When something goes wrong, there’s always an upside that will get you back on the right track.
Do you have plans, goals, objectives, or outcomes that you want to achieve? Have you ever got yourself frustrated when things don’t go according to plan? Did you beat yourself up?
If so, I want to inspire you with a simple, yet powerful idea from this article.
I learned this from Jocko Willink’s book Discipline Equals Freedom and Jack Canfield’s book The Success Principles. The idea is very simple. Both Jocko and Jack believes that complaining when things go wrong is useless, disempowering and does not change anything.
… when things are going bad, there’s going to be some good that will come from it.
Learn to replace complaining with making requests and taking actions that will achieve your desired outcomes.
As the old adage says,
Don’t just sit there (and complain), do something. And remember, it’s up to you to make the change, to do something different. The world doesn’t owe you anything. You have to create it.
That is what successful people do. That is what works.
If you find yourself in a situation you don’t like, either work to make it better or leave. Do something to change it or get the heck out.
Commit to working on the relationship or get a divorce.
Decide to work to improve working conditions or find a new job.
Commit to growing your business or stay small.
Commit to taking 100% responsibility and do whatever it takes to restart and rebuild your business (depending on your legal circumstances) or forever be an employee of someone else’s business.
Have you ever noticed that people almost always complain to the wrong person—to someone who can’t do anything about their complaint? They go to work and complain about their spouse; then they come home and complain to their spouse about the people at work. Why?
Because it’s easier; it’s less risky. It takes courage to tell your spouse that you are not happy with the way things are at home.
It takes courage to ask for a behavioural change.
It takes courage to hold people accountable.
It also takes courage to ask your boss to plan better so that you don’t end up working every weekend.
But only your boss can do anything about that. Your spouse can’t.
I’m certain that if you’re reading this article, you know complaining does not empower you. It’s one of the first things you read when you get into personal development. There’s nothing revolutionary about that.
So let me explain my personal take and integration of Jocko’s and Jack’s approaches here.
Instead of giving people the advice of, “don’t complain”, I realize that we need more than that to truly change our behaviour. I don’t know if you’ve tried to avoid complaining before. But every time I tried it in the past, I didn’t get very far. I realized that you can’t just stop in a day.
Before we can stop complaining, we need to have an awareness of ourselves. If we are enjoying and having a blissful life, we have all the money we need to live the lifestyle we choose, and we are contented, there’s nothing to change.
If we are not happy, and we are always complaining about our lives, our spouse, our jobs, our careers, our business, our customers, our employees…. then we know that there’s something better out there.
When we choose something better and we want to have that better life, better paying job, better business, better employees, better clients, we need to take charge, be 100% responsible and go get that better life that we want and make it happen!
Now, RESPONSIBILITY is a big word. Many people would like to believe that they understand this word. In reality, many don’t. In my personal dictionary, responsibility means “having the ability to respond”. You see, I learned about the word RESPONSIBILITY by doing it, at the age of 14.
When my dad lost his business, I was put in a position to either run away from home or go find a job so that it puts food on the table, pays the bills and put my siblings to school. As the eldest son in my family, this was when I learned the meaning of the word RESPONSIBILITY.
I have the ability to respond. I can respond by running away from home or I can take on a few jobs, earned an income and support my family, while I figure out what else I could do to make my life better.
Yes, shit happens. Life comes with experiences that trigger a spectrum of human emotions. So, you have to decide
You either Create it or Allow Everything to Happen to You!
To be powerful, you need to take the position that you create or allow everything to happen to you. By create, I mean that you directly cause something to happen by your actions or inactions.
Imagine this for a moment: You walk up to a big 1.9m tall man in a bar who obviously has been drinking for hours, and you say to him, “You are one ugly, smelly and stupid loser” and he jumps off the stool, punched you in your face, and you end up in the hospital—you created that. That’s an easy-to-understand example.
Here’s one that may be harder to swallow: You started a business. You work 12 to 15 hours every day for the past 10 years. You come home tired and burned out. You eat dinner in a near coma state and then sit down in front of the television to watch a sports game or your favourite drama serial. You’re too tired and stressed out to do anything else—like go for a walk with your wife or play with the kids. This goes on for 10 years. Your wife asks you to talk to her. You say, “Later! I’m watching TV!” Several years later, you come home to an empty house and a note that says she has left you and taken the kids. You created that one, too!
Other times, we simply allow things to happen to us by our inaction and our unwillingness to do what is necessary to create or maintain what we want:
- You didn’t follow through on your threat to take away privileges when your children didn’t clean up after themselves, and now the house looks like a war zone. (you did not make them accountable and implement the consequences)
- You didn’t attend any sales and motivational seminars because you were too busy, and now your new sales colleague just won the top sales award. (you did not take responsibility and were not accountable to your own growth and development)
- You didn’t make the time to take the dogs to obedience training, and now they’re out of control.
- You didn’t take time to maintain your car, and now you’re sitting by the side of the road, waiting for the tow truck with your car broken down and your customer frustrated as the meeting is postponed.
- Your colleagues or employees are not delivering your Brand Promise and you told them to work harder, do better without showing them what you mean through written guidelines, standards, protocols, policies and technical specifications.
- You didn’t go back to school, and now you are being passed over for a promotion.
By now, you must realize that you are NOT the victim here! What you did was you stood passively by and let it happen. You didn’t say anything, make a demand, make a request, say no, go attend a class, seek a specific, measurable and actionable solution or try something new.
Be aware that nothing ever just “happens” to you. Just like the “warning signs” in the Star Trek television series and movies, you almost always receive advance warnings—in the form of telltale signs, comments from others, gut instinct, or intuition—that alert you to the impending danger and give you time to prevent the unwanted outcome.
