I recently finished reading Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself by Dr. Joe Dispenza. It took me a few months to get through it because I was determined not to rush the learning. In the book, Dr. Joe covers so much information it would be difficult to summarize it here. But one thing he encourages us to do is look at some part of our personality we want to change and change it. I’ve actually outlined several things, of course, but for the moment let’s focus on complaining.

Yep, I’m a complainer. It’s partly upbringing, but it has certainly been exacerbated by the profession I chose. See, artists often complain. And with good reason. We grumble about the challenges of working on our own, about our lack of talent or skill, about our frustration with ourselves and our work. We grouse about how hard it is to make a living from our art and about the bad deals we get from agents, managers, distributors, venues, etc. We grouch about the ridiculous amount of time it takes our industries to bring our products to market and about how everyone wants to access art for free. We gripe about other artists and about how our families and friends don’t really understand what we do. Get any group of artists together and you’ll need to wait only two minutes before the complaining begins.

And it feels good, on the one hand, to commiserate with people who understand deeply our own insecurities, frustrations, and fears. It creates a connection, kind of like when strangers gather under a covered bus stop in a rain storm and immediately bond over how much they hate the weather. There is comfort in shared dissatisfaction, just as there is comfort in shared contentment.

You do meet them, by the way, those artists who rarely complain. The ones who gush about how much they love their work and how they’d do it even if they never made a penny. They say things like, “My work saves me.” And though you know they mean it, sometimes you just want to slap them. No one likes someone who always looks on the bright side.

But lately I’ve been trying to back away from the conversations that steer toward complaining, just to see how that feels. What if I only kept space in my mind and heart for positive thoughts about my art? What if I only focused on the good I can do and ignored the failings of our industries?  What if I believed, really believed, that my art could succeed in all the ways I hope it could?

I’m working on that, but just like a smoker who is trying to quit and feels tempted by the smell of cigarette smoke, the sound of a group of artists bemoaning our challenges creates a pull that is hard to resist. And I don’t want to dismiss our justifiable complaints, I just want to try living in a place where a complaint can be expressed in the same breath as a possible solution. Or at least in an acknowledgment that life is not perfect, but there is so much about it that is so, so good.

It’s not realistic to believe I will give up complaining entirely, nor do I think I want to. I made some of the best changes in my life because I was tired of hearing myself whine about my situation. And studies have shown complaining can sometimes release stress. But I’d like to more often balance my complaints with thoughts along a more positive vein. And I’d like to learn to question what my petty complaints are really trying to tell me. What am I struggling with down deep inside that makes those trivial things so annoying?

In other words, I’d like to try not complaining simply because it’s the path of least resistance. I’d like to challenge myself to see what other thoughts and emotions, solutions and ideas, might surface if I stop speaking my grievances and start listening to my heart.

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