“Why is this internet NEVER working?!” “Damn it, where’s that drink I ordered 30 minutes ago..” “This job is slowly killing me.” “Those bikes are so annoying.”
Recently I’ve been complaining too much and since I noticed this I’ve been talking about complaining a lot too. I lately experienced the negative influence it has on my relationships and my mood. Complaining is like a negative vicious cycle, which is not easy to escape from once you’re in it. Read here about what complaining does to us exactly.
A 21-Day No-Complaint Challenge
Yesterday morning when checking my mail, my eye caught some post about a ‘21-Day No-Complaint Experiment’. Mmm, interesting. Clearly the universe telling me it’s time to change something. So I started to do some research.
The book ‘A Complaint Free World’, written by Will Bowen, inspired millions of people to stop complaining. Or at least, helped them to change their mindset to a more positive one. The idea is to go 21 days straight without complaining. To put on a bracelet and switch it every time a complaint escapes your mouth. And then start over from day 1. No complaining and gossiping is allowed. According to Will people need 4 to 8 months on average to reach day 21. That’s not a big surprise since an average human being tends to complain 15 to 30 times a day.
There’s an ‘A Complaint Free World’ app too. The app asked me if I want to “Become more upbeat and happy and have life respond to me with greater opportunities and success.” This sounds great! I want my present and future to be happy and positive, so I decided to commit to this challenge.
Let’s set up some rules first
Firstly, we want to define complaining. The internet gives us many definitions, like
: to express grief, pain or discontent
: to express dissatisfaction & can only be told by tone of voice
: to say or write that you are unhappy, sick, uncomfortable; or that you do not like something
: to say something that expresses annoyance or unhappiness
: to express uneasiness, censure or resentment; find fault
For me the following definition will do:
Complaining = to express discontent, dissatisfaction, annoyance, unhappiness, uneasiness, censure or resentment. This includes gossiping and talking negative about others in any way.
As to express grief and pain: I believe showing and talking about emotions is generally a good thing. So if there’s something that makes me sad or hurts me, I will tell. Crying is fine. But dwelling on the same thoughts over and over wouldn’t be.
What is allowed?
Not complaining at all seems a bit radical. There are some occasions in which I’ll not define it as complaining.
1) Speaking to someone who can solve the problem. If I’m not satisfied with my colleague’s behavior I can talk to her to find a solution. I can, however, not complain about it to others. This will force me to have some uncomfortable but necessary conversations. It also means ‘not complaining’ doesn’t equal accepting bad quality, behavior or service.
2) Stating facts in a neutral way. It’s a fine line between just telling a story or making an observation, and complaining or gossiping. Objective storytelling or observations, without a negative tone, is allowed.
3) I can complain about something once, IF I additionally set up a realistic and helpful plan to change the thing I’m complaining about. In this way there’s no being stuck in repeating a complaint, but instead it will help me find solutions and actually improve my future.
As I stated before, completing a challenge is often only one of many goals. A challenge like this includes more than just ‘not complain for 21 days’. Even just trying will help us grow and change in many ways.
— Becoming aware of complaining. Awareness is where change starts. In this regard, every complain is not a failure, it’s a success. Congratulations, you recognized a complaint!
— Increasing gratefulness. Gratefulness can be seen as the opposite of complaining. Thinking positive thoughts (and being grateful is a good example) will strengthen the connections in our brain for these happy thoughts. As a result we’ll be able to think positively easier and easier each time.
— Enhance communication skills. We learn how to identify the people who can help us resolve problems and we learn how to talk to them in a constructive way. This means we’re gonna have some pretty uncomfortable conversations. This is an ultimate way to step out of your comfort zone and gain more confidence.
— Improve social skills. As we won’t be able to start or engage in conversations with your complaints (which is such an easy way!) we’re gonna have to think of other ways to get the conversation going. Be creative and start to build up a repertoire of positive subjects 🙂
— Enhance problem solving ability. We will spend more time on trying to think of possible solutions, since this is the only way in which we can formulate a complaint. So let’s start thinking in resolutions instead of problems!
Some background information
Why we complain
For many of us complaining is a way to get our emotions out. A nicer way to call it is ‘venting’. I use the word a lot, too. And often in the sentence ‘I just need to vent a little, I’m not looking for a solution right now.’ After all, just getting out our anger, frustrations or dissatisfaction will make us feel better and lighter. Right?
