At the beginning of the year, Melissa Hartwig got wind of a “no complaining” challenge circulating on her social media feed. The rules were simple enough—no complaining of any sort for a full thirty days. No “traffic was brutal today,” or “My boss is a jerk,” or “I look fat in these pants.” Just a month full of sunshine, ponies, and rainbows coming out of her mouth. (Well, not likely—but she hoped she’d at least learn to create a new way to process and deal with stress and trying situations).
Seemed easy enough, and the payoffs seemed apparent: less negativity, more happiness, and the creation of a new awareness of potentially damaging behavior. She started a fresh journal page, announced her commitment to her family, and began.
Here is her log for the first four days:
Saturday: Complained that Dallas took too long to pick me up from the winter market, when I told him exactly where we were standing. Complained that I was tired. Complained about having to make actual food for dinner when I just wanted to eat popcorn and fruit.
Sunday: Complained about how messy the house was. Complained about someone’s comment on Facebook. Complained that it was Sunday and tomorrow was Monday and Mondays are always busy and how the hell are we always this busy?
Monday: Complained about how many meetings and calls I had today. Complained that I once again have to decide what to make for dinner. Complained about someone’s stupid blog post. Complained about traffic.
Tuesday: Complained that we forgot to get groceries for dinner. Complained about the lack of grass-fed ribeyes at Whole Foods. Complained about the parking lot at Whole Foods. Complained about how terribly this whole no-complaining experiment was going.
(entries cease here)
The Habit of Complaining
As Melissa discovered, preventing yourself from complaining is no easy feat. For most of us, complaining has become habit—something we do automatically, without even thinking about it. (In fact, Melissa said it wasn’t until a few minutes after expressing the above sentiments that she even realized they were, in fact, complaints.)
We complain for lots of reasons—maybe our parents told us to “get it out” and not bottle up our emotions. We look for validation and agreement from others; your partner saying, “Yeah, your boss really is a jerk” helps us to believe our opinion is right (and there’s little the brain likes more than being right). We also complain to avoid taking responsibility for our own actions. Yes, you had a lot of meetings and calls today—but you’re the one who added them to your schedule. You could have said no, delegated, or moved your schedule around, but you chose not to. But it’s easier to simply complain about your situation (passive) than make actual change (active).
Just because we’ve created a bad habit around complaining doesn’t mean we can’t change, though. As with any habit (a new diet, creating an exercise routine, or practicing meditation), ceasing to complain takes dedication, awareness, and an ongoing shift in action.
The No-Complaint Payoff
Still, though, what’s the big deal? It feels good to express your unhappiness, and everybody does it… so what would we get from ceasing our own complaining?
For one, you’re generally just a nicer person to be around when you don’t complain all the time. No one likes hanging out with a Debbie Downer, and your complaints may be raining on everyone’s parade. Yes, it’s still winter. Yes, your co-worker chews very loudly. Yes, your server is taking a really long time to bring your food. But does it benefit your relationships to constantly point these things out to your friends and family?
You’ll also learn to find the up-side in small situations that used to bother you. Stuck in traffic? A great opportunity to catch up on the Go Fork Yourself podcast. Workout not go so well? Your body is telling you to take a rest day—thanks, legs! Long line at the bank? Great chance to call Mom. Are these petty annoyances really worth complaining over, ruining your present moment (and the present of those around you)? Learning to let more small things roll off your back could prove immensely helpful for your general happiness.
Finally, not allowing yourself to complain forces you to take responsibility—and take action to actually make the situation better. Leave earlier the next time it rains, or take public transportation. Speak up for yourself with your rude boss, or find another position. Clean up the house yourself, or impose a daily fine until your kids do their chores. Complaining doesn’t actually change the situation—your attitude and actions, however, will.
No Complaining for Just One Day
If you want to do better at your own “No Complain” challenge than Melissa did with hers, it will have to start with awareness. Spend one day just noticing all the times you complain. Don’t try to change anything just yet—just be on the lookout for complaints. Make a note of every time you complain, and everything you complain about. (You may be surprised at how often you’re writing things down!)
The next day, make a point to think before you speak, and do something other than complain when you’re feeling cranky. You won’t be able to stop yourself from thinking the negative thought (that only comes with practice), but you can at least stop yourself from verbalizing it. Find a way to turn the situation into a positive, or take action and do something about what’s bothering you.
If you fumble and stumble the first few days, don’t worry. Any new habit is hard to implement at first. Finding a cue to associate with the habit (like an elastic around your wrist or a post-it note on your phone) can help you establish a new behavior, and being on the lookout for your rewards (a happier mood, appreciative friends, or the resolution of a long-standing conflict) will help you solidify the new routine.
If you can make it through an entire day without complaining, congratulations! You’re well on your way to succeeding at an impressive personal development goal—and we’re pretty sure there is no aspect of your life that won’t benefit from your happier, healthier, sunnier disposition. If you hated this article and think we’re stupid for even suggesting this, don’t bother complaining about us your co-worker… just leave a message in comments below.
