Don’t complain, take the pain

One of my favorite little scenes from The Simpsons is when Marge and Homer leave the kids in the care of Abe, the grandpa, to go out on a date. In the few hours they are gone, CPS stops by to discover “horrid” living conditions due to a series of unfortunate events and takes the kids. When Marge arrives home and discovers this, she confronts Grandpa:

Marge: We leave you the kids for three hours and the county takes them away?!

Grandpa: Oh, bitch, bitch, bitch!

Marge had quite the legitimate reason to bitch, if her words can be called that. Much more often I find myself bitching and moaning and nagging and complaining about the circumstances that surround me with very little reason to do so. I do it because I’ve been slighted or because things aren’t going my way, or because I’m upset by the ways things in Kyrgyzstan operate differently than I’m used to.

The truth is, there’s always a better way out than bitching about it.

Complaining is very little in the way of constructive progress. It might be ok for a moment or two, and it can even work as a good stress reliever if done in a safe environment, for example to a close friend who knows it’s his or her purpose for a short while to listen, or to a notebook which will except every expletive and take the punctuated abuse with grace and unwavering support. (Thank you, sweet pages.)

The better way is to bounce back and push in a new direction, to open a yet untried door. If you’ve arrived at a point where you’ve encountered enough trouble and opposition where you’re constantly complaining, it probably means that you’re going the wrong direction.

For me, I’ve often found that that direction is the path of least resistance. I want things to come to me. I want the world to roll on, straight and true without me having to put in a lot of work and commitment. So when I find things not going my way, I complain about it.

image Grumpiness is apparently not a very flattering look

Life is full of all kinds of things that are unpleasant, yet must be done. In the Peace Corps it could be trying to get a counterpart to adapt a particular teaching methodology, or washing all your laundry by hand, or attending to a long list of e-mails that have piled up while you were off the grid for a week. These are some of mine, and each person is going to have his or her own painful tasks that simply must be done yet get put off indefinitely until the pain eats away at enough of your joy where your hollow shell of a body somehow kicks into gear and does a half-ass job.


A recent “tool” I’ve discovered is the strategy put forth by Phil Stutz and Barry Michels in their appropriately titled book The Tools. For this particular tool, instead of fleeing from the pain of diligent work, you embrace it. As you think about the difficult task ahead, you silently scream, “Bring on the pain!” Then, as you begin to work, answer an e-mail, make a phone call or whatever it is, you silently scream, “I love pain!” Then, as you are pushing through the task you quietly shout at the top of your lungs, “Pain sets me free!”

No, it’s not some kind of self-flagellation. It’s a straight shooting acknowledgement of the truth. Self-discipline, like any discipline, is inherently painful. It’s no fun to have to do stuff you don’t want to do. Your body is going to resist it and will tell you it’s in agony over being forced to do something it doesn’t want.

This tool very helpful when facing an undesirable task or when in an undesirable position. You learn to recognize it for what it is, as undesirable and inherently painful, and then go into it with eyes wide open knowing you’re not going to like it. But then, something strange happens. As your body gets to work, suddenly you find that you like getting things accomplished. That the knowledge of completing the undesirable task feels so much better than all the brooding and avoiding you were doing before you started. And then, when you break free on the other side, you find that the pain has set you free indeed.

So I give you my word, dear tumblr readers, I’m going to curb the complaints and instead invest that energy into trying new strategies. (Sorry sweet pages of my journal—you’re not off the hook.)

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