If you’re anything like me, there are probably certain traits that you see in other people that drive you crazy.
For example, here are a few less-than-pleasant traits that most well-adjusted people can’t stand: rudeness, selfishness, thoughtlessness, laziness, arrogance, intolerance, dishonesty, and apathy, just to name a few.
But there’s one more trait that’s not on the list above that truly drives me insane.
I think that the reason why it annoys the hell out of me so much is because I used to be the living, breathing poster child for this miserable trait on a daily basis.
I was a chronic complainer. Yup, yours truly.
There used to be a time in the not-so-distant past where I would complain about anything and everything to anyone who had the misfortune of being stuck listening to my constant whining.
It didn’t matter if it was about my job, the weather, the pain in my knee, my sorry bank account, my girlfriend drama, how busy I was, how tired I was (you get the picture). If something ever went wrong in my life, please trust that I would instantly put a negative spin on it, and then spend the rest of the day (or longer) complaining about it.
To this day, I am so thankful that I had a mentor years ago who was willing to snap me out of my funk by giving me some much-needed tough love.
He told me that my personal relationships would eventually suffer if I continued to constantly suck the energy out of every room with my complaining (he was right).
He told me that my professional career would eventually stall out if I constantly repelled the people who I worked with by complaining instead of taking action (again, he was right).
He told me that my mental, emotional, and even physical health would eventually decline if I didn’t make a decision to stop complaining and wallowing in negativity everyday (he was still right).
It was then that he challenged me to do something that I thought would be completely impossible. More about that challenge is coming up later on in this post.
Thankfully, I accepted his challenge, because doing so completely transformed my life. More accurately, it saved my life.
I have never looked at complaining in the same way ever since, and if you engage in chronic complaining like I did, then hopefully I can help you to break the cycle too.
All it takes is a little tough love. That’s why I’m here.
Venting vs. Complaining
Quite a few people often get confused by the difference between “venting” and “complaining,” so let me set the record straight.
Venting is a good thing.
Venting is simply about blowing off some steam for one reason or another. For example, you might need to vent after you get off the phone with a ridiculously rude customer, or after a bird took a poop on your brand new jacket as you were walking into the office.
Venting is a positive and healthy activity because there’s a clear goal involved: you are expelling your negative feelings (anger, frustration, etc.) about the situation and once you’re done, you let it go.
Done correctly, venting should be an intentional and temporary state.
It’s not about wallowing in the situation for weeks, days, or even hours–you vent about the asshat customer or the asshat bird (side note: can a bird be an asshat?), and then once it’s off your chest, you move on.
A good way to know that you’re venting and not complaining is that you should feel much better once you’re done.
Complaining, on the other hand, may look similar to venting, but they are really nothing alike.
There is no clear goal to complaining. In fact, more often than not, complainers aren’t even interested in finding a solution to what they’re whining about.
Even worse, whereas venting can be done alone (for example, going to the gym for a hard workout, writing an emotional letter then throwing it away, or even crying can all be considered as venting), complaining is all about choosing to stay in a negative state by projecting that negativity onto someone else.
Complaining, unlike venting, isn’t a temporary state of blowing off steam.
Complainers are usually stuck in a destructive pattern of needing a captive audience to serve as a dumping ground for their negative emotions.
Put it this way–you’ll know that you’re dealing with a chronic complainer if you’re afraid to strike up conversation with him/her by asking the normally innocent question: “hey, how’s it going?”
Complainers will bitch and moan (without listening to a word that you have to say), and of course, they’ll happily take up as much of your time as you’re willing to give to them. Worst of all, if you allow them to, they’ll end up dragging you down into their emotional cesspool with you.
Also unlike venting, most complainers don’t feel better after a marathon complaining session–if you don’t believe me, just ask them. You won’t feel better either if you’re stuck listening to it.
There’s nothing healthy about complaining. And just like many other unhealthy pursuits, it can be addicting if you choose to partake in this activity too often.
As a former addict, let me share how I kicked the habit, cold turkey.
The Challenge That Broke The Addiction
The worst part of complaining is that most chronic complainers think that they’re just venting–I know this because I was one of those people who suffered from that common delusion.
The truth was that I wasn’t venting, because it was far from a temporary, once-in-a-while type of deal for me. I was stuck in a constant state of negativity, whining, and complaining.
