The Moaning Trap
Now I like a good moan as much as the next person.
Sometimes it can be just the thing you need. You have a good moan, get something off your chest, then move on.
But what about when you don’t move on?
I’m sure most of us can think of times in our lives when we have moaned an awful lot or been on the receiving end of a lot of moaning.
I wonder how useful this repetitive moaning actually is.
Why Do We Moan?
Here is the thing – we are all motivated by the immediate short term consequences of our actions.
If the immediate short term consequence of moaning is a bit of relief, then we are likely to use this strategy again.
However, if we break moaning down into the short and longer term consequences we can start to see how it can keep us stuck.
So let’s imagine you are moaning about something like work…
- You feel the immediate catharsis of getting it off your chest.
- You may elicit sympathy or empathy from others or feel validated for your opinion.
- It helps you to tolerate the situation.
There is no wonder we like to do it!
- Moaning may help you to tolerate the way things are in the short term but this may prevent you from taking action to change anything.
- It keeps you focused on the terribleness of the problem which keeps us in our fight and flight system and in our ‘threat-focused brain’ rather than our ‘thinking brain’.
- The relief you initially felt wears off and you remain fed up about it.
- You don’t take any action to change anything, you feel more stuck and the urge to moan again increases.
- You moan again and again and soon enough other people switch off and stop offering the sympathy/empathy or validation.
- You stay fed up.
- Nothing changes.
To illustrate this further I’m going to use the example of my dad.
I’m sure he won’t mind because he’s a pretty laid back chap (and pretty unlikely to read this blog).
I can remember as a kid my dad counted down from 100 months to go until retirement and sure enough every Sunday evening was a dedicated moan about work.
Let me say that again – 100 months!
That is a long time!
It actually ended up being longer than this until my dad really did retire but in all that time my dad did not enjoy his job one bit. OK, maybe the moaning helped him to survive those years but the point is that he stayed there for all that time, disliking it.
To add context, changing careers was less common back then and he was working at a time and in a place where pensions were pretty good so my dad did have some reason for staying put.
He is now happily retired and enjoying every moment of it, by the way!
But maybe he really didn’t need to be unhappy for all that time.
So what is the alternative?
I’m not going to tell you to just stop moaning; we have already established that venting can have some helpful consequences.
What I propose is to do it in a focused way with awareness of it.
Then take steps to make positive changes.
Step 1: Have a focused and time-limited vent. You could do this with someone else or you could write it down if you have experienced other people switching off.
Step 2: Use a 5 minute relaxation to bring you back to your ‘thinking brain’ rather than your ‘threat-focused brain’.
Step 3: Ask yourself 3 questions
* What can I change?
* What can I accept as it is?
* What can I let go?
Step 4: Change the things you can change! This may involve more than one task and it may mean breaking it down into small chunks.
Step 5: Acceptance is not the same as resignation and does not necessarily mean that it can never be changed. It may be an acceptance that ‘it is what it is right now’.
Step 6: Letting go of smaller stuff is probably a good place to start. A good question to ask if you are trying to let something go is ‘is it worth the energy I am expending on this?’
Next time you feel the urge to moan, why not give it a try?
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