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How to Kick Your Complaining Habit

According to Active Family, the average person complains a whopping 30 times a day.

What’s the big deal? We all have a little steam to blow off once in a while, it can help us get something off our chests and move on. When it becomes a larger issue of chronic complaining though - that’s where we need to do a reality check and reset our systems.

Do you like being around people who are constantly whinging about the tiniest things? Probably not. Chronic complaining can have a negative effect on your health and your relationships.

We all know a Grouchy Gladys who, when given the chance, will launch into a diatribe about how crappy the world is, how dissatisfying is her daily latte, or how dumb Corporate Bill is because he always does his invoices wrong. Guess what happens? Everyone starts to avoid Gladys. It seems she’s more interested in complaining about Bill than she is about actually DOING something about it.

Does this sound familiar? Are you guilty of this behavior yourself? If you find yourself in a spiral of complaining and negative energy, or even if you yourself are surrounded by people who can’t seem to stop sharing their very detailed frustrations, here are a few ways to kick the habit - and move forward as a positive force.

Sure, complaining and negative energy are contagious - but so is being positive.

Be Self-Aware

As Will Bowen, founder of the Complaint-Free World movement says, “Complaining is like bad breath – you notice it when it comes out of someone else’s mouth, but not when it [comes] out of your own.”

Let’s be real, are you the one who everyone avoids because they know you’ll spew vitriol about every mundane drama you’ve ever experienced?

Are you perpetuating a culture of complaining? Ask yourself this question and give an honest answer. When someone comes to you to complain, how do you receive that energy?

By complaining to others yourself, you’re now setting a standard for them being comfortable to do the same around you. In this way, you are perpetuating negativity, even if you aren’t directly contributing to it, and this can create a toxic environment, wherever the behavior is happening.

Don’t Be a Hypocrite

Ask yourself: “Am I complaining about something I do myself?”

Many, many, many of us do this, but if you can be mindful enough to catch yourself in the act, that’s a good start down the road to changing your perspective.

For example, if someone’s late, I figure I can’t really get mad, because I know that’s one of my most annoying bad habits. Instead of complaining about it, I try to flip it around on myself - this is how everyone else feels when I show up late. You might pull them aside afterward to mention how disruptive it was that they were tardy, but leave it there and forgive, rather than tell the world at lunch time that Sandy doesn’t respect your time. You’d want someone to give you the same break too, right?

Do a Complaint Audit

What’s at the core of your chronic complaining? Is it a broken record around one person? Is it about a project, a task, an emotion? We have journals for dreaming, for planning, for visualization…why not one for complaining?

For the next week, carry a notebook around with you so you can make quick notes. When you hear a complaint coming out of your own mouth, write it down as close as you can capture it - try not to temper it if you think it sounds harsh or if you’re worried someone will find it and tell on you, etc. The point here is to capture your words and establish themes. Besides, if you sound really rough to yourself, imagine how everyone else hears that?!

Being more mindful and catching yourself before you complain can be a huge first step, as many of us simply don’t realize just how often we moan about life.

Just like dream journaling, it can help you determine key themes - like putting together a puzzle. Know what it is you actually need - you’re complaining for a reason - but what does it stem from?

Change Your Perspective & Take Ownership

Do you have unreasonable expectations? Many people believe that complaints come from feeling a loss of control. If we can gain that control back, we might not feel helpless or frustrated.

  • What can you do to turn it around?
  • Are you complaining because you feel out of control in a certain situation?
  • Is this recurring?
  • Do you need to ask for help because you’re too close to the issue to fully understand?
  • Are you in a job or relationship with which you are deeply unsatisfied?
  • Are you suffering from lack of sleep?

One of the reasons journaling is so heavily recommended is because it’s a healthy form of release for thoughts and emotions you may not know how to free yourself from, and it’s also a living document. You can track your progress and go back to the beginning as many times as you need along the way to remember how far you’ve come. Once you start to understand why you’re complaining, and what about, you can start to see the patterns and figure out how to answer to them.

