Are You a Winner or a Whiner?

Choosing to whine and blame is a choice just as much as choosing to do something about your circumstances, but one is more likely to produce a meaningful result than the other.
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"Are you a winner in your life, or simply a whiner?"

How do you respond hearing or reading this? The first time I heard this simple yet powerful question, I found myself defending, explaining and justifying my lack of personal results, something I referred to as "dexifying" my life in an article here two weeks ago. I sure had my reasons.

I had just turned 19 when my family was forced into bankruptcy (my father had died a couple of years earlier) and I wound up living in my car for a while. At the time that Ernie, the workshop leader, fired that question at me, I was living on a dollar a day. There were all kinds of people around who felt sorry for me, but not Ernie. He was intent on driving home the point that we each have the "response-ability" to make of our lives what we choose.

A couple of years later, in another workshop, Randy cemented the deal this way: "You can have results in your life, or you can have reasons why you don't have them. Which do you prefer: results or reasons?"

These two juxtapositions, "winner or whiner" and "results or reasons," have provided a solid foundation of personal power and transformation for 40 years now. While both Ernie and Randy are gone now, the transformation they helped me set in motion lives on. They taught me that choosing to whine and blame is a choice just as much as choosing to do something about your circumstances, but one is more likely to produce a meaningful result than the other.

Together, they helped me understand that no matter how unfair the cards I had been dealt might have seemed to me, if I were going to overcome my situation, I was going to have to stop adding negativity to it. Whining about how difficult things were wasn't going to help. Blaming the insurance company that refused to pay both the health and death benefits from the policy my dad had taken out when I was born wasn't going to change anything.

Randy and Ernie echoed one another with the sage counsel that if anything was going to change in my life, it would be a direct result of my choice to do something about my circumstances. As it turns out, each demonstrated considerably more care and compassion to me with their direct, perhaps even blunt, advice.

Was any of this fair? Not so much. Did the insurance company behave badly? Indeed it did. And none of that changed anything no matter how many times I repeated the story.

How about you? Are you a winner or a whiner? Do you have the results you want in your life, or do you have a litany of perfect reasons that you don't? Make no mistake, I understand that there are all kinds of really rational reasons that each of us can cite for why we don't have what we want, for why our circumstances suck.

Let me share something else that Randy taught me about reasons that also serves me to this day. Whenever you start to serve up reasons that things aren't where you want them to be in your life, you can probably rationalize your predicament pretty well. However, whenever you find yourself starting to rationalize, you might consider reframing the word rationalize as telling yourself "rational lies." Of course, what Randy was really underscoring is the simple truth that even if there are rational reasons that you're stuck, the more you focus on what's in the way, the more stuck you will become.

So, what do you do if you find yourself stuck, with all kinds of rational reasons? In my book "Workarounds That Work," I use the example of someone out on a sailboat when the mast breaks. Whining about your fate or blaming the manufacturer won't get you moving again. In the sailing world they resort to a workaround called a "jury rig" -- putting up a temporary mast -- something that, while not perfect, will at least get you moving again.

Life presents challenges just about every day that require creative workarounds. There are all kinds of things you can do, some of which might be only marginally helpful, much like the temporary mast. But at least you can get going again.

Back when Ernie challenged me to think about moving from whining to winning, I found a "jury rig," a job washing pots in a dormitory cafeteria. Hardly glamorous, but at least it got me moving again, providing both a meal each day and a couple of dollars. And with Ernie's encouragement in the back of my mind, I focused on improving rather than whining. It wasn't long before I was "promoted" to dishwasher, then to line server, then to line cook, and eventually wound up as the student manager of the facility.

Over these many years, I have had all manner of setbacks and have certainly found myself back in the whine-and-blame game with all manner of good reasons for my predicaments. However, I keep reminding myself that "dexifying" won't change anything, no matter how compelling these rational lies might seem in the moment.

So, what are you whining about in your life? Where are you pointing the finger of blame? What could you do to get yourself moving again? You don't need a perfect solution; you just need something to get moving again.

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If you want more information on how you can apply this kind of reframing to your own life and how you can take a few simple steps that may wind up transforming your life, download a free chapter from Russell's new book, "Workarounds That Work."

Russell Bishop is an educational psychologist, author, executive coach and management consultant based in Santa Barbara, Calif. You can learn more about his work by visiting his website at You can contact him by email at

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