Are you like I used to be? Do your thoughts seem to constantly be plagued with more negative thoughts than positive ones? Do you find yourself constantly finding fault with everything, and even if you don’t say it out loud, you’re thinking it?
I’m a little embarrassed to say, I used to find fault with everything. If it was a beautiful sunny day, ‘I might get burnt’. If we were going to the beach, ‘Surely there’ll be no parking’. Someone told me I look nice today ‘Are you kidding? My hair is a mess!’.
You name it, basically anything that came out of my mouth was less than positive. I would even do it with people I love. A friend would call me out of the blue to chat, instead of being happy to hear from them, I’d think; they mustn’t care for me, they haven’t called me in ages, or, they must want something from me. My mum would make me my favourite, lasagne. Instead of being grateful, I’d find something wrong with it; there’s not enough sauce or ‘You didn’t make a salad to go with it.’
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I was pushing people away with my criticism
I was alienating people and pushing people away with my incessant complaining. But of course, I didn’t know I was doing this. I was bringing people down when they were around me and I started losing friends, and family wanted to spend less time around me.
I remember on my 30th birthday, some friends had planned a big party for me. Getting ready for it was so frustrating because my hair wasn’t perfect, and the make-up artist didn’t use the right waterproof mascara. I spent the whole time getting ready complaining, telling everyone who would listen about it. My friends had hired a limousine to take us to the venue; but it was silver, not black. I complained that the video screens were too small, and the video clips were old. Everyone else was having fun, but all I could do was find something to complain about.
It didn’t stop there, when we arrived at the party I had something negative to say about the decorations, and the food and the music. Did I have fun? Yes! But I made everyone who’d helped out feel like I was ungrateful. I didn’t compliment a thing and even though I had such a good night, no one would have guessed it.
Although it might not sound like it, I wasn’t an unhappy person. But I realised that I had been complaining and being negative for so long, and it was getting worse. All these constant negative thoughts and ways of finding something wrong with everything, was starting to really get me down.
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When you do something often enough, it becomes a habit
Like I said, I didn’t really even realise I was doing this. It would happen so automatically, becoming such a ‘normal’ habit. People would go out of their way to please me with things, and as much as I loved what they did, it wasn’t praise that I’d give them for thinking of me, or putting in so much effort; it was that the flowers they bought me could have been pink, not red; or the surprise date they planned could have been to Japanese instead of Mexican.
But it wasn’t just when I was around other people that I would complain. I found that I was generally just having negative thoughts when I was alone. ‘My landlord hasn’t fixed the shower door yet’, even though he’d recently installed air conditioning. ‘Tomorrow is Saturday and no one has called me to plan something fun to do’, but I hadn’t called my friends either. ‘I like going to the market, but it’s far away so I’ll stay home’ even though I love going to the market and always have a great time.
Sometimes the thoughts would be even worse, ‘My sister doesn’t love me because she hasn’t returned my calls’, even though she has a toddler at home, a farm to look after and is building their new house. `I’m putting on weight and getting ugly’, even though I had an injury which prevented me from being able to exercise for 6 weeks’.
It wasn’t until a good friend of mine and I started drifting apart, that I started to realise something was off. Or more so, she didn’t want to spend time with me anymore. I would try to arrange plans, and she’d be busy. Then when her birthday came around, I was shocked that she didn’t want us to plan it together, like we had done every year previously.
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I had to get to the bottom of why I was becoming so unhappy
Finally, I asked her what was going on. She took me out for coffee and very gently told me how she, and some other friends felt like I wasn’t much fun. She told me that I was not as nice a person to be around anymore, and that I was too critical, of everything. We’d been friends since high school and I really respected her, so I knew there must be something behind what she was saying.
It was a lot to take in, and I was upset. Not at her, but at the situation. I started to reflect on recent times, and realised I wasn’t as happy as I used to be. I started doing some research and found some people who had been in this situation before. I started learning some strategies that could help me with this problem.
The first thing I did was start asking my friends and family who I was close to, to point out when I was complaining, being negative, or being critical. At first it was really hard because I wanted to justify my criticism. Someone would say “It’s such a beautiful, sunny day” and when my reply was “I’ll probably get burnt” my friends would point out that I was complaining. My initial reaction was to complain again and say “But I could actually get burnt”, and again my friend would point out that I was complaining again.
This was going to be a long road
But this time, I’d apologise and be grateful for their help and encourage them to keep pulling me up on my bad behaviour. Before long I didn’t need others to point it out to me, after saying something negative, I would start saying out loud “There I go again”, and apologise.
Melisa Grigg - Head Coach & Trainer
Melisa was stuck in sadness for 15 years, hated her job, was overweight and her relationship had just ended. Melisa inspires people with her story and now teaches how she sorted her life out. She worked out how to be happy and how to lose over 30kg of body weight. In simple steps she teaches how you can stop procrastinating, find confidence, stop being so sad and finally start to find true meaning and purpose in your life.
Of course, that’s not to say there is never a time for criticism, or feedback. Of course, that is useful in the right context and in the right amounts. In the workplace, you might need to give someone advice on how to do something better. And of course if someone asks your opinion on something they could improve on, they’re not going to improve if they don’t know about it (just like me with my complaining).
But I’ve also found in every situation, when there is something to criticize, you can always find something to praise also. I started to do this with myself. When I’d have a thought, ‘I’m so stupid, I took a wrong turn’, I’d find something nice to say about the situation too ‘Now I get to see a new part of town I wouldn’t have seen before’.
That’s another strategy I now use when speaking with people. If I have something I think they should know about, something they can improve, I make sure I say something positive as well.
If someone asked me how I liked the dinner they made, I’d say “It’s really tasty, the chicken is slightly on the dry side, but the flavours are so good and compliment each other well’. At work if someone asked how they went on a presentation, I’d say ”I really loved your use of visual tools to get the message across. You could have kept it a little shorter, but overall you spoke really well and I think you did great”. Using this method allows people to know what they’ve done well, and also gives them something to work on,
The quicker I was able to do, the better I got at it, and the more I did it, the more automatic it has become. Nowadays, more and more often, the positive thought will be the first thought that pops into my head. If you’ve found yourself in this situation, give any of these strategies a go. They really worked for me.
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