One of the things that has always amazed me is the amount of time that is generally spent complaining. Whether it is friends chatting over a coffee about their recent romantic misfortunes, colleagues gossiping about other colleagues they feel deep hatred for or, worse than ever, people sharing their most crude vision of an apocalyptic future over dinner (beware of food getting stuck in your throat!), it is a fact that a lot of daily conversation time is spent on focusing on the negative aspect of things. What people don’t see is that frequent complaining has an impact on mood and on health – see anxiety, stress and fear.
There is nothing wrong with having a good discernment of what is not going well and what needs to be addressed in one’s life. And while it is great to practice positive thinking, the focus here is about something more. Every good problem solver knows that defining a problem correctly means to be halfway through to its solution. However, the key point is to actually do something about it. How many times do people focus on actually finding a solution to their pain, as opposed to spending time and depleting mental (and often physical) energy on complaining about their problems, or perhaps about the world’s problems? Look around and make your assessment.
Now, the question is: do you know your own habitual approach? Do you really know? Too often we focus on other people to make assessments, but the most useful assessment is to look inside ourselves. “gnōthi seauton”, Know Thyself (Greek: γνῶθι σεαυτόν), once said Socrates a long time ago.
Here’s a fun and easy exercise that you can do to monitor yourself and find out how much you complain. This may be useful to find out what is really bothering you and how much it is bothering you.
For one week, keep track every day on a piece of paper of all the conversations you have during the day. Make a list, and for each conversation, write down from 1 to 10 how much of the total time was spent on complaints. Of this, assess a percentage of how much complaining came from you. Don’t worry, only you will see this, so try to be really honest with yourself. Was it half the time over a variety of things, or maybe over one particular thing? Sometimes time goes by so quickly that it’s hard to actually see how it was spent. Leave some space for your thoughts: how did you feel in those conversations? What is going on in your life that troubles you? Are you doing something about it? If so, what? If not, what are you going to do about it?
Here’s an example.
For those who don’t love numbers, another way to do this is to ask your good friends if there is anything they recall you complaining about frequently in the last month. If something in particular stands out, and it has been there for a while, it might be a good time to look at it.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with emotional release or with sharing one’s concerns and hardships with a friend. It is human and it is also a wonderful skill to be able to open up and be intimate with someone. However here the point is how much complaining actually leads to defining your pain clearly and taking steps to address it, which usually leads making the changes we need to be happier. Plus it is immediately gratifying to know that you are taking action, isn’t it?
Ultimately, if you are in a situation that makes you unhappy, that you constantly complain about, no matter in which aspect of your life, and you don’t change anything, you will most likely remain unhappy. Take your complaints as a red flag, something that you are trying to tell…you. If there is a physical discomfort, take it as an important message your body wants you to receive. Don’t ignore it or reject it, that will just make it worse.
Here’s the deal: stop complaining and start doing. One step at a time. Listen to your pain, accept the emotions that come with it, bring clarity as to what is making you feel pain. On how to go about it, some tips are to create a support system, set goals for yourself and keep track of progress, but this is a whole new topic for another post. If you need it, seek professional help (a coach, a local support group, a therapist, etc), people who can help you craft those changes that will get you to a place where you won’t have to complain anymore – hurray! Take action, and you will feel a flush of energy right away, which will benefit you and all the people around you. The happier you are, the more happiness you will be spreading all around, without even noticing.
And remember, any time you catch yourself complaining, ask yourself this question: what am I doing about this?
What are your thoughts? Feel free to comment and share your experience!