As I scroll through facebook, I notice a common thread. There is a lot of complaining. I have done a good job of unfollowing those people that constantly complain, but even still I have noticed that there is a lot on there. I read an article at Fast Company recently that I think was pretty profound and interesting. It was about the Complaint Restratint Project. For 1 month, over 1000 people signed up and agreed to not utter a single complaint for an entire month. This is a bold statement and a bold challenge not easily achieved. However let’s take a look at what complaining really does to us.
Leah Shapiro, one of the participants in this challenge said “I think I just wanted to be more self-aware and mindful of what I was putting out there,” The goal of this challenge was to create a more positive life by eliminating negative statements. Seems straight forward enough right? Is it really though?
Complaining is a natural part of our lives. During an average conversation we will toss out about one complaint every minute according to research. Think about THAT for a minute… The simple fact is that we as human beings bond over our common dislike of something. We feel a special rapport when people we know share that same dislike. In fact according to Trevor Blake, author of Three Simple Steps, “The easiest way to build friendship and communicate is through something negative.”
We also tend to complain about things that hurt us, physically or emotionally, and since the beginning of our time our body’s programming has been to be on guard against those kinds of things. So it is only natural that we are more aware of complaining than complimenting.
However constant complaining has been shown to have an impact on our brains and bodys. All of the whining we do has a cost (queue Detective John Kimball…. STOP WHINING!) During the complaining process, our brains release stress hormones that can cause harm to our neural connections. Most notably the areas used for problem solving and other cognitive functions. We have all heard the expression “cool heads prevail”, well complaining is just a slightly hotter head state than “cool”).
What is more astonishing to me however is that the same effect has been noted when we are listening to someone else moan and gripe as well. It’s kind of like second hand smoke. It can be just as deadly as you doing it yourself! This is what troubles me about seeing so much of it on Facebook and other places where people spend a lot of time.
Knowing this you would probably immediately decide to put a ban on all complaining you do and anyone around you does, however it is not easy swearing off something that comes naturally to us. At the same time, we can’t NEVER complain about anything. That is just bottling up our frustration which doesn’t help. Think “Serenity Now” from Seinfeld, we don’t want that either!
There is good news though! A middle ground can be found, if one only looks for it. Here are some tips to helping eliminate complaining or at least reducing it down.
Understand What a Complaint Is
Some things may seem like complaints but are really just observations. The best way to identify a true complaint is by the way it makes you feel. According to Shapiro she defines a complaint when she feels herself “Slouching and not breathing”. For example, saying “It’s hot outside” is not a complaint, it’s an observation. However saying “It’s hot outside and I hate getting all sweaty” is a complaint.
Be Aware of Your Complaint Frequency
Change starts with awareness. Be aware of what you say and why you say it. All speech starts as thoughts. So when you hear yourself complaining you need to stop yourself and correct the behavior. You need to teach your brain to reduce the number of times it thinks that way.
Do Away With the Chronic Complainers
This one is sometimes easier said than done. Due to the nature of complaining in rapport building, we often find our best friends with people who complain all the time. However try to get away from those people as much as possible. If you must listen to them, try and respond with a positive emotion rather than joining on the hate bandwagon. What you will find is that the chronic complainers will come to you less with their problems because they are looking for a sympathetic ear, not someone who is always super positive. They will weed themselves out leaving you with less negativity in your life. This includes unfollowing them on social media and other places online where you may encounter their negativity.
Solutions > Problems
If the complaint has validity, think about the solution for it rather than just bitching about it. What can you do to make it better, what can you do to solve it, who can you plug in to help get it solved faster. Problem solvers are always more successful than complainers.
Use the “But-Positive” Technique
Everyone loves a good but… sorry couldn’t resist the pun there. If you hear yourself utter a complaint, then add a “but” and then add something positive in it’s place. For example “I don’t like how hot it is and it’s only March, but at least I am not having to shovel piles of snow that are higher than me!”. Adding that “but positive” can help change your mindset and can help you feel more positive.
Change “Have To” to “Get To”
“I have to pick up the kids” becomes “I get to pick up the kids.” Gratitude is an amazingly powerful tool to help you appreciate what you have and what it means to you. Use it whenever and wherever you can!
So I issue this challenge. Do away with ALL complaining for 1 month. You of course will slip up, but when you do, say something positive to balance it out. As we approach the end of March, starting on April 1st is the PERFECT time to do this. Just see how you feel after 1 month. Those who participated in the project really felt better and I know you will as well.
Tell us about your results once you have done this! We would love to see how it works for everyone!
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