A little over a decade ago, I used to be a chronic complainer.
I would obsess over every real and perceived slight that happened in my life to anyone who was unfortunate enough to listen to me. It didn’t matter if it was my annoying coworkers, my overly moody boss, my girlfriend drama, the weather, the state of the government—you name it, I complained about it.
And as soul-destroying as my chronic complaining was, I had an even bigger problem on my hands:
I had no clue that I was a chronic complainer.
If you think about it, most chronic complainers would never label themselves as actually being one, would they? Like most chronic complainers, I considered myself to be fully rational, completely justified in my complaints, and [shockingly!] a positive person.
The truth is that I was none of those things.
If you are reading this article and wondering if you complain way too much at work or anywhere else, here are three tell-tale signs to help you diagnose the problem, and one key tactic to help you break the cycle.
Tell-Tale Sign #1: Misery loves your company
“Show me your friends, and I’ll show you your future.”
Have you ever heard of the statement, “misery loves company?” If so, it’s only partially true. Here’s the full truth:
Misery loves miserable company.
During my dark days as a chronic complainer, I was surrounded by people at work who shared the same miserable attitude towards life that I shared. They were the ones who despised their jobs and their lives as much as I did. Even worse, they felt as helpless and as victimised by their circumstances as I did. As best-selling author Jack Canfield once said, these are the people who keep you stuck in the “Ain’t it Awful” club—and membership into this club is a tell-tale sign that you complain way too much.
Worst of all, during this period of my life, the positive people in my life were nowhere to be found. Why? Because my negativity drove them away. Specifically, they were drained by my constant focus on what was wrong with my job, and exasperated by my unwillingness to find solutions for the problems that were destroying my life and my career [more on this next].
Key Question #1: Are the people in your life right now the ones who keep you stuck in your problems by constantly validating your victimhood [aka, the “Ain’t It Awful” club], or are they the ones who lovingly challenge you to find solutions to your problems?
As the quote by John Kuebler alluded to above, your answer to this question has the power to predict your future.
Tell-Tale Sign #2: You are barrier-focussed
“One who gains strength by overcoming obstacles possesses the only strength which can overcome adversity.”
Can I tell you something about you? You currently have drama in your life. But then again, so do I. So does everyone who is currently walking the face of this earth. We all have this in common. And because this is true, here’s the tough love that I wish I heard years ago:
Your drama doesn’t make you special anymore.
The only thing in life that can make us special is our willingness to overcome our drama to live our best lives.
Adversity and challenges are an unavoidable part of the human experience at work and everywhere else. Overcoming these challenges requires strength and creativity, whereas complaining about them requires neither. During my days as a chronic complainer, I had a finely-tuned skill [if you want to call it that] to quickly focus solely on what was wrong with my career, and why every solution to fix it would fail.
My focus on these barriers in my life only made them appear bigger in my mind, which served as a convenient excuse for me to not do anything to overcome them. The problems that I complained about only released their hold on me once I realised that it was up to me to find the creativity and strength to overcome them.
Most importantly, who do you think enjoys more career success: the employee who confronts barriers with complaints and excuses, or the one who overcomes barriers with solutions and positive action?
I think that you know the answer.
Key Question #2: When faced with adversity, are you only able to focus on everything that is wrong with the situation [aka, the barriers], or are you able to find the nugget of opportunity in the adversity?
If you are able to consistently do the latter, you will discover an inner strength that you didn’t know that you possessed.
Tell-Tale Sign #3: You just aren’t happy
“Happiness is not something ready-made. It comes from your own actions.”
Do people complain because they are unhappy, or are people unhappy because they complain?
I am solidly leaning toward the latter. Unhappiness is a temporary state, but it’s the act of complaining that causes us to stay in that state much longer than necessary.
What I failed to understand many years ago is that happiness is not something that magically happens to people. It is our thoughts and actions that determines our happiness or unhappiness.
Over the years, I have known incredible people who have endured unimaginable tragedies in their lives. One woman had her infant son murdered. Another man was raped repeatedly by his uncle as a child.
Do you know what they both have in common?
They refused to stay stuck in their challenges by complaining, and instead, they took action to find purpose, positivity and happiness in their lives.
Me on the other hand? During my days as a chronic complainer, I spent a week complaining about being stuck in the elevator at work for 11 minutes. Yes, a full week complaining to anyone who would listen about being stuck in an elevator for 11 minutes.
My habit of complaining kept me stuck in unhappiness, while the people described above took action to fully own their lives and not allow their pain to destroy their future happiness.
Key Question #3 [and answer this honestly]: Are you happy, really?
If the answer is no, then I can promise you that complaining about it will only make it worse. Here is something that will help.
The solution: Complaining detox
If you have determined that you are complaining more than you should, here is the simplest and most effective way to begin the process of ending the habit for good.
Stop complaining about anything for 24-hours straight.
This includes, but is not limited to, complaining about your job, your workload, your family, your significant other [or lack of one], your finances, your health, the government, the weather, how tired you are, how unappreciated you are, how you look in your pants, how hard it is to give up complaining [see what I did there?] and anything else that you may complain about.
When I did this 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 was less than ideal, I paused to notice the automatic complaint that was about to leave my mouth—and then 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 had my epiphany that I didn’t have to be negative when faced with less than ideal circumstances. This was the realisation that allowed me to reclaim my career and my life.
Complain or take positive action? This is the choice that we get to face every day when faced with adversity.
Which choice will you make?
This was first published in the July 2015 issue of Complete Wellbeing.
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