As soon as something went wrong in my life, I didn’t even entertain the idea that there could be a nugget of positivity hidden inside of the difficult situation. Instead, my brain was destructively programmed to be cued up with a ready-made complaint to dump on any sucker who was willing to listen. There was nothing productive about my behavior–I just whined and hoped that people would feel sorry for me and how “hard” my life was.
Looking back on it now, I can only imagine how challenging it must have been to live with me, work with me, or hang out with me.
I was unquestionably addicted to complaining.
Thankfully, one of my mentors who was clearly sick and tired of my constant whining and challenged me to do something that was unthinkable to me at the time.
He challenged me to go 24-hours without complaining about anything.
At first I was a little annoyed.
“I’m not a complainer! I should be allowed to vent when I’m frustrated!”
He didn’t buy it and told me to humor him and try it–so I did. The next 24 hours changed my life forever.
For the first time, I learned what it meant to truly live from conscious intention instead of unconsciously from habit.
Whenever something happened to me that day that was less than ideal, I paused to notice the automatic complaint that was about to leave my mouth–and then something very simple, but incredibly powerful happened next.
I chose to think a different thought, and equally as important, I chose to say more empowering words instead.
It sounds so simple, but I realized on that day for the first time in my life that I didn’t have to be negative when faced with less than ideal circumstances.
The choice was always mine, but as crazy as this may sound to some people reading this, I never realized it until I completed the 24-hour challenge. I thought that complaining is something that you’re “supposed” to do when shitty things happen.
I was so wrong.
I could choose to reject negativity and be positive instead.
Being positive has consistently gotten such a bad rap in some circles, and it’s time for it stop. Positivity has nothing to do with refusing to see negative events, or even worse, sticking our head in the sand and pretending that the negative event is not happening to us.
That’s not positivity, that’s stupidity.
Positivity is about refusing to dwell in negativity, and more importantly, it’s about consciously choosing to focus on more productive and useful solutions instead.
Or said differently, positivity is all about acknowledging the negativity, but never choosing to live there.
It’s the difference between venting and complaining, and this simple wisdom saved my relationships, saved my career, and without any doubt, saved me from a living a life that would be far from my best life.
To me, choosing to break the “complaining addiction” is the only option that makes any sense.
First World Problems
The best thing about the 24-hour challenge is that it is impossible to do it without realizing immediately afterwards how useless of an activity complaining truly is.
It never makes anything better, it doesn’t serve any purpose besides sapping your energy and the energy of those around you, and it makes friends and family screen you out when you call, or run in the other direction when they see you coming.
If you’ve ever had to deal with a chronic complainer in your life, then you know what I’m saying is true.
It is very important to mention that anyone who is dealing with big issues (death of a loved one, serious injury/illness, abuse, etc.), please know that this isn’t directed towards you. When I was dealing with some very major issues in my life, I needed to hang out in the darkness for a while before I was ready to live in acceptance (or forgiveness, depending on the situation) and move on.
Specifically, this post about people who choose negativity and complaining when dealing with the far less serious “First World Problems” (FWPs). If you don’t know what FWPs are, check out the short video below:
In the future when you’re dealing with life’s inconveniences (and you will), there really are only two options that make any rational sense:
1) Do something about the issue–and in the extremely rare instances where you can’t, then…
2) Vent and let it go.
Complaining incessantly to anyone who will listen to us–while simultaneously wallowing in the negativity for an indefinite period of time, without any desire or interest in solving the issue, can no longer be an option.
Instead of complaining, we can choose resiliency.
Instead of complaining, we can choose thoughts and words that will lead us toward a solution, instead of keeping us stuck in the problem.
Instead of complaining, we can choose to raise the energy in the room and not drain it.
Instead of complaining, we can choose to remember all of the blessings that we have.
Most of all, instead of complaining, we can learn the skill of happiness.
There is nothing easy about any of this. If you are currently addicted to complaining like I was, breaking the vicious cycle may be one of the hardest things that you’ll ever do.
Don’t let that stop you.
This isn’t about living a complaint-free life, a complaint free year, a complaint free month, or even a complaint free week.
This about challenging yourself to do something that’s potentially life-changing during the only time that matters:
(Shola’s Note 5/5/2014: Now there’s a sequel to this post! Check it out: Stop Complaining–The Sequel)
Are you (or have you been) a chronic complainer? Have you been able to successfully kick the habit of chronically complaining? If so, jump into comments below and make your voice heard!