Self-Help: Let’s Talk About What You Did To Anger The Rock God

If there were an Olympic competition for complaining, the Mendelson family would bring home the gold.

All of the Mendelsons, that is, except for me. I’m the black sheep, which is funny because most people become the black sheep after doing something ridiculous; like burning down your mother’s house because she didn’t give you money for drugs. (True story. Not mine.)

I’m the black sheep for lame reasons: I don’t believe in complaining. Between working on the next comic and planning a boy-girl-boy threeway, my mind is pretty occupied.

I don’t complain because I don’t think it accomplishes anything. There’s no room in your head for anything toxic, you know? And that’s all most complaints are; they’re toxic. Don’t let toxic stuff take up space inside your head. It’s not productive, and it’s not healthy.

You have two choices. The first choice is that you can complain about life being hard and about all the things that make it hard. Sometimes, to be fair, those complaints have merit and NEED to be heard. For example, if there were a thing you should complain about openly and frequently, it would be social injustice. But I’m not talking about social injustice or any of the BIG societal things.

I leave the BIG stuff for people far smarter than I am to figure out. So that’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about the small stuff. That’s because the small stuff is what you and I spend the most time thinking and complaining about. We’re hardwired to be selfish. As Mel Brooks once put it, “Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die.”

So how do you keep from complaining?

Try looking at each action that you take as a positive or negative action. Complaining is a negative action. Making a joke about how your little brother thought the landscaper put a curse on him is a positive action. One makes the people around you laugh; the other doesn’t. (Also a true story. One involving a rock God whom I like to imagine looks a lot like the Rock Biter from The Neverending Story. If you’re not old enough to get that reference, fuck you, I think it’s hilarious.)

I’ll go as far as to say that you should only ever complain if, and only if, the complaint is funny. If the complaint makes the people around you laugh, it’s a positive action, not a negative one.

The goal is to fill your day with more positive actions than negative ones. So that’s what I try to do. I’m not always successful, but every day is a new day, and we all start from zero when we wake up. What happened yesterday happened yesterday and, instead of a time machine or an infinity stone, there’s nothing you can do about it but apologize (if necessary) and try to be better tomorrow.

You Can’t Sit In The Tree Forever

More than a few books on storytelling advocate that you look at each action your character takes a positive action or a negative action. In other words, something has to happen to your characters in each scene to either move the plot forward or backward. The goal is not to move the characters too far back because that makes for a crappy story.

So, you’re constantly walking this tightrope as a writer. I think it was comedians and screenwriters Thomas Lennon and Robert Garant who said, “The goal of your story is to introduce your hero and chase them up a tree, then you throw rocks at them, then you find a way to get them down.” Sitting around and thinking of negative stuff, or complaining, is the real-life equivalent of you just sitting in that tree forever.

You might think managing our lives like how a writer manages fictional characters might be odd, but it’s a pretty spot on comparison. That’s because we are also hardwired to think we’re the hero of our own story. (And as an Atheist, I’m obligated to inform you that you may or may not have been basing your life on the wisdom of fictional characters for a while now anyway. So this suggestion shouldn’t sound too radical here if we’re being honest.)

There’s this line from Hamlet that I think is worth mentioning. One that’s been beaten to death by self-help and productivity experts since the 1930s. “There is nothing good or bad but thinking makes it so.”

Of course, Hamlet says this before continuing his Archer-like rampage through Denmark, so you’ll have to take that for what it’s worth. But what’s important here is that Hamlet was right. Perspective is everything. So when it comes down to figuring out what’s a positive or negative action, you’ll have to keep in mind that it all comes down to how you look at each action.

So, if it’s true that thinking makes something positive or negative, then there’s often little reason to complain in the first place. A lot of the stuff you do choose to complain about may not be negative at all, it’s just your perception of it.

If you want to be a successful human, there’s no real trick to it. Just look at your thoughts as they come as objectively as you can. And then you should ask yourself why you think that thing in the first place. This makes assigning a positive or negative action simpler, and dropping the negative actions, the complaints, way easier.

(Photo Credit: The Neverending Story/Warner Bros.)