Like most people, I sometimes find myself complaining about money or “stuff.” Sometimes I get frustrated by work and money issues, or when there’s something I want that I can’t afford, either immediately or ever. There will always be people with more than me, vacations I can’t take, things I can’t own, repairs that have to be made, and other annoyances related to money. Sometimes it’s just easier to sit back and complain about how unfair something is, how things are stacked against me, or how “bad off” I am (even though I know it’s not true). To complain is human.
It’s also unproductive. Sitting back and complaining about your circumstances or the things you can’t have or do accomplishes nothing. Well, except to make you even more frustrated at the perceived injustices of the world. Complaining often leads to even more negative thoughts, which creates to a vicious cycle of negativity and stress. Complaining is easy, but it’s not good for you.
Over the years I’ve learned a few different strategies to get me over the urge to complain. I find that I’m less negative, more productive, happier, and more aware of my true circumstances when I stop complaining and engage in more positive behaviors. Here are a few ideas:
This is the single most important (and easiest) strategy to end the complaining cycle. Simply be grateful for what you already have. If your job is the problem, be grateful that you have a job. If home repairs are frustrating you, be grateful that you have a house. Tired of paying to feed three hungry teenagers? Be grateful that you have kids. When you take the time to appreciate what you have, all the things that are “wrong with it” fade into the background.
If you’re complaining about something that can be fixed, take steps to fix it. Not getting promoted at work? Look into changing jobs or find out what skills you can develop that will help your career. Not saving enough money? Challenge yourself to find ways to save even small amounts. Coupons, change jars, etc. all add up over time. The more control you give yourself over a situation, the less tempting it is to complain. Instead, you can say, “I’m doing X to fix things.”
Let It Go
If you’re complaining about something that can’t be fixed, let it go. Easier said than done, I know, but complaining about something that has no solution is a waste of energy. Forget it and move on to things that you can control.
Find A Distraction
When you find yourself slipping into the complaint loop, find something else to do that will take your mind off of it. Exercise, watch a movie, read a book, go visit a friend (but don’t use the visit to keep complaining), or work on a hobby or craft. Pick something that will lift your mood and take your mind off of whatever it is you’re complaining about.
Spiritual practices such as prayer, going to church, meditation, devotionals, or scripture readings can help you put things in perspective and maybe help you work out a solution. At the very least, they are relaxing and will help you move past your complaints.
Focus On What’s Going Right
Despite the fact that things are clearly wrong in your life if you need to complain, there are surely some things that are going right. Focus on those. Maybe you didn’t get that promotion at work, but you did pick up a freelance client. Maybe you can’t afford to go on a cruise vacation this year, but you can afford to camp for a week at your favorite campground. Maybe your novel got rejected by yet another publisher, but you got an idea for a new, better novel. Don’t complain about what’s going wrong. Choose to focus on what’s going right.
No matter how bad off you think you are, others have it worse and nothing puts that in perspective faster than volunteering to help those less fortunate. Spend a day working in a soup kitchen or reading to the elderly at a nursing home and suddenly your whole life looks a lot less complaint-worthy.
Fight For Change
If the issue I’m complaining about is something that can be changed, I try to find a way to fight for that change. For example, if a government policy is blocking something I want to do or unfairly cutting resources that I need, I write to my politicians and agitate for change. If something is wrong at work (maybe you’re being bullied or the distribution of work is unfair), speak up and try to gather a group together to speak to management about the changes you want. Lead by example and try to initiate the change you want to see.
Vent Once & Be Done
Rather than complain endlessly, I try to get it out once and move on. I either talk to a trusted friend or family member, write it out in a journal, or talk to myself while I’m in the car. I get a chance to vent my feelings, but I don’t become one of those people who constantly complain. I get it out and move on.
Avoid Other Complainers
It’s easy to get caught up in a complaint-fest. When others are complaining, it’s easy to join in and fuel the negativity. While this can be fun in the short term, it usually only makes you angrier and more negative. Try to step away from such gatherings or at least don’t join in. Try to change the topic or encourage the complainers to find solutions to their problems.
Does this mean I never complain? Hardly. Just like everyone else I have my bad moments. When I do, I try to consciously invoke one or more of these strategies and I find that I feel better than when I just complain endlessly.
(Photo courtesy of aturkus)