You are getting warning signs all the time. Here are some examples:
- He keeps coming home later and later with alcohol on his breath.
- The client’s first check bounced.
- Projects are delivered late.
- Gross margins are dropping.
- Your employees are not motivated.
- Customers are complaining.
Then, there are internal whispers:
- That feeling in your stomach
- That ﬂeeting thought that just maybe . . .
- That intuition that said . . .
- That fear that emerged
- That dream that woke you up in the middle of the night
These warning signs give you time to change your response. However, too many people ignore the yellow alerts because paying attention to them would require them to do something that is uncomfortable. It is uncomfortable to confront your spouse about the cigarettes in the ashtray that have lipstick on them. It is uncomfortable to speak up in a staff meeting when you are the only one who feels that the proposed plan won’t work. It is uncomfortable to tell someone you don’t trust them. So you pretend not to see and not to know because it is easier, more convenient and less uncomfortable, avoids conflict and confrontation, keeps the peace, and protects you from having to take risks.
Make Life Easier!
Successful people, on the other hand, face facts squarely. They do the uncomfortable and take steps to create their desired outcomes. Successful people don’t wait for disasters to occur and then blame something or someone else for their problems. Once you begin to respond quickly and decisively to signals and events as they occur, life becomes much easier.
You start seeing improved outcomes both internally and externally.
Old internal self-talk such as “I feel like a victim; I feel used; nothing ever seems to work out for me” is replaced with “I feel great; I am in control; I can make things happen.”
External outcomes such as “Nobody ever comes to our store; we missed our quarterly goals; people are complaining that our new product doesn’t work” are transformed into “We have more money in the bank; I lead the division in sales; our product is ﬂying off the shelves.”
Simple isn’t Necessarily Easy.
Though this principle is simple, it is not necessarily easy to implement. It requires concentrated awareness, dedicated discipline, and a willingness to experiment and take risks. You have to be willing to pay attention to what you are doing and reflect the results you are producing. You have to ask yourself, your family, your friends, your colleagues, your managers, your teachers, your mentors and your clients for feedback.
Is what I’m doing working? Could I be doing it better? Is there something more I should be doing that I am not? Is there something I am doing that I should stop doing? How do you see me limiting myself?
Don’t be afraid to ask.
Most people are afraid to ask for feedback about how they are doing because they are afraid of what they are going to hear. There is nothing to be afraid of. The truth is the truth.
You are better off knowing the truth than not knowing it.
Once you know, you can do something about it. You cannot improve your life, your relationships, your game, or your performance without feedback.
Even the best football teams and golfers get feedback. They hired coaches and mentors. That’s how they become good and stay good.
Complaining is a habit. If you choose to stop complaining, first you need to approach it as changing a habit.
So if you get discouraged when things go bad, or keep complaining about all the things that go wrong, give this method a go. It goes like this.
Every time something goes wrong, focus on the good thing about the situation and take 100% responsibility. Remember this, “responsibility” is about you choosing and deciding that you have the “ability to respond” despite everything that has happened.
You see, Jocko doesn’t explicitly say to not complain. Instead, he says that something good could emerge out of something bad.
… and it requires you to focus on the good first. How do you do that? By saying GOOD every time something goes wrong.
Jocko explains in Discipline Equals Freedom:
Oh, the mission got canceled? Good. We can focus on another one.
Didn’t get the new high-speed gear we wanted? Good. We can keep it simple.
Didn’t get promoted? Good. More time to learn, grow and get better.
Didn’t get funded? Good. It keeps us hungry and driven and we own more of the company.
Didn’t get the job you wanted? Good. Go out, gain more experience, build a better resume.
Got injured? Good. Needed a break from training.
Got tapped out? Good. It’s better to tap out in training than tap out on the street.
Got beaten? Good. There’s something that we need to learn.
Unexpected problems? Good. We have an opportunity to figure out a solution”
You probably get the idea. There’s an advantage to every disadvantage.
If you’re thinking about how you can change your mindset, this is the perfect habit to adopt.
Practice the Small stuff. Stress the Big stuff.
A few years ago, I wanted to stop complaining once and for all. Like all the advice says, I started small. That went really well. It’s easy not to sweat the small stuff, right? Who cares that it’s raining today? Or that your coffee mug broke? You’ll buy a new one! Everyone can do that minor stuff.
The problem is that we often forget about the whole “I’m never going to complain again” attitude when big things happen. And that’s precisely the problem! When you want to live a certain lifestyle, you can’t only do it when you feel like it.
That’s why I’m always more interested in the big stuff. How do you hold up when big setbacks happen? Do you still complain? Or have you trained yourself enough to always focus on the good?
For me, it took about two years to develop the awareness at this. When something went wrong in my personal life or business, I would still complain about it. Mostly to myself. But now, when things go wrong, I see it as a trigger for doing something else. The way you can form that trigger is the way Jocko formulates it above.
Train yourself to think:
When X happens (X being a bad thing),
do Y (Y being a good/useful/positive action)
This is not a Nobel prize-winning theory or anything. It’s NOT the best thing since the invention of the wheel. It is just a method to learn and grow.
I simply found this exercise very beneficial. It just shows that even though you can read much about a topic, there is always something to learn. I may have read hundreds of books about mindset, and positive psychology, and attend seminars, and workshops and none of the advice worked until I developed awareness, and discipline, and commit to taking 100% responsibility to apply what I learned, keep what works and discard what didn’t. Again, that’s a mindset thing.
You keep on going until you find something that truly works. When you do that, you don’t even have time to complain.