Sneaky Satisfaction of Complaining (and how to calm the habit)

At one time or another, we’ve all been in a complaining session. Sometimes it just feels good to let off steam and complain with others who feel the same way.

And as each person throws more on the complaint pile, we feel more and more justified in how we feel slighted, frustrated, and even like a victim.

Desktop of a frustrated person

Why Do People Complain?

Complaining is a fairly common thing to do, so what makes complaining so enticing?

  • A group complaining session can give us a sense of community and make us feel more connected to others with our similar gripes.
  • Complaining can make us feel justified in how we feel. The more we complain and the more others agree, the more we feel validated about our opinion of the situation!
  • Complaining can provide motivation. If I silently complain to myself about how overweight I am, it can motivate me to go to the gym.

Unfortunately, those benefits are very short lived and often end up making us feel worse afterward. It can lead to beating ourselves up with behaviors such as negative self-talk.

4 Reasons to Stop Complaining

As a Certified Fearless Living Coach, I can tell you that as innocent as complaining might feel, it is a bad habit that can steer you off of your personal growth journey.

1 – Complaining keeps us stuck in the problem rather than finding a solution. The focus is about everything that’s wrong in the situation, and it’s a slippery slope into making the problem even bigger in our minds.

2 – Complaining allows us to easily blame others about our problem rather taking responsibility. We convince ourselves that it’s not our fault. For example, “If she would just stop nitpicking my work and mind her own business, everything would be fine!”

3 – Complaining drains our energy. It keeps a stressful, undesired situation very alive in our thoughts. Being on a hamster wheel of thinking-thinking-thinking about things that are wrong can be emotionally exhausting and steal our joy.

4 – As the saying goes, where your focus goes, energy flows. Think about all the things that are wrong in a situation, and you’ll likely find more wrong things. Focus on what’s good in a situation, and you’ll find more good.

Step 1 In Overcoming the Habit of Complaining

Awareness is key. If you’re not aware that you’re complaining (silently or out loud), then you can’t do anything about it. To grow awareness, keep a journal of your complaints for one week to see if there are any themes to your complaints.

  • Do you complain more in your personal or business life?
  • Do you complain more about your habits/skills/decisions or more about other people?
  • Do you complain more about people or situations?

3 Strategies to Complain Less

Woman looking at mountains and lake

Once you’re aware, be on the lookout for any complaints. As soon as you become aware, STOP by using the following strategies. The goal is to complain less often and less severely.

1 – Reframe to Gratitude

Gratitude has you look at a situation and ask what IS working.

Replacing complaining with gratitude REALLY changes your perspective of just about everything!

  • In crazy traffic? I’m grateful I have extra time to chill and listen to music.
  • Hate your job? I’m grateful for my friendly co-workers who make me laugh.
  • Washing machine repair bill? I’m grateful for how quickly the repair person arrived today.

I know this sounds too easy to be true, yet I know because I’ve done the work and gratitude has literally changed me at the core. I’m so much better at finding the good in what isn’t an optimal situation, and letting the things out of my control roll off my back. However, it takes practice to grow the habit of gratitude.

When we practice gratitude, we take responsibility for our life and we don’t blame the world.

2 – Venting

If you’re so triggered that gratitude seems like way too big of a leap, venting with someone about a truly upsetting situation can help.

Venting is a process that honors your feelings and helps you clear your head so that you are then better able to focus on a solution.

What exactly is venting? It’s when you call a venting partner and tell them everything about the situation that has you troubled. You talk, and they listen without judgement, validate your feelings in the moment, and don’t offer solutions at that time.

At first it might seem like venting is still complaining, but venting is more of a formal process which makes it more effective.

Venting partners must be willing to be a partner and agree before venting is needed.

It’s important to have some ground rules. For example, set a time limit, agree to not offer advice during the venting session, and at the end your partner can remind you that you are ok, and ask you what you are committed to in the situation… a little nudge toward the solution. Then, change the subject or end the call so it doesn’t move into a complaining session.

Keeping feelings to yourself increases the probability that you’ll act on those feelings. When frustrated and feeling like a victim, it’s likely to act in a way that isn’t aligned with how you want to show up. Try venting instead.

3 – Journal

Write everything that is upsetting you about the situation. Write as much as you need until your feelings are not as strong. When you get it all out, you can release it by ripping it up into tiny pieces.

Shift Your Focus To Possible Solutions ASAP

In summary, complaining keeps us stuck in the problem.

Build your awareness of when you complain and what you complain about. With that new awareness, you can then focus on catching yourself in a complaint as fast as possible, and changing your focus to possible solutions.

2 Replies to “Sneaky Satisfaction of Complaining (and how to calm the habit)”

  1. Such a great article Ellen! I absolutely love this…our behaviors reflect what we focus on and you nailed it!!!

    1. Thank you, Joy! You said it perfectly… our behaviors reflect what we focus on. Have a great day, and thank you for stopping by my blog and adding to the conversation!

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