The holidays are a great time to work on breaking this destructive cycle.
At its core, complaining is expressing frustration or disappointment. We share difficult parts of our lives with others because meaningful relationships include talking about our horrible day, or that annoying responsibility we’ve been given that we didn’t want. It’s satisfying to tell your spouse about being assigned to organize the staff summer barbecue when you didn’t volunteer in the first place. We connect with others by talking about the good and bad parts of our lives.
But complaining, especially as a habit, can have a negative impact on both our relationships and ourselves. We can get into a habit of filtering out the good, and magnifying the uncomfortable or annoying parts of life. Others tire of our negativity, and feel brought down by our relationship with them. Internally, as we focus on the negative aspects of life, we will notice feeling less satisfied with life.
Why do we complain?
Complaining is an overflow of inner dialogue. We complain to ourselves long before we complain aloud. We ruminate, carrying our frustrations with us, and they eventually spill out into conversation. Complaining is not just a behavior, it is rooted in a pattern of thinking that gives more attention to the frustrating parts of life than the rewarding parts.
We often complain because we are looking for connection and validation from others. We want others to know our internal experience, and for others to empathize with us. Sometimes we hope others will take notice of our complaints and take action, helping relieve us from our frustrations. Other times, we just want to vent and be listened to. We may be unaware that we are complaining, and mistakenly believe that we are simply telling others about our life.
Here are some steps we can take to stop complaining so much:
We often complain about others, rather than speaking to them about our concerns. Instead of complaining, make a habit of communicating directly and setting boundaries you’re comfortable with. Only volunteer for what you’re willing to do, and say “no” if you don’t truly want to take on a responsibility. If a friend or coworker does something often enough that you find yourself complaining about it, discuss it with them. Complaining is often the result of resentment, and indicates that better boundaries need to be set.
Give yourself credit
We often complain about the effort or time certain tasks take. We might tell someone, “I spent all morning cleaning the bathroom, it took forever!” Rather than grousing about how long it took, take a minute to pat yourself on the back for sticking with it so long. Instead, say “The bathroom was a mess, but I spent a lot of time getting it looking great!” By giving yourself credit for a job well done, you can actively replace feelings of frustration with pride and satisfaction.
Find balance through gratitude
We can’t simply suppress frustration or other uncomfortable feelings, but we can ensure they are balanced with gratitude. Allow yourself to voice your frustrations, and then make an intention to notice positive aspects of your life. Finish paying the bills, and then take a walk outside. Gratitude may not reduce your frustration, but it will break a habit of focusing only on the annoying parts of life.
Ask for help
Complaining is often an indirect way of asking for help. We may be complaining because we feel overwhelmed. It’s difficult to ask for help, especially if it’s something we feel capable of doing, but simply don’t have the time or energy. Oftentimes we complain when we can do it, but don’t want to do it. Sometimes this is a cue that we should be asking for help and support from those around us.
Connect in new ways
Notice the times you complain as a way of connecting with others, and commit to connecting in new, positive ways. On your way to work, reflect on your favorite part of the weekend, or something you’re excited about. When in doubt, you can always ask your coworkers or friends questions about their life. You can build relationship without using complaining to do so.
No habit changes overnight. Start by keeping a log (whether mental or on paper) of how frequently you complain. Sometimes by noticing a behavior, we begin to change through simple awareness. Then, take concrete action to use the above tips, or ask accountability from those around you. Notice how changing your inner-dialogue will impact not only how much you complain, but also how you view your day-to-day life.
Complaining can foster hopefulness, but only if you do it right
How I plan to give up complaining this Lent