"It's tough getting old!" is a familiar refrain among the Forever Young generation. "What's the world coming to?" is another on the list of growing concerns as we age.
Some of us worry about our future -- healthcare, social security and dementia. Others focus on larger issues -- fiscal cliffs, global warming and terrorism. Many simply long for the good ole days when Life in the Fast Lane was a great lyric, not a description of a race we didn't expect to be running.
These are the concerns facing Baby Boomers as they struggle with the reality of aging in a youth-obsessed culture. Turning 60 myself, I'm not unfamiliar with my generation's worries, nor guilt free when it comes to whining about them. But does all the complaining actually help?
Some believe it can provide a bit of stress relief. Others say it helps them feel less alone. But habitual whining can actually have the opposite effect. Not only does it become boring to the complainer, but it can be irritating to others. How many of us swore we would never be one of those 'Grumpy Old Men (or women!), yet find ourselves heading toward just that?
I suggest "Un-Whining," a new tactic to deal with the urge to complain. It's based on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), a technique shown effective in undoing maladaptive habits. By challenging the thoughts and feelings attached to dysfunctional behavior, it offers alternatives that can result in more positive reactions.
Keep in mind, this process is not about denying reality or adopting wishful thinking. Nor do I encourage stoicism or martyrdom. In my psychotherapy practice, I urge my patients to speak freely about everything -- while suspending all judgement -- so that we can identify and understand what's on their mind. I tell them that sharing their troubles isn't whining, unless they get stuck and dwell on them. Good therapeutic work is focused on using complaints to learn how to deal with them productively and move forward.
Here are the five steps to un-whining followed by an explanation of the psychology behind this process.
- Identify the discomfort when you feel a complaint coming on.
"Something is bothering me and deserves my attention."
"Is there anything I can do that will alleviate my discomfort?"
"Can I hang in there until I figure out a solution?"
"If I make some internal adjustments, perhaps my discomfort will be more tolerable."
To see how this works, let's apply the steps to a common complaint, like "my aching shoulder."
- Identifying the discomfort: I just played tennis and developed a pain in my shoulder that I've not had before. I take a moment to pay attention to what I feel, thinking "my shoulder is killing me." I listen to the complaint in my head with the kind of concern I would if I heard a close friend was hurt. I say to myself empathically, "It's understandable that I'm bothered by this ache, what a bummer." While I may give myself the chance to feel "ow" and think "this really hurts," I quickly move on toward, "Now what?"
I view chronic complaining as a learned habit. Breaking it (like most maladaptive behaviors) takes practice. "Un-whining' requires repeating these 5 steps over and over in order to develop alternative behavior patterns that are more effective. Once the new habit is formed, it will be reinforced by the positive reaction it evokes. Try it and see.
The good news is that we are all living longer. The not so good news is that longevity brings aches and pains along the way. Let's think of "un-whining" as yet another challenge that our generation can overcome. Sure, complaining can provide us an opportunity to release some negativity. It may even help us feel connected to one another as we share our grievances. But it seems to me that turning complaints into positive actions may serve us all more in the end.
Do you think "un-whining" may be helpful to you and others? If so, pass it forward and tell us how it goes.
Vivian Diller, Ph.D., is a psychologist in private practice in New York City. She serves as a media expert on various psychological topics and as a consultant to companies promoting health, beauty and cosmetic products. Her book, Face It: What Women Really Feel As Their Looks Change(2010), edited by Michele Willens, is a psychological guide to help women deal with the emotions brought on by their changing appearances.
HuffPost Parents offers a daily dose of personal stories, helpful advice and comedic takes on what it’s like to raise kids today. Learn more