friends a play by play of the date, including every word said, every breath taken, every eyelash that was batted. And as she focuses on “something must be wrong”, and as her friends encourage her to find something wrong with HIM rather than HERSELF, she begins to remember all kinds of details that bugged her. Even though none of these things bothered her last night, they suddenly loom large in the light of day.
He seemed kind of quiet when she was talking about her job. He’s probably totally intimidated by powerful women (he couldn’t just have been listening, right?). He didn’t pull out her chair for her at the restaurant! He has no manners (never mind that she got to the table first and sat down before he had a chance to pull out her chair, or that she had no expectation of him doing so at the time)! He ordered for her/didn’t order for her. He flirted with the waitress. Sort of. Ok, she flirted with him and he didn’t immediately get up on the table and proclaim loudly that he was on a date and therefore OFF LIMITS, YOU SLUTS! He was actually just being friendly, but now that she’s thinking about it, he should’ve intuitively sensed her discomfort and done something. What an asshole.
Before she knows what’s happened, Suzie’s date goes from a pleasant experience to one of the worst dates of her freaking life. The more she focuses on the negatives, the more she finds. Hell, her mind will even make up some evidence if it needs to.
Where are the positives?
Both Bob and Suzie are doing what most of the population does when it sees something it doesn’t like. And this is one area where being intelligent really doesn’t help. Those of us who like to be analytical tend to dissect things in greater detail. We will figure out to the last molecule why something doesn’t meet our standards. We’re always looking for what could be done better, and consequently what isn’t good enough. And in doing so, of course we find loads and loads of evidence.
But, what about the positives? Take Bob’s job: is EVERYTHING about it really horrible? Or are there some good aspects to it? Well, Bob generally doesn’t think about them, but when he does, he gives them only a cursory mention. “Ok, so my boss isn’t a total jerk. He did go to bat for us on that project. But that doesn’t make up for [insert huge list of offenses by jerky boss].” The positives are footnotes, at best, with the negatives being the main show. And the opening act. And the encore. And the CD you buy and take home to listen to after the show. I think you get my point.
Why we like to bitch
But why do we insist on complaining about what we don’t like in such great detail? Well, first of all, we’ve been taught from an early age that if you want to change anything, you’ve got to figure out what the problem is. If you just understand the problem enough, you can figure out a solution. And so, we dissect and dissect and dissect. “Those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it” becomes the mantra we use to justify this incredibly one sided focus. Only, that’s a bunch of crap.
Those who focus incessantly on history are doomed to repeat it. Why? Because you get what you focus on. Can you learn from history? Absolutely. But not unless you actually shift your focus off of the problem and onto the solution. You actually have to be willing to see the lesson in order to learn from it. And that’s the step that most people totally miss.
The second reason why we love to complain so much is because it can be quite satisfying, at least in the short run. There’s something happening that we don’t like. We feel badly about it. But we also feel powerless to change it (false belief). When we discuss, in minute detail, what we hate and why we hate it, and get others to agree with us (ever notice how no one likes to bitch alone?), it’s like we’re being given permission to feel the way we feel. We’re being told that we’re RIGHT. And that feels kind of good. It doesn’t hold a candle to how good the solution would feel, but hey, we don’t believe in solutions, so this is the best we can do, right? *cough, cough*
What to do instead
I’d like to present you with an alternative option: Do the exact opposite of what you’ve been doing. Treat the negatives as footnotes and make the positives the main show. Why? Because that’s what you want more of, and you get more of what you focus on!
What would that look like in the real world? Well, you’d log onto Facebook or the blogosphere and see postings like this:
- I love my job because…
- I have the best husband/wife/mother in law because…
- Here are five reasons why I love my job.
- Ten reasons why I have the best boss in the world (and how you can too!)
- The top 100 reasons why I’m so damn awesome.
