Why Complaining Is More Destructive Than Productive

It's not life's little setbacks that matter most, it's how we react to them.

Posted May 09, 2015

Gregg McBride
Source: Gregg McBride

It wasn't too long ago that life was definitely in a bit of a "whirlwind-mode." I had recently flown back from a quick trip to New York to share the story of my 250+-pound weight loss with my "diet wife" Joy Bauer on The Today Show and had landed back in LA with a million things going on (including taping an appearance on the Extra TV show). I was definitely on cloud nine. And although super-crazed, schedule-wise, I was determined to live life to the fullest. So on one sunny Friday afternoon, I decided to put everything on hold for an hour and take my little Latte (my 7-pound Morkie) to the nearby off-leash small dog park.

When approaching the park, I was excited to see two cars parked nearby (belonging to two good friends—both of whom have dogs that Latte loves to play with). Life couldn't have been better in that moment. Thus, imagine my surprise when, as I backed into a parallel parking spot, I heard a "slight crunch." I immediately pulled forward, shifted into park and looked around. Had I actually just dinged my car and (possibly) the car behind me? "How could this be?" I thought to myself. This time frame had been, after all, shaping up to be the perfect week. I had no room in my world for a car dent.

I jumped out of the car to survey the crunch-zone. I was relieved at first—seeing that the "Monster Truck" parked behind my car showed no signs of damage at all. Upon checking the rear of my car I was initially relieved as well—until I spotted some slight damage (not on my car's bumper, but on the car itself, near the opening to the trunk).

All at once my spirits sank, my shoulders drooped and I felt the pangs of an achy breaky heart. There it was—a small dent in an otherwise pristine automobile, not to mention pristine week. Was this how the week was to end? Had the universe conspired against me in order to bring me down from the "feel-good high" I'd been riding during the past several days?

After grabbing Latte and entering the small dog park, I realized that I'd created a virtual storm cloud that was now traveling right over my head. Even though I'd had such a great week and even though I had so much good news to share with my friends who were waiting for me on the other side of the dog park, I felt myself turning into a complainer. Not only was the car "crushed," but so were my spirits.

It's at that moment that I realized all the good in even the car dent situation. First of all, there was no damage to the other vehicle involved. Secondly, the damage to my own car was fairly minor (it had taken me a moment to discover it, after all). Add to this: Both Latte and I were safe. To say nothing of the fact that everything else "good" going on my week wasn't negated by what just happened. Although it all could have been had I decided to shift into "victim mode" and let myself be adversely affected by what had happened (all of which surely could have "attracted" even more negativity into my life).

Right then, right there, I decided I wasn't going to let this minor incident turn into anything more than it was—an everyday facet of real life. That's right—I reminded myself that "These things happen." In fact, these things will always happen (at least from time to time). So it's really not about trying to keep challenging things from coming into our lives. Instead, it's about choosing how we are going to react to these things.

In the past, I would have mourned the car's damage for days and told everyone how "unfair" life was (even though I was the one who did the backing up into the other vehicle). Instead, I greeted my friends at the dog park, watched Latte play with his canine friends, and shared all the good news of my week—all without "sharing" the angst I'd just experienced in the parking area.

At the risk of bragging, I must admit I was very proud of myself for shortcircuiting the "complainer" inside me, and instead reaffirming how good life was (and is) and counting the blessings that arose even from the car dent incident itself.

Because of my schedule, it took a little while to get the dent repaired. And I can honestly say that whenever I noticed the dent (before the repair), I'm wasn't depressed, but elated. Why? Because it reminded me that I reacted in a positive way to something that could have potentially brought about an intensely negative downward spiral, mood-wise. I reacted with joy, gratitude, gusto and (perhaps most important) a sense of humor.

After all, it's not life's little setbacks that matter most, it's how we react to them.

Have you ever had a challenging life situation rear its ugly head in the midst of an otherwise good day or week? If so, did you give into the grief and the agony and jump on board the pity train? Or did you shake it off and move forward with a positive spirit, determined not to let one of life's everyday annoyances get in your way? Either way, I'd love to hear from you on this topic.