This past weekend, my husband and I were discussing how ubiquitous complaining has become. I suddenly realized how often I complain to my journal. Frequently unconsciously. My husband whipped out one of his gems. “The quality of the language we use dictates the quality of the communication we have with ourselves and others.” I vowed to improve communication by trying to stop — or reduce — my complaining. Easier said than done.
What Is Complaining?
In simplest terms, complaining is a way to express pain, dissatisfaction, or resentment. Sometimes I complain in my journal to process something that is not going well. That way nobody ever has to hear it. According to Dr. Travis Bradberry, complaining — in any form — is awful for our health. He says that the more we complain, the more negative we become.
Complaining can result from a comparison (oops!). I often hear people say they don’t have enough (time, money, fame, beauty, etc.) or too much (weight, work, pain, stress, people relying on them, etc.) If you’ve been following my blog over the past month, you may recall what Dan Sullivan says about comparison (in The Gap and The Gain). It’s a sure way to get stuck in the GAP.
“Repeated complaining rewires your brain to make future complaining more likely,” Bradberry points out. “Over time, you find it’s easier to be negative than to be positive, regardless of what’s happening around you. Complaining becomes your default behavior, which changes how people perceive you.”
Once we start a complaining habit, it becomes harder to change. I’ve taken it on as my next challenge. (As if I don’t have enough to work on already. Oops, see that? Another complaint. Dagnabbit!)
Stop Complaining to Improve Communication
Now that we know how awful complaining is for our health and relationships, how can we become more positive? Below are some suggestions. The original list comes from psychologists Scott Bea and Susan Albers at Health Essentials.
Six Strategies to Reduce Complaining
- Choose the right audience — Most of the world couldn’t care less. (Or worse, they may get so annoyed that they start avoiding you). Look for one appropriate person — a close friend or colleague, clergy or social worker — to help you brainstorm options for change
- Clarify intent — Ask yourself if this issue really matters that much to you. If so, write about it in private with the goal of finding a solution
- Complaint sandwich — Just like we use in my writing groups when delivering critiques, say something positive, voice your critique/complaint, and end with another positive.
- Gamify — Increase your awareness of when you’re complaining by remaining playful. Try saying aloud, “Oops, there I go again, better change my strategy.” Keep it lighthearted rather than self-critical or judgmental.
- Gratitude — Whenever you become aware of your need to complain, stop. Think about what’s good about the current situation. This will allow you to return to the GAIN rather than the GAP.
- Time limit — ANY complaining causes “neurons that fire together, wire together,” suggests Bradberry. If you can CATCH yourself, limit your complaining time to, under a minute. Then switch to a more productive problem-solving mode.
Benefits of Kicking the Habit
The faster you jump out of the complaining habit, the better. Like any habit, it can be changed. It is a skill you can develop. Like any skill, it requires a beginner’s mindset, awareness, and practice.
Think of people you spend most of your time with. Do any of them complain all the time? Can you limit how much time you spend with them? Try surrounding yourself with positive people. Observe what they do. The more you can train your brain to focus on the positives, rather than the negatives, the more joy you will find.
As always, I’d love to hear from you. Do you have any aha moments around complaining? Have you tried any useful strategies to increase your awareness? Share them in the comments section.