When Bob goes to the pub with his friends, they would ask each other questions like “What went right today?”, “What are you proud of today?” and “What did your boss and coworkers do today that you can appreciate them for?” In the beginning, Bob might have a hard time coming up with examples, but just like the negative spiral pulls you down and builds momentum making it easier and easier to criticize, the positive spiral works the same way. After just a little bit of positive focus, Bob suddenly remembers all kinds of little details that made him smile. The little kindnesses, the donuts someone brought, the fact that he didn’t need to do that report he didn’t want to do, etc. The fact that his boss fought for them on that project would take the main stage, with the group dissecting just why that was so awesome and why it felt so good. Negatives would get cursory mentions, “Yeah, he was in a bad mood yesterday, but he’s probably really tired. Did you hear that he’s trying to get us all raises? How awesome is that?”
When Suzie meets up with the girls the day after her date, they ask her all about his best qualities. So what that he didn’t kiss her, they say. It may be a sign that he really liked her and doesn’t want to rush it. Isn’t that respectful and wonderful? And as she gives them the play by play, she remembers all kinds of little wonderful details. The way he smiled when she opened the door. How he put his hand on her hip when they walked through the restaurant. The way he appreciated her offering to the pay the bill, but insisted on picking it up. The way his arms felt when he hugged her good night. Oh wait, he hugged her good night! And it was a really nice hug! It lasted way longer than a normal hug! In the other scenario where negativity reigned, that little nugget was totally missed.
Talk about what you want. Incessantly.
Instead of focusing relentlessly on what you don’t want, talk about what you do want, why you want it, what you like, and why you like it. Dissect it, play with it, discuss it with others, ask questions designed to elicit positive responses, be like a dog with a bone. A really, really tasty, positive, happy, shiny bone.
When you hear others talking about what they don’t want, ask them “So, what is that you’d like to see happen instead?” You may need to keep reminding them to go positive a few times, but more people than you may have ever imagined will be willing to answer that question. Some people will insist on bitching. Don’t play with those people. But a larger segment of the population than ever before, while generally negatively focused, will be happy to focus positively when given a chance to do so. Give them that chance. Give yourself that chance.
If you can’t figure out what you want, if you can’t seem to focus positively, then change the subject for a while. Look for something that you can feel good about already. That’ll help. In other words, if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all. Or, to put it even more bluntly: Be positive or shut up.
Does this mean that you can’t EVER complain?
This is a question that many struggle with. Is it really NEVER ok to complain? Should we censor ourselves and everyone around us ALL THE FREAKING TIME? Well, considering that I’m a fairly heavy user of sarcasm myself, I feel it would be hypocritical of me to teach others that they can never voice a complaint. Not to mention that I don’t believe in absolutes, such as NEVER.
I believe that if we put the majority of our focus on what we want, then the occasional bitch session will do no damage. And let’s face it, sometimes it’s not only quite gratifying but also fun. And funny. Every once in a while, it feels good to just let the nasty out. I see this as the equivalent of throwing a little tantrum. I bitch for a few minutes, justifying why something sucks and why I don’t like it, and then, when I’ve had enough of that (which generally happens quite quickly these days), I turn my attention to what I want instead. I see it as a teensy weensy anger release. If it’s got to come out, it’s better to let it out than suppress it. And, if I do let it out, it generally passes within a few minutes and I feel better.
You don’t have to be 100% positive. As long as you’re focused on what you want over 50% of the time, you’re golden. So yes, you still get to bitch a bit. Just don’t make it your default setting and most of all, be aware of what it is that you’re doing. Involve as few people as possible (the more people are involved, the longer the bitch session will be and the more momentum you will gather. It’s easier to control the length and put a stop to it when your audience is small.) And above all, as soon as you’re sick of complaining, make sure you spend even MORE time on talking about what you want instead, what you like and what you want to attract more of.
It seems like a simple thing (until you try to do it), but it will change your life. Why not give it a try and then report your findings in the comments? I can’t wait to read what you come up with!