Martha Beck's Anti-Complain Campaign
Illustration: Brett Ryder
At 63, Minnie is one of the youngest people I've ever met. She sparkles, and not just because she's dressed in a fabulous buttercup-yellow tank top bedecked with rhinestones and sequins. Everything about Minnie, from her laughter to the successful businesses she's created, seems to shine.

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:

  1. For a period of time, say a week or a month, stop complaining aloud about anything, to anybody.
  2. When the urge to fuss arises, vent on paper. Start with the words "I'm upset about." Then describe whatever's bothering you.
  3. Think of at least one thing you can do to actually change the frustrating situation. Write it down.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.


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