Over the summer, I’ve completed several week-long online classes that deal with the inner workings of your brain. No, I’m not trying to get a neuroscience degree, but one of my core beliefs is that you have full control over how you respond to any situation that life throws at you. One of our greatest weapons against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another. These classes provided insight into the science behind why these beliefs are true and helped to teach methods for changing your own inner dialogue from something that may be negative and not serving you to one that is uplifting and enables you to take actions that you want. Changing your brain helps you to make the changes in life that you want and it makes them as natural and effortless as the habits you have now.
One course in particular focused on becoming aware of the negative thoughts (or voice) that we often have streaming through our subconscious. Becoming better at noticing this voice is the first step into being able to STOP this voice (and eventually replace it with your own cheerleader). At the end of this course, the instructor put us up to a challenge: make it 30 days with no complaining.
Yeah, I had that reaction too…
The first time the 30 Days of No Complaints challenge was proposed to me, I made it about 2 hours in before the complaining started up (“Uuuggghhh…. Whhhyyyyy is there traffic???”). I tried again and made it maybe 6 hours. Tried again and made it about 10 minutes. Yup! It was just as “impossible” as I thought.
Then at the beginning of September, the challenge came up again. This time around, I paid better attention to the instructions. If a rogue complaint crosses your mind (and they will), you haven’t failed the challenge. You are supposed to catch all these thoughts, stop, and “flip the narrative” to something that makes you feel good rather than down. So with my traffic complaint, rather than the “traffic sucks” narrative I say “Oh, there’s traffic. Well that means there’s more time for me to finish this awesome podcast!” You get the idea.
I can’t say for sure if I made it for the full 30 days. I did put a focused effort on flipping my script throughout the month. The month was particularly challenging (it included a trip to Puerto Rico with a 3 and 1 year old the weekend between hurricane Irma and Maria, for example). I was by no means perfect with this challenge.
What does any of this have to do with a water cooler? I’m glad you asked.
Earlier this week, I was rushing out of work to get to an appointment. On the way out, I stop at the water cooler to fill up my water bottle for the drive home (hydration is important, of course). I put my water bottle under the cooler spout and… nothing. My brain does this:
“Dog Gamn people who use the last of the water and don’t change the bottle! WTF I guess I’ll DO IT AGAIN…”
::easily lifts new 5 gallon water jug onto the cooler::
“Hey, look at that! That was really easy. It’s been a while since I had to change one of these I guess, so other people clearly change them too. All this work at the gym is really paying off!”
::starts to fill water bottle::
“You know what else? Now I’ll be getting room temperature water instead of way-too-cold-so-I-have-to-mix-the-cold-and-hot-water-together water. I’m actually glad I had to change this now! Wow gratitude is cool…”
I filled my bottle and began walking out of work, with my mind suddenly on one of those random thought tangents about things that make me happy and grateful. My mood was suddenly much much better than when I was just shuffling along on autopilot after a long day.
The good mood carried over into motivation and action after work: I got some errands done, made dinner, and actually felt motivated to complete a lot of lingering To Do items after bedtime. It was awesome.
And that’s when it hit me. THIS was the point of the 30 Days of No Complaining challenge. I wasn’t perfect. I haven’t made it to a full 30 days, but I have kept practicing. And each day of practice makes this easier (your brain literally changes as you practice to make it easier). I suddenly “flipped the script” without consciously thinking about it.
And that was the entire point.