“If you don’t like something change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. Don’t complain.”
-Maya Angelou, poet
I decided to take a day and pump up my awareness by listening to how much people complain. Seven out of ten people I passed while walking on the beach were complaining to their friends about some injustice suffered and nearly everyone I overhead at my local gym was either complaining about their wives, husbands, girlfriends, boyfriends, gas prices, food prices, hangovers, inability to lose weight or some insult they’d suffered. It was like breathing in toxic air.
“Wow!” I thought. “Do I do that? Do I inflict my troubles on others?” I’m not sure I liked my own answer.
Why do we vent and complain? And is there really any intrinsic value to it? After extensive research, here’s my conclusion: while there might be a miniscule benefit in venting, it’s basically so destructive that I suggest you either do it with a therapist or ask a friend’s permission…and, then again, maybe not.
Studies have shown that complaining can be severely damaging to your health, productivity and life in general. People who complain on a consistent basis are inclined to have poor health, tend not to do well in their jobs and have relationships that are less satisfying and shorter lasting. Oh, yes, and they are often quite miserable to be around.
So, again, why do we do it? First of all, I don’t think most people realize how often they complain because it has become a habit and, like all habits, it tends to be so familiar that it becomes invisible. Secondly, I believe most people feel that it’s a good conversation starter because it’s easier to find common ground by complaining. Lastly, I’m convinced that most people complain because they want validation for their beliefs and they are desperately searching for someone to pull down into the mire of their negativity.
Some might think that by complaining you are merely observing what’s going on, but complaining, like all thought patterns, is not mere observation, it’s a creative act. When you complain, you are simply reinforcing negative thoughts and, I believe, the more you complain, the more you summon your creative energies to attract the very thing you complain about. Someone said recently that, when you complain, you are really placing your order for more of the same. That may or may not be true but when you complain you’re dwelling on the negative and definitely reinforcing what you don’t want.
Complaining also keeps people from taking action. It gives us plenty of excuses to procrastinate and keep from achieving our goals. It’s always much easier to complain than to find a solution.
Another reason people complain is to avoid responsibility. Think about arriving at work late with the excuse that the traffic was terrible or the line at the pharmacy was extremely long or the wait at the gas pump took forever. Sure, stuff happens but, perhaps, you could have left earlier or been more prepared.
The real danger for people who are constant complainers is that it traps them in a negative reality that regenerates itself, giving them more to complain about. The reasons for their circumstances are endless: “I never get any real breaks. I always have bad luck. Life seems totally and consistently unfair.” The complainers’ circumstances are always unfortunate and seemingly beyond their control. But this is simply not true and the reality is that their thinking is the problem because they have created their reality to be congruent with their thoughts.
Complaining doesn’t make one a bad person. It just puts a horrible damper on the possibility of living an exceptional life. It’s a denial of responsibility, and blame is just another way of excusing yourself from being responsible.
So, here are some tips to help you break a habit, let go of the addiction, stop complaining and manage your thinking.
- BE AWARE. The first and most important step is to become aware when you complain. Commit to observing yourself for the next 24 hours and when you catch yourself complaining to someone, stop it! Just recognize your thoughts and interact with them like an observer
- TAKE RESPONSIBILITY. Take responsibility for your thoughts. Taking responsibility doesn’t mean that you feel guilty and beat yourself up. It just means that you recognize the negative thoughts that are going through your mind and realize those thoughts are not – you. They’re just thoughts. Once you accept that you are the creator of your thoughts, you can change them.
- FOCUS ON WHAT YOU REALLY WANT. Observe your complaint and ask yourself, “What do I really want?” Be very clear about what you do want, not what you don’t want.
- REPLACE YOUR NEGATIVE THOUGHTS. Replace your negative thoughts with possible alternatives. Once you are clear about what you do want – your goal – seek a solution. What actions can you take – now? Maybe the time has come to leave a relationship, cut back on your spending, or take better care of yourself. The point is that if there is a problem bothering you, you are responsible for fixing it.
Commit to these four steps and you will transform your thinking from victim to victor.
On the lighter side, I want to leave you with a saying by the great college football coach and motivational speaker, Lou Holtz. “90% of the people don’t care about your problems and the other 10% are glad you have them.”
James Mapes is the founder of Quantum Leap Thinking™, creator of The Transformational Coach™, expert on the psychology of “applied imagination,” best-selling author, highly acclaimed business speaker, consultant, seminar leader and personal excellence coach.