We all do it. Whether it’s having a good whinge with a co-worker about your boss or commiserating with friends about your shitty public transportation experience/shitty professor/shitty money situation— a little complaining seems to bring people together. It’s a bonding experience that says I’m like you. It helps us feel less alone in dealing with our problems and frustrations. It’s cathartic, and it can ease the tension when you’re getting to know someone new and you’re not sure what to talk about (but seriously, way less interesting).
Mostly, it’s much easier to do than to take control of your thinking and take action to change the situation. Half the time (yes, that’s the Official Statistic), we probably don’t even realize we’re doing it— complaining has become a comfortable, default reaction.
Here’s the thing: situations fall into two groups, those in which we do not have control (complaining is useless), and those in which we do (complaining is ineffective).
If you find yourself in the first group, there is good news! Complaining will do absolutely nothing for you no matter what you do— in fact, it’s only going to bring you down. If you’re in a situation where crappy things are happening to you and you really can’t do much (although we’ll get to that later on), your best bet is to try and make the best of it, and move on.
If you’re in a situation where you do have control, here’s why complaining isn’t the best course of action:
1. You’re driving away the kinds of people who would otherwise be there to support you— whether you know it or not. Your good friends will stick around, but eventually, relentless negativity will start to drive a wedge in even the best friendships— unless, of course, those friendships are entirely built on getting together to have a good complain.
You’ve probably heard the saying “you’re the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with” or “surround yourself with people that force you to step it up”. Either way, the message is this: the people you spend time around have a huge effect on your life. You can choose to surround yourself with people who challenge you, support you, and are there to help you figure out how to pick yourself up when things get shitty, or you can surround yourself with people who will listen to your complaints, and then one-up you with a complaint of your own.
Why am I telling you this? Because the kind of people you want to be surrounding yourself with (aka: the Fab Five in group one), aren’t going to be sticking around through an onslaught of negativity. They’re action-takers, and if you’re not doing what you can to make your situation better, they’re not going to dump their own time into listening to you complain.
2. You’re setting yourself up for failure. Ever heard the saying “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right?" Yeah. I’m not going all ‘law of attraction’ here on you, but this saying is so much #truth. If you don’t think you have control over a situation, you don’t, because you won’t be attempting to take whatever action you can to improve it.
If you act as though you have control, even if you don’t, you’re much more likely to see the kind of results you hoped for.
If you’re giving yourself an ‘out’ right from the start by saying ‘Oh, I guess I’ll try’, you’re not taking your attempt seriously— and if you’re not taking your everyday attempts to improve your life seriously, how are you supposed to take a true commitment seriously?
I’ve been there, I used to be a major complainer, too.
I’d like to think I’m improving, but hey.
If you find that things don’t seem to be going your way very often, here’s what you can do about it:
1. Recognize when complaining is taking over. Sometimes it’s hard to be aware when this is happening. Do you find all of your conversations tend to end up in a negative place? Do you notice that your friends’ responses are a little lacklustre when you’re telling them about something that happened to you (lots of ‘mmnnnns’ and 'yeahhhh' and ‘wow, that sucks…’)?
Chances are you’re heading to Complainer-city. It’s not a great city. It’s a little bit like Windsor (sorry, Windsor). When you catch yourself griping unnecessarily, hold yourself accountable, apologise for the rant (no need to get too out of hand, Canadians), or move on to step two.
2. Acknowledge the real feeling. When we’re complaining, it’s because we’re feeling very strong emotions and we want to a) get them out and b) find someone who can relate, and tell us that what we’re feeling is okay. But sharing your real feelings? Helps you get nice and close with what is actually going on, to get vulnerable, and to acknowledge your reaction.
We’re not always at fault, be we are always responsible. No matter the situation, you are responsible for how you are choosing to react. When we complain, we’re often scared, frustrated, confused, hurt, or angry. If you’re chatting with a friend, you can absolutely share your experience, but frame it this way:
“Hey Julia. I’m SO frustrated and totally embarrassed because I forgot my keys at home again, and my boss yelled at me for being late. What do you think I can do?”
And then move on to step number three.
3. Take action. The best thing you can do when you're in a shitty situation is to start taking steps to change that shitty situation— no amount of complaining is going to make that work for you. Yes, taking action is difficult, and yes, pulling yourself out of a rough place can often leave you scraped— but the alternative is staying there and continuing to let outside circumstances dictate your life and your happiness.
Happy people don't let that happen.
Ask yourself: what can I do today to help make this situation better (and better yet, what can I do to prevent it from happen again)?