Finding Joy in Complaining

Before I head out on a hike or a trail run, I often look at a map of the area and try to plan out a route that I think will work for whatever I want to get accomplished that day. I usually plan based on distance, or elevation change, or something particular I want to see that day (like a waterfall or viewpoint). But sometimes, I come to a trailhead that I either did not notice on the map, or just looks more interesting than the trail I am on at that particular moment. So, I go off on a side route even though it was not part of my original plan. That is what I am going to do today. If you have been on one of our daily walks, you know I try to keep the conversation positive and energetic. Sometimes that is easier than others, especially during this unique and challenging time we are all experiencing. However, today I am going to talk about complaining.

Those of you who walk with us regularly know Meg Keehan as my neighbor in the floppy sun hat who is always ahead of me doing run/walk/run intervals during our walks. Earlier this week, I shared with Meg that the shelter-in-place was hitting me particularly hard this week. Later, she forwarded to me a blog post written by Esther Perel, author of the book Mating in Captivity. Coincidentally, Esther’s book is one of my favorites but I don’t subscribe to her blog. I am grateful that Meg took the time to share it with me.

According to Esther,

“Week by week, we’ve been going through phases. Mad hoarding and planning moved into high anxiety and stress, and now we’ve entered the stale phase. After weeks of watching delayed faces on Zoom, are we surprised we’re feeling stilted? Hasn’t it been refreshing to read all of these articles about how productivity in quarantine is overrated? How many of us made plans to take care of the never-ending project list? On the days we have managed to be productive, it has felt great. But, besides work—which I love—I struggle to self-motivate. And since I’m bored of hearing myself complain and feeling bad about complaining, I have shifted to full group accountability. It’s not everybody’s recipe, but I find it more motivating than anything I can do alone.”

Esther continues:

“I get up early for yoga five days a week because I know I have my friends waiting for me on Zoom. Even if I stayed up late and didn’t sleep well, I’m motivated to see my people who are waiting for me and who are themselves motivated knowing that I’m waiting for them. Yes, we do yoga, but we also catch up, share resources, and get a chance to complain outside of our own echo chambers. And, by the way, it’s okay to have some friends that you want to engage with a lot, others you want to engage with a little…

As my friend Guy Winch wrote in his book “The Squeaky Wheel,” there is actually a right way to complain that will get you results, improve your relationships, and enhance your self-esteem. I recommend you read his book if you want to develop the art of effective complaint. But my letter today is simpler: it’s just to give us all the permission for good old kvetching…” [Yiddish for “bitching and moaning”]

And finally, Esther says:

“We can be grateful and complain. We can be accountable and slack off. We can be peaceful and loving and we can talk shit and blow off steam. Kvetching is a survival tool. Use it wisely. It will help us cope during these scary times. Complaining is juicy. So, make your complaints good.”

Here are some tips Esther gives for productive effective, complaining within relationships and groups that you may find helpful during this difficult time:

  • Make space for other people to vent aloud. It often expresses their feelings of loss and longing. They know that they are powerless and they have to accept the situation; venting gives them the illusion that they have a say. It’s best to just let it pass and not try to reason with it. 
  • Have a little competition with whomever you’re quarantined or in touch with about your best complaints. 
  • If you have kids, create a house chart of complaints where they can let out their own. Display it on the fridge for all to see. We can’t only have stars for good behavior. 
  • If your complaints are more serious in nature, try Guy Winch’s tips for productive complaining, whether with a spouse, child, or friend. It’s not the same as venting.  
  • And be careful to avoid what Winch refers to as “the five mistakes we make when complaining.”

And now, with that slight detour, I’m going to head back to the main trail….

Join us for a virtual group walk or run Mondays, Wednesday, Fridays and Saturdays at 9:30am PST/12:30pm EST and Tuesday and Thursdays at 5pm PST/8pm EST. Hope to see you there! Register here for the zoom link.

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