Goodbye Grumblings

Find the good

Two things that may help stop the grumbling

Why does grumbling matter?

It may start small, but grumbling to myself can avalanche into such a bad mood that I perceive everything negatively. Grumbling gains power and affects everyone around me. When I’m grumbling, I have real trouble seeing the good, and I’m certainly nowhere near my best self, as you’ll see below. The embarrassingly childish grumble below is, in fact, what convinced me that I’d have enough material for a blog about saying goodbye to Grumblings the dragon. Clearly, I’m not likely to run out of material anytime soon.

Not long ago I found myself grumbling about a triviality: someone put the butter in the fridge and it was too hard to spread on the crackers I was going to eat with my supper. Yes, that’s it. That’s all it took to trigger a grumbling bad mood.

Why share this? Because it’s a perfect example of the kind of small day-to-day irritation that triggers my grumbling.  This particular Tuesday evening I was alone in the kitchen after getting home from work, preparing to have a cup of tea and eat supper. To show you just how lucky I was, I’ll offer some context.

  • The tea and supper were prepared by Thing Two before she and Husband headed out to a Scout meeting. Lucky me, coming home to supper ready.
  • I’m an introvert and I work with people, volunteer with people, live with people and have friends who are people. Excellent people! I enjoy them, but I treasure time alone. I was delighted with the prospect of two hours to myself with a book and no work, social or other obligations.

I got out some crackers to have with supper, and then looked around for the butter. Gone? I searched, and found it in the fridge, cold and hard. Suddenly Grumblings awoke. Temper rose. I muttered and scowled. Why would someone put the butter in the fridge when we never do that? I won’t bore you with the rest of my ranting. Suffice it to say that I filled the kitchen with negativity and even considered phoning the person I thought had done the deed.

I didn’t, thank goodness. Not because I focused on the positive and let the mad go. Oh, no. I was too caught up in my temper, like a two-year-old too busy screaming to hear anyone talk. It didn’t even occur to me to take deep, calming breaths while counting slowly to ten, to try singing myself out of a bad mood, to think of the day’s good things.

What saved me from my own behaviour was my reading addiction: I wanted to read more than I wanted to talk to anyone or even grumble. I dove into my supper and the story, and Grumblings quieted down, slipping deep and curling up to sleep, biding his time.

Replacing grumbling with reading worked that night, but I can’t always bury my nose in a book, more’s the pity. I’m looking to vanquish Grumblings while still living in the real world. To do that, I need more than a distraction. I need a way to stop him before he gains momentum.

What was behind this grumble? Why would something so easily solved as too-hard butter make me feel cranky and dissatisfied? My theory: I had an expectation that wasn’t met.

I expected that things in the kitchen would be the way I want them to be — that, among other things, the butter would be left out at room temperature the way it usually is, the way I like it. When that expectation wasn’t met, Grumblings awoke quickly and fiercely, ready for trouble. Grumblings was ready to rumble because I didn’t get what I wanted.

I need to find a way, in the moment, to stop the quick emotional reaction. How can I do this and prevent Grumblings from feeding on my negative feelings?

Somehow, I need to remember that we’re all busy. We have different priorities, different energy cycles. When someone is focused on her own priorities or thinking of something other than a chore, it’s not a personal attack on me, not part of a campaign to bug me. It’s not even about me, or anyone else, for that matter.

And there it is, the mind shift that will help get me outside of my own head: what happened or didn’t happen had nothing to do with me.

But how do I keep this in mind in the heat of the moment? How do I remind myself that the world doesn’t revolve around me when some little thing happens or doesn’t happen and Grumblings starts to wake up?

  1. Imagine the story from the other person’s point of view. Think of what led to things happening the way they did. What’s on the other person’s mind? Was she focussed on tomorrow’s physics test and what she would do at a Scout meeting? Was he trying to juggle thoughts of work, a cup of tea and a mental list of what he needed to bring to Scouts?
  1. Assume positive intent. The people I live with are my family, and we love one another. We don’t set out every day to drive one another crazy. If I assume positive intent, putting the butter in the fridge can actually be considered evidence of an attempt to tidy up, not evidence of a plot to wreck my otherwise perfect evening.

These two techniques often come up in leadership and communication workshops about how to deal with colleagues. Funny thing — they apply not only to people at work, but also to family. Because, get this — family members are people too!

I’m adding these two techniques to my bag of holding, where I’ll store the tools I plan to use in the battle to say goodbye to Grumblings and be my best self. I hear that bags of holding can hold an awful lot. This is good, because Grumblings comes often and takes on a variety of shapes and sizes, so I have a feeling I’ll need a wide variety of tools.

How about you? Do you try to stop yourself from grumbling, or just let the storm blow itself out? Is it worth the effort, or a lost cause? Leave a comment — I’d love to hear about what’s worked for you.

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About GrumblingSusan

Word lover. Story addict. Daydreamer. Optimist. Ottawan. Treehugger. Scouter.

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