Truth is, it completely doesn’t. There’s a lot of research done on this subject and it doesn’t help us. It actually makes us feel less happy.
Will distinguishes 5 reasons for complaints:
- Get attention. We all want to connect to others and often we don’t know how. That’s when, while we’re just looking for some warmth and recognition, we start or continue a conversation with a complaint. Recognizing this kind of complaint is a good opportunity to improve your social and communication skills.
- Remove responsibility. When we feel like we can’t do something, it’s easier to shift the responsibility or fault to someone else: ‘He didn’t do what he was supposed to do.’ ‘She forgot…’. Here it’s not about finding a solution. It’s about justifying our own inaction.
- Inspire envy. Also bragging or gossiping. We tend to complain about people who are different from us. When we make a negative statement about someones personality or behavior, we are saying ‘I don’t have that particular character flaw. You do.’ It’s putting others down to put yourself up.
- Power. By talking negatively about others, we sometimes intend to build an alliance, get others on our side. Sometimes just in case we ever need it.
- Excuse poor performance. We make up very rational lies as to why we didn’t succeed.
If others complain
As soon as you start to pay attention your own complaining, you’ll definitely notice other people’s complaints too. Other peoples complaints can be very exhausting. We all know those people who just carry some negative energy with them. After even the smallest talk with them we feel drained from our energy and positivity. So what’s the best way to deal with them? Will gave us some options.
If people complain:
To get attention > Acknowledge their existence. Listen to them, look them in the eye, smile. Put your phone down, pay attention. Ask a sincere and positive question ‘So what’s going well? What do you like about…?’
To remove responsibility > Simply ask a question: ‘IF it were possible, how would you do it?’
To inspire envy > Compliment the opposite about them: ‘You know what I like about you,…’
For power > Refuse to get involved. Say: ‘It sounds like you should be talking to A.’
To excuse poor performance > Ask: ‘How do you plan to improve next time?’
It won’t always be very clear where a complaint comes from. When I’m complaining about the non-functioning internet, it keeps raining, my back still hurts, the air conditioning has been broken for 2 days already,… it’s not really clear what my reason behind this is. It doesn’t matter. The best thing to do here is, to either find a solution and change it or find the person who can help you fix the problem. Sometimes we stumble upon things we cannot change. The thing we cán change though, is our own view of the situation.
What to expect?
I’m already speaking from experience, since I started this challenge 2 weeks ago. Have a look here to see how I’m doing..
Pretty soon after you slide on that bracelet of yours, you’ll notice your mindset starts to change. Suddenly you’re aware of how much you actually complain, and you’ll hear other people’s complaints quickly too. You’re gonna try to rephrase your words into more positive ones, which makes you feel better already. Whenever a complaint just slips out of your mouth, you’re gonna wonder about ‘Why?? Why would I even say that? What’s the reason? What am I or is anyone else in this world gonna do with that information? Will this complaint make my situation any better?’ Your answers will probably be ‘I don’t know. Maybe for attention, or to just say something, or to play victim. It’s very unnecessary. Absolutely nothing. Absolutely not.’
If you’re also reading the book (A Complaint Free World), you’ll quickly become more upbeat and realize the world is actually a sunny and magical place most of the time. You’ll be sending positive affirmations into the world and the world will generously send you back more positivity.
Remember: However you choose to describe someone or something, it will be your reality. We see what we believe. We have more trouble acknowledging facts that are not in accordance with our existing beliefs.
“Instead of complaining that the rose bush is full of thorns,
be happy that the thorn bush has roses.”
This could have been my mom’s saying. Even though life has challenged her numerous times, ever since I remember she has been a positive, upbeat and always optimistic person. For this, she always got other people’s respect and admirance and for this too, she has always been my inspiration. I always wished I would grow up to be like her. By now I grew up and the time has come to turn this into reality. When asking her about her always optimistic attitude, even in the worst of times, she replied:
“I’ve seen many people who are less positive. Because of this their lives are not as happy and their negativity gives them back more negativity. Their worlds shrink and sometimes they end up alone. I learned that life can be difficult enough as it is, it’s up to you to face every day in a positive way. A day without laughter is a day wasted. It’s a waste of energy, so my device is: Make the best out of life. Life is short and we only live once.”