Very often, when I encounter a deeply-entrenched, clearly unhealthy habit in a client, I get curious about the payoff: every habit, according to research in this area, brings with it a reward, a hit of pleasure hormones.
That’s ridiculous, you might think. What possible payoff is there in a habit that doesn’t support your health? Well, I guess you could ask any smoker that question….
Having just launched the (Sorta) Secret Sisterhood, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to two topics: first, what happens to women’s bodies, minds, and spirits as we move into our 40s and beyond, and second, what it’s like to be around women in community.
I’m generalizing now, but I’m going to say that as we experience the changes that typically accrue starting around our fourth decade (and based on my research and conversations with women at this stage of life, it’s a long, long list!), we tend to have three ways of dealing with them: 1) ignore/suppress/dismiss them, 2) throw a variety of silver bullets—from meditation to medication—at them, or 3) complain about them. A lot. Especially when we’re with a group of women who get it.
We even have humorous names for the groups that gather for this express purpose: stitch and bitch, whine and cheese. I also have it on good authority that a lot of book groups devolve into a litany of complaints rather than a discussion of literature.
So … what’s the payoff?
I get it—community is important, and misery loves company … and what exactly are these kvetchfests doing for us?
I think one possible answer is that comparing (and perhaps even competing about?) our many aches and pains—whether they are physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual—gives us a story, an identity, and sometimes—for the truly competitive—a “win” over our sisters. “Oh yeah, she’s definitely the busiest/most tired/most unhappy one….”
But that’s crazy, right?
Is it, though?
I learned a long time ago that if you ask, “How are you,” you’re likely to get an earful of complaints. Ask, “What’s new and good,” and you’ll get an odd look, maybe a piece of good news … and then a quick slide back into the litany.
It’s human nature to have this “negativity bias,” and some of us skew that way more than others. Complaining can sometimes feel like taking action: it’s like that old joke that says, everyone complains about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.
What happens, though, when we’re sick of this identity, when we realize we’re stuck in what feels like Groundhog Day, when repeating the story we have and tell about ourselves feels worse than the pain of changing it?
Oddly enough, I find that this is when the magic happens.
In a somewhat less dramatic fashion, it’s like an addict hitting rock bottom, like someone in an abusive relationship walking out for good, or someone who’s gained too much weight deciding, “It stops NOW.”
You probably figured out a while ago that this habit of complaining is not really serving you, but until you have acknowledged that and are ready to interrupt it, you may well be powerless to stop.
Once you interrupt the pattern, though, you can seek out the information, inspiration, and community that will support you in creating healthier habits and writing a new story, one in which your body is not broken or malfunctioning but communicating with you in a deeply wise fashion.
Let me know in the comments where you’re finding the information, inspiration, and community that support you in making the shift to healthier habits!
If you are ready to explore a new way of living into your 40s and beyond, I encourage you to sign up for a sneak peek at the (Sorta) Secret Sisterhood, which starts June 2018!
Interested in more on these topics? Check out these three podcast episodes that miraculously played in order in my app yesterday: A Little Peace of Mind, Over it and On with it, and The Fearless Self-Love Podcast (episode 18).