Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Whining and Excuses

I love to complain. If you have ever played video games with me then you probably know this.

I definitely know better. Consciously, at least. But any time I go into a situation expecting to win or succeed or even just do well on a very basic level, there always ends up being something to complain about. So usually that's what I end up doing. It’s hard to tell from the way I write on here, but it also involves lots of cussing and swearing (fun fact, if you want some insight into me, my rough drafts usually have lots of swearing in them, but the fact that I get to edit everything makes me seem a lot better spoken than I am in real life).

Not that this is really a huge deal. Frustration is human and we’ve all got different ways of expressing it, and usually the way I do it is saying something that would best be represented by the symbols at the top of the keyboard. Sometimes it's pretty whiny too. But, like writing, most things are about context and purpose. Whining and excuses are more about the fundamental attitude you have in making them, and what you do afterwards. It’s not the actual fact that you say, “what the heck! that is so stupid” but what mindset causes you to say it, and where that mindset takes you.

I bring this up because recently I’ve been playing Dark Souls 2 and having a dubious amount of fun with it. After a point though, I often find myself complaining about an enemy’s moveset or attack pattern, the way an area is set up, or whatever. And then I’ll wonder why I started whining.


A lot of times it’s just because I wanted something to work and it didn’t. It was the wrong decision for the situation, but I really wanted it to be the right one. The idea of my decision not working out was upsetting. Rather than acknowledge that I could have picked something else, should have recognized or accounted for the possibility of things going differently, whatever, I’d rather just be mad that I didn’t win already.

That’s rooted in my fundamental attitude that I should be succeeding. But the direction I take that attitude is to believe that what I pick should succeed, rather than I should pick what does succeed. The two are worlds apart. My knee-jerk reaction is unhelpful for a variety of reasons.

First, it encourages me to be angry rather than focus on solutions. If I think that whatever I decide should be working out regardless of the reality of the situation, then I’m going to stubbornly pick stupid decisions and be less likely to learn. No es bueno.

Second, it assumes that failing and making mistakes is inherently bad. I shouldn’t fail. Nope. If I decide that something is reasonable and correct, then it should be, every time. Right?

Wrong. One of the things about decision making is that our choices very often seem reasonable at the time we make them. This is because we typically use our current reason and knowledge-base to make our decisions. But the point of learning is to make what seems reasonable and correct match what actually is reasonable and correct, not to complain that the right answer isn’t good enough. Whining and excuses tend to be ways for us to feel more reasonable and correct than reality. Which is actually really dumb, when you think about it.

In truth, we are the ones who could have done something more, thought one step ahead, planned a bit better, been a bit more careful, or whatever. It can be frustrating if we needed to know something in advance to do something right. But once the failure or the misstep has happened, what is the right choice? To say “how was I supposed to know that?” and get super angry? Or to go, “well, I know now. Based on that, what is best?” You can do both, if you want. But don't forget to do the second one.

I try and remember this when I get mad and make mistakes but it isn’t always easy. As somebody who has tended to value success highly, not succeeding can hurt. Nowadays my annoyance and frustration usually comes and goes like a drop of water flashing in the pan, sizzling in a blast of heat and then vanishing. Not always though.

But funnily enough, I would argue that trying to suppress the feeling of frustration and annoyance might be the wrong way to go about things as well. It quiets the response but doesn’t eliminate the root; it’s like taking a painkiller rather than eliminating the actual cause of pain. So sometimes when I have a minor outburst, rather than trying to quash the irritation, it flares up loudly enough for me to stop and think “I’m really not approaching this well at all, am I?” If I’m on the ball, I refocus. If I’m not, it derails me.

When you catch yourself, you have a choice about where to take that frustration. It can be a fire that fuels your engine or a fire you throw yourself into. One burns for you and one burns you up. It will be based on what you believe and what you want to do, so pick carefully.

Thanks for reading.

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