This radiance didn't come easily. Minnie was once a young widow, grieving the death of her husband and one of her two children. When I ask how she rose from this desolation to her success as a mother and a professional, Minnie thinks for a minute, then says, "I just got tired of hearing myself whine. I harnessed my complaining energy and used it to create a really good life."
This isn't the first time I've heard such a story. While many people spend whole lifetimes complaining, most of the high achievers I know divert the energy of frustration away from complaint and into success. I've tried both paths. I can enjoy a good whine the way connoisseurs enjoy a good wine, but eventually, like Minnie, I get sick of my own petulance. Then I embark on something you might want to try: a "venting fast." It's not for the fainthearted, but it's a powerful way to create a better life.
What's a venting fast?
On the surface, it's a simple thing. Here are the instructions:
- For a period of time, say a week or a month, stop complaining aloud about anything, to anybody.
- When the urge to fuss arises, vent on paper. Start with the words "I'm upset about." Then describe whatever's bothering you.
- Think of at least one thing you can do to actually change the frustrating situation. Write it down.
- If you can't think of any positive action steps, simply continue to resist venting out loud. Eventually, your frustration will increase until you think, "I'm so upset I just want to..." Write down what you want to do.
- Do it. Divorce the guy, cuss in front of your fundamentalist sister, put off lunching with the passive-aggressive "friend" until the end of time.
If you think that a venting fast requires willpower, you're half right. After a few whine-free days, you'll find that it also requires courage—possibly more than you've ever used. To understand why anyone would put themselves through a venting fast, it helps to know a little about the psychological dynamics of complaint.