Face it: You complain too much.
I know I do. It’s really quite silly when you think about it. What does it accomplish?
If you said, “nothing,” that’s actually the wrong answer.
Complaining invites toxicity into our lives.
Our thoughts create our lives and our words indicate what we are thinking.
Because of this, complaining can have an adverse effect on our mental health, our physical health and our relationships.
What if I told you that if you stopped complaining you would have:
Greater career success
Significant increases in happiness
Sound good? Convinced?
If so, I highly recommend Will Bowen’s book, “A Complaint Free World: How to Stop Complaining and Start Enjoying the Life You Always Wanted.”
I read the book in grad school (Thanks, Dr Mac!), but after a frustrating couple of months, I could feel myself complaining more often…
…And I could feel the adverse reaction on my happiness.
I could also tell that, except for the chronic complainers, most people were tired of hearing it.
Determined to nip the nasty habit in the bud, I decided to revisit the book.
Below are my favorite takeaways and excerpts from the book.
On What Constitutes a Complaint:
Complaints, criticism, and gossip that is spoken. If it comes out of your mouth, it counts.
On the Importance of Focusing On What We Want in Our Lives:
What we focus our attention on expands.
OUR THOUGHTS CREATE OUR LIVES AND OUR WORDS INDICATE WHAT WE ARE THINKING.
“We are all self-made, but only the successful will admit it.” – Earl Nightingale
You are creating your life every moment with the thoughts with which you give the most attention.
When we notice our thoughts, we can change and ultimately reshape our lives into whatever we choose. (Pair with David Foster Wallace’s, “This is Water.”)
The challenge, embedded in the book, is that it takes about 21 days to build a habit; therefore, readers are encouraged to order a free bracelet from AComplaintFreeWorld.org and begin to wear the bracelet on either wrist. When you catch yourself complaining, gossiping, or criticizing, move the bracelet to the other wrist. The average person takes 4 to 8 months to successfully make 21 days.
Bowen states that there are four stages to become competent at anything:
I Complain Therefore I Am
You don’t realize (are unconscious) as to how much you complain (are incompetent).
On a Couple Things to Keep in Mind During Your Challenge:
Many people are an “ouch!” looking for a hurt. If you cry “ouch,” the hurt will show up.
The Universe is benign indifference. The Universe, or God, or Spirit, or whatever you choose to call it, is benign (good), but it is also indifferent (it does not care).
Complaining and Health
Many complaints involve attempts to elicit particular interpersonal reactions from others, such as sympathy or approval.
Doctors estimate that nearly two-thirds of their time is spent treating patients whose illnesses have psychological origins.
When you complain about your health, you are putting out negative statements that your body hearts. It registers and your mind (psyche) directs the energy in your body (soma), attracting more health challenges.
“People won’t have time for you if you are always angry or complaining.” – Stephen Hawking
Complaining and Relationships
Healthy communication is talking directly and only to the person you have an issue with. Talking to someone else is complaining; its triangulation and it perpetuates rather than solves the problem.
Gossiping is not complaining as long as:
- What you’re saying about the absent person is complimentary
- You would repeat, word for word, what you are saying if the absent person was present.
On Surrounding Yourself With Others Who Complain:
It is the nature of human beings to entrain, to sync up, to fall into patterns of those around us.
On Changing First/Leading By Example:
The best way to inspire change in others was summed up by Benjamin Franklin: “The best sermon is a good example.”
“Whether or not the particular statement reflects a complaint… depends on whether the speaker is experiencing an internal dissatisfaction.” – Dr. Robin Kowalski
If you want it other than how it is, it’s a complaint and not just a statement of fact.
On Loving Yourself:
A person who is insecure, who doubts their value and questions their importance, will brag and complain. They will tell of their accomplishments, hoping to see approval reflecting back to them in the eyes of their listeners. They will also complain about their challenges to get sympathy and as a way of excusing their not accomplishing something they desire. The truth is that they complain because they don’t feel they deserve what they want. Their lack of self-worth leads them to push away with their complaints what they say they want.
Victims don’t become victors.
