Friday, March 11, 2011

Whining, Complaining, and Criticizing: Symptoms of a Serious Problem

I've been reading John Wooden's "Wooden: A Lifetime of Observations and Reflections on and off the Court."  As many of you know, John Wooden is considered the most successful NCAA men's basketball coach in history.  He won 10 national championships at UCLA in the 60's and 70's.  More importantly, the man had a a ton of great advice on how one should run their life.  Even though I dislike basketball, I HIGHLY recommend this book to anyone interested in teaching, coaching, leadership, or just getting the most out of life. 

John's philosophy is really quite simple.  He advocates being a hard working, enthusiastic leader.  His beliefs can more or less be summed up based on his definition of success:

"Success is peace of mind that is the direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming."

I really like this idea along with many other ideas Wooden outlines in the book.  One area in particular hit close to home.  Wooden repeatedly talks about always doing your personal best given the resources you've been given.  However, late in the book he talks about enthusiasm.  Specifically, he talks about the point when enthusiasm wanes.  

When enthusiasm diminishes, there is a tendency to start a vicious cycle of negative thoughts.  These negative thoughts manifest themselves as negative behaviors.  These behaviors often take the form of whining, complaining, and criticizing.  This struck a chord with me. 

Over the last few months, I've become an acute observer of the behavior of those around me.  Almost without exception, I see frequent whining, complaining, and criticizing from everyone... students, colleagues, leaders, parents... pretty much everyone in my professional life.  It creates a toxic pool of poison where people go through the motions in a detached, indifferent trance while chanting hollow words of conviction and passion.

The worst part- I'm just as guilty.  I have allowed other peoples' outsides to affect my insides.  That has resulted in my own bout of whining, complaining, and criticizing. I have fallen into that trap.  Worse, I rarely recognize it as such.  I'm sure those around me don't recognize their own behaviors, either. 

Wooden also states "... valid self-analysis is crucial for improvement."  I do not have the power to change others, but I do have the power to change me.  Since this entire blog is about the need for change in education, "me" is the best place to start.  

Wooden notes it is impossible to work up to your fullest ability without enthusiasm.  Enthusiasm is the antithesis of negativity.  Enthusiasm is the natural cure for the cycle of negativity.  Enthusiasm can disinfect this pool of pessimism.

In my running life, I am routinely surrounded by positive people that truly love what they are doing.  Their passion is so intense, it is impossible for them to hide it.  This passion creates an energy that is absolutely infectious.  This is the enthusiasm I want to bring to my professional life.  

I realize I contribute to the creation and nourishment of this environment.  The only hope I have of changing the environment is first changing myself.  This involves a conscious monitoring of my own behaviors, which is difficult for us to do.  To help my self-awareness, I'm going to employ a trick used my my friend John DeVries.  I'm going to wear a rubber band around my wrist.  Every time I complain, whine, or criticize, I will move the rubber band to the other wrist. 

Widespread negativity is a symptom of a toxic environment. My influence over the environment starts with my own behaviors.  If I have any hope of correcting these problems, recognizing and correcting my own behaviors is the first step.

Thanks John Wooden.

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