It was sometime around my senior year of high school that a friend and I felt like we’d discovered a universal truth: Talking shit was the best way to bond. Finding common ground – agreeing on what was the worst – was the fastest way to find someone who shared your sensibilities. Oh, you hate this thing? And that thing too? Does that person drive you nuts? We were meant to be friends!
I’m not sure why this felt like an epiphany but it did, and even more so when I moved to college, where talking shit proved once again to be the fastest route to friendship – once you figured out what you were united against, you knew you were on the same page. This was all aided by the fact that I’d moved to New York, where the weather was extreme and brutal (making everyone a little tougher and a little more miserable) and snark was the dominating sentiment.
After graduation, landing in the workplace just exacerbated the shit talking – there was gossip and politics and stress-fueled resentment, and the constant mystery of those people who seemed to fail upwards. And hanging out with friends wasn’t always the drinking-wine-and-talking-about-politics-and-culture-and-current-events we'd imagined – but more often, a lot of talking shit.
Don’t get me wrong, a good shit-talking session can be the best thing ever. Sometimes you just need to vent to someone who gets it. And who hasn’t felt lighter and better and happier after a solid round of annoyance-bashing?
But as someone who can often be a little too sharp in my delivery (my coworker told me last week that if I was an animal I would be a goose), I know that I can come across as too negative. And this year, I started to worry that not only was that negativity making me unpleasant to be around, but that it was getting me down as well. It’s easy to slide into complaining – there’s probably always something in your life you could find a way to complain about – but was focusing on it actually making me feel worse? When I stepped back to take stock of everything – work, friends, life – things were actually great; I had so much to be super happy about.
So I tried a little experiment: I’d quit talking shit for 7 days.
I started on a weekend, setting an alarm on my iPhone to remind myself not to be negative. When it went off at brunch, I leaped for it with a twinge of embarrassment – but it was a good reminder. And for the most part, it was easy to keep a positive outlook – by some weather miracle it was (relatively) warm and sunny for the first time in months, and I managed to get outside and go running, ate pretty healthy, and relaxed with a House of Cards mini-marathon. Whenever anything bubbled up that moderately annoyed me, I squashed it down. “No,” I told myself, “I’m not going to let [x] annoy me today.” And sure enough, not dwelling on negative thoughts made them disappear faster than normal.
I was determined to stay positive during the week, even announcing my new mantra to some coworkers, and I did pretty well at first. When the kind of thing happened that would normally send me to GChat for a digital eye-roll, I took a deep breath instead, and felt the moment dissipate. When I did lapse into a vent session, I could feel the effects immediately: I was stressed, my blood pressure felt like it was spiking, and a vague feeling of annoyance persisted, even after the conversation was over.
Throughout the week, there were some wins: I definitely curbed my complaining and tried to be more direct, addressing situations head-on instead of letting them go by in a way that would make me want to talk shit later. But as the week went on, old habits kept reverting and I found myself slipping into conversations centered on negativity. The more aware of it I was, the worse it made me feel.
Being negative is like bingeing on candy from the free table at work – at first it's really enjoyable, but it leaves you feeling gross and sad. When I did slip down the slope of negativity, I felt it drag me down on all fronts – soon I was stress-eating junk food and skipping my workout, all things that led to more negative feelings. But once I hit the weekend again, it was pretty easy to restart and once again focus on the positive.
While I definitely didn’t even remotely succeed, trying to give up negativity is an experiment I’d like to continue. If anything, being more aware of how I act makes me want to act better. And while I’ll still always love the occasional shit-talk session (and apparently there's a strong case to be made for the power of negative thinking as well), I'm going to try to be more sparing, so I don't drag myself down.
If you're like me and looking to curb your negativity, this Huffington Post round-up lists several strategies, and I also like this questionnaire from The Muse, which serves as a way to check in with yourself once a week.
What do you think - is there ever a good time to talk shit?