In his groundbreaking book, The Road Less Traveled, Dr. Scott Peck offers in the opening sentence, what he later identifies as “the greatest truth”:
Life is difficult.
He goes on to say, “Once we truly know that life is difficult-once we truly understand and accept it-then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.”
It doesn’t matter that life is difficult?! If that’s true, then what does matter?
Time and again I find that what matters is how we respond to the difficulties. It makes a huge difference in the way we see our problems and the way we solve our problems.
This is what makes leadership so powerful and necessary. Problems are a leader’s job security. If there weren’t any problems — if everything was easy — then we wouldn’t need or require leaders along the way.
The way we respond to life’s difficulties says a lot about our leadership capacity. When we respond in one of the following ways, we forfeit the right and the opportunity to offer the leadership necessary to work through the difficulty.
1. We ignore them. We think if we just deny their existence or don’t pay attention to them that they’ll disappear. But that doesn’t work.
2. We avoid them. Turning our back on our problems may bring brief reprieve. But as soon as we turn back around, our problems are still there…and they’ve gotten bigger.
3. We complain about them. This response is dangerous. It creates the illusion that we’ve actually done some work on solving a problem. We acknowledge the problem and we voice our displeasure. We talk about how things need to be different. But we don’t do anything to actually create different.
This post focuses on our tendency to complain. It’s not enough to be a problem-reporter. A leader is a problem-solver. If all we do is speak negatively about a situation, or a person, it doesn’t move us or anyone else closer to what is most needed: a solution.
Here are some simple steps you can use to change your response from a complainer of difficulties to an obtainer of solutions.
1. Recognize your complaints.
Do you even realize when you’re complaining? Some might say they’re just naturally pessimistic. But even pessimism can have value if one is working toward improvement and a change for the better. Complaints just suck the air out of the room. If you really want to know if you’re a complainer you can ask those closest to you. They know.
2. Know why you complain.
When you voice your complaints, you do so because you want something. Do you want attention? Do you want affirmation? Do you want something to change? Take the time to reflect on the reasons why you feel the need to complain about a problem instead of spending your energy on solving the problem.
3. Create a plan to complain less.
Simply saying I need to complain less is the same strategy as complaining itself. It’s all talk. One needs to create a tangible, action-oriented plan that encourages different behaviors. It may be positive reminders or disciplined reflection. It will take a conscious effort at first, in order to build an automatic response in the future.
4. See yourself as a positive person.
This has to do with the way you identify yourself. I am a better writer when I tell people I am a writer. I am more disciplined in my workouts when I identify myself as an athlete. Look at yourself in the mirror and declare I am a positive, problem-solver! You’ll begin to act in alignment with the way you see yourself.
5. Respond positively to other people.
Greet others with a smile. Encourage the people you meet within the first thirty seconds of your conversation. Complaining is contagious. But so is a positive attitude. You want people to feel better after they have been in your presence instead of feeling worse.
6. Look for the good.
There is an opportunity in every crisis. Sometimes the only thing we need to change is our thinking. Perspective is a powerful ally in the midst of difficulties. Counting blessings and acknowledging the good creates energy to tackle the problems in the right state of mind. Despair breeds despair.
7. DO something positive.
We often complain about a problem because we feel powerless to do anything about the problem. But all complaining does is shift the responsibility for solving the problem to someone else. When we begin to actively solve the problem (even in small ways) we start to feel empowered to keep working on it.
Remember, complaining doesn’t help a problem get better, it only hurts your chances of solving it. Complaining doesn’t solve problems —solving problems solves problems. Complaining about a problem doesn’t make you a better leader…solving problems does.
Your comments are welcome: How do you feel when you are around a person who complains about the difficulties of life all the time?