Echoing Ryan Holiday, The Obstacle is the Way:
If you study the lives of successfully people, you will find that often their success was not in spite of their life challenges but because of them (echo Ryan Holiday’s “The Obstacle is the Way.”
On Being Secure With Insecurity:
It’s okay, just go ahead and feel how you feel. You can’t criticize yourself to positive change
Silence and the Language of Complaint
Your bracelet has gone from being a tool for realizing when you complain to being a filter through which you words pass before you speak them.
On One of the Best Things a Person Can Do:
Simply draw a deep breath rather than speaking out of hand.
But Don’t You Need to Complain to Get What You Want?
You can best get what you desire by expressing what you want rather complaining about the way things are.
But Didn’t Martin Luther King Complain? Great Things Began in Our Country With People Complaining:
The first step towards progress is dissatisfaction.
Our focus must be on what we want to occur rather than what we do not. Complaining is focusing on what we don’t want to occur.
“There are those that look at things the way they are, and ask why? I dream of things that never were and ask why not?” – Robert Kennedy
Our Words Tell the World What We are Thinking:
Our words are powerful. And when we change what we say, we begin to change our lives.
A good example from the book is that the author, Will, kept finding himself behind mini-vans going less than the speed limit in the left-hand lane on the interstate. He complained to everyone, “minivan drivers are rude and impede the flow of traffic.” Finally, determined to re-frame, he thought of NASCAR and how when there is a wreck or a hazard a pace car comes on the track to slow the other drivers down. “What if minivans are the pace cars of the interstate?” he thought. Maybe they are there to slow me down so I don’t get a tick or, worse, get involved in an accident. Now, when Will gets stuck in the left lane behind a minivan he gives thanks for them and refers to them as pace cars.
You Have a Choice With the Words You Use to Create the Life You Live. Choose Wisely.
Critics and Supporters
On Criticizing Others:
Some think criticism is an effective way of changing another’s behavior. However, it actually tends to have the opposite effect.
No one likes to be criticized. And rather than diminish what we criticize, our criticism often only serves to expand it. To criticize means to find fault with someone or something. And when we criticize someone, they feel a need to justify their behavior.
Appreciation vs. Criticism:
Great leaders know that people respond much more favorably to appreciation than criticism.
The number-one need we all have is to be recognized, to be valued, to feel we matter.
On Criticism as a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy:
If the attention is critical, the person will adjust down to meet the expectations of the critic. Attention drives behavior.
Financial Benefits of Complaining Less:
As you begin to value yourself and your world more, you will vibrate at a level that attracts greater financial benefits for yourself.
Your attitude, which is an outward expression of your inner thoughts, dictates how people will relate to you.
We all want to be around people who will make every day extraordinary.
On Supporting Social Causes Without Complaining:
If you can begin to speak in terms of what it will be like when the challenge no longer exists, when the bridge is gapped, when the problem is solved, then you can excite and move people to positive change.
On Complaining to a Health Care Profession (i.e. Psychiatrist, etc.):
An expression of grief, pain, or discontent directed toward someone who can actually help is healthy – so long as it’s done in a way to receive what you want in the future and not as a means of attacking someone about the past.
Directing a comment to someone who can improve your situation is not complaining.
Complaining is often a means of drawing attention to one’s self.
When someone complains about something, they are unknowingly placing an order to receive more to complain about, and the negative spiral perpetuates. The way out is to stop complaining and to express gratitude when positive things happen.
Talk about things for which you are grateful and you will draw more things to you that are enjoyable.
Your ability to create your life is neutral. Use it however you wish; you will reap what you sow.
Remember that when someone critically lashes out at you, they are doing so from their own fear and insecurities.
Changing our words will ultimately change our thoughts, which will, in turn, change our world.
Our outer worlds are a projection of our inner worlds. Our relationship with another begins with our relationship with ourselves.
The opposite of complaining IS gratitude.
Live your version of this one life with intention.
This blog started primarily as a marketing blog, but now features much more about work/life, social psychology, health and happiness. We also explore top performers (authors, entrepreneurs, business leaders and more) and dissect what we can take away to become top performers in our own work and personal lives.
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