What Are You Grateful For?

Instead of complaining, think about something you are grateful for. If you’re verbally annoyed because traffic made you late for work again - instead of moaning about it, look at the people who suffered on packed public transit because they don’t have cars. It can always be worse, so being grateful for what we do have instead of what we don’t is a powerful way to turn negativity around.

Being inconvenienced or disappointed stems from the expectation that you yourself set up - so can you change those expectations and become more satisfied? If Gladys is annoyed every morning in the Starbucks lineup because it takes so long, wouldn’t she benefit from mobile ordering to skip the line and get to work early?

Who Are You Spending Your Time With?

It’s natural for us to want to meet the energy of those around us, and it can feel uncomfortable to redirect it, especially if that person seems angry. You don’t want them turning it around on you. Just remember that you control your own environment. There are a few ways you can disrupt a chronic complainer without getting into a fist fight.

Psychology Today posits that people complain because they need to feel validated, or want to attract attention. Thus, by simply listening to the complaints, you are rewarding that person with the attention they want - and they now know they have a willing participant in you.

We are heavily influenced by who we spend time with, so if you notice your wolf pack is laden by perpetually dark overhead clouds, try a different approach to stop the cycle.

Present a Different Perspective

Try to turn it around for someone who seems to be set in complaining mode.

I have a personal rule that helps me when I’m feeling frustrated with someone - I give the benefit of the doubt - once. I try to reframe the issue and see it from the other person’s perspective. For example:

Ruth: “Frank is so annoying, all he wants to talk about is his stupid dog and I don’t care.”

Me: “Maybe he’s trying to make new friends and he just doesn’t know what else to talk about? Let’s ask him what he did on the weekend and see where it goes.”

Ruth: “Hmmm, I never thought of that, maybe I should give him a chance.”

When we complain about others, it’s probably because they acted in way that hurt, annoyed or offended us. But we don’t always understand why they acted that way. Have you never said something that was taken out of context, or been in a grumpy place and taken it out on someone? Maybe they have a family member in the hospital, perhaps they aren’t feeling well, or they haven’t slept in 3 days.

Giving someone an out for having a bad day can help you let those frustrations roll off your back, and not off your tongue.

Call Them Out

This will depend on how well you know this person, or your level of comfort around them. Coming at this in a private, non-confrontational moment of downtime may mean they let their defences down long enough to really talk about the problem and make them more likely to hear your feedback than to put a hand in your face.

Consider that they might not know how much they complain. Wouldn’t you want someone to tell you? Be a good friend and approach with kindness - “hey I’ve noticed you seem really frustrated lately, are you OK?” or, “you keep bringing up this one issue, do you want to talk about how to figure it out?”

If they look at you with crazy eyes - they may just want the attention and have no desire to change their ways, which leads to…

Don’t Engage

If you’ve tried to talk to them about this issue and they either aren’t listening or don’t seem to want to make a change, then it might be best to just not let them bring you down. You don’t have to be rude about it; the next time they start up their diatribe, say something like, “Hmmm that’s too bad,” or, “I’m sorry you had a hard time at Starbucks, see you in the meeting!”

Parting Words

Don’t be a Grouchy Gladys - be a Grateful Gladys!

If your complaining has gotten out of control, you can take the steps to dial it back to a more positive place - and by doing so, encourage those around you to stop the barrage as well. We all have the power to affect real change in our lives - if we are willing to face our issues, kick them in the head and move on as much stronger humans.

If going through your complaint audit, journaling or just paying more attention to how much you complain brings up deeper seated issues, consider talking to a health professional so you can learn how to move forward in a mentally safe way.

Related Article: How to Be Happy When You’re Not

Sarah McCullough

Sarah McCullough

Sarah focuses on stress management, healthy sleep, and how interior design and colour contribute to relaxing environments. By day, Sarah works in Human Resources, eagerly absorbing knowledge about the human psyche and why we behave and interact the way we do. Sarah started her career journey with a single year... Read More

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