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Deane Alban says
I use a trick to stop complaining not only out loud but in my own head. I imagine a person from a third world by my side – someone who has known true hunger and poverty. Would I complain about Whole Foods being out of grass-fed beef to this person? I think not.
Thanks, Melissa, for being so brave and honest. I too have “first world” complaints but I’m not sure I’d have the courage to admit them online!
@Deane, that’s a brilliant and humble idea! I love it. It definitely makes you think about what you’re eating.
Melissa, I tried that challenge back in November and failed on day two! Super hard! i like your idea of taking it day by day.
I love this! Goes hand in hand with an active gratitude practice.
Mariah B says
Brilliant!! I’ve really been cutting back on my complaining for a while now, for all these reasons listed. Life is too short to spend that much time being negative! Ruining your attitude doesn’t ever help the situation either.
Great article; I can’t wait to share it!
Good idea, I like it.
Your log was hilarious.
I took on a challenge like this together last fall. I put a rubber band on my wrist and snapped it when I caught myself complaining. My focus was on quitting negative self talk at first but I found that the more I changed how I looked inward, I improve my outward view as well.
I love this idea, but it overlooks one of the primary reasons many people complain out loud: people often complain as a way to connect with someone – it’s something to talk about that others relate to. Until we recognize that and make a concious attempt to find new ways to connect (talking about gratitude, feelings, details of your life, etc.) then trying to stop complaining is even harder than it needs to be. Fabulous idea to take this on as a challenge, but let’s not forget to look at the root of why we are complaining in the first place. Understanding the roots helps change the behavior. Thanks for posting this!
This is a fantastic idea. You need some sort of fancy-pants looking version that can fit on one page for posting around people’s offices and such. In the mean time I still think I’m going to put this on the fridge at work. I like to think of myself as a pretty positive fellow but I find myself complaining about things by reflex that are, in the long run, insignificant. I’m going to run with this right now and see how it goes. Keep up the good work you two, love the site.
Cara – I’ve heard that rubber band trick is a good way to break yourself of all sorts of bad habits, but I’ve never tried it myself.
The challenge is being able to recognize when you actually can take action to make the situation better and when you must just let it go, including the complaining. This is a great post; thank you.
Packy f says
People who don’t complain are people who don’t care.
Check out Will Bowen’s Complaint Free World. Buy the purple bracelet. It has no power, but is so completely powerful. I actually put mine on today for the first time in a while. I completely forgot I had it on till just now. The book is amazing and inspiring. The challenge is 21 days. The longest I made it was 14 (and that took me WAY longer than 14 days to accomplish). May I suggest you no longer write the complaints down, that’s just reinforcing the negative. Chalk it up for a complaint, move on, start fresh.
Jamie Scott says
We run a “Department of No Complaints” within our workplace gratitude challenge here in New Zealand and whilst it is always a challenge (which is kinda the whole point of a challenge, no?), it is always an eye-opener for people and we receive great feedback from people who engage in this.
Love this post. I have been working very hard on controlling my negativity, and that would include complaining. Like someone mentioned, you have to begin from within because most forms of complaining are judgements. If I judge myself or others, I immediately replace it with a positive affirmation or send out a blessing to the person I am judging. Since I am more aware, I am shocked by the amount of talking I no longer do and the mindless chatter that many people are a part of. I find it amazing the amount of “non-talk” that is going on around me, I believe that many people just like to say something to hear themselves speak, and I find that sad in many ways.
I love this idea! Taking one day at a time will help with awareness. If I can make thirty days on a whole 30 challenge, I can not complain for one day…I think :)
Ahem. Two posts ago you tell us not to craft an image that we can’t live up to, but now you tell us not to complain.
What do you people want anyway?
christy gerhardt says
i have weaned myself from the complaint bug years ago (suffering major depression for over 20 years and finally finding the right combo of meds puts it all in perspective). when your brain hears your complaint, it suppresses the feel good hormones serotonin and dopamine. why throw rocks in your path when you can skip and sing and sail smoothly by choice? if you train yourself, you can see the good in almost every situation…even better if you can laugh at it.
I did this for just one day. I was at work and my co-workers thought I was completely NUTS!
@Anita – I know how that is! I did this for a week and my mom kept saying “WHAT?!”
To each their own, right!
Melissa Hartwig says
Love all these comments, and the ideas for keeping your own life positive and complain-free. It’s funny that people would look at us weird when we’re the ones NOT complaining… that just tells you how much it’s the norm these days. Keep non-complaining on!
Funny I should read this today. This is something the Lord has been working on in me lately. This was my FB status update this morning:
I don’t see the point of complaining, if it changes nothing. If some bothers you, just tell the person who can fix it how you feel and offer suggestions, or better yet, volunteer to help them (instead of bitching that the printer is out of ink, let someone know or change it yourself… instead of griping that you are hungry, volunteer to go grab lunch). I have been working with my pessimistic husband about this, and it really helps a lot. It helps with depression and anger issues when you work on being more positive and proactive.
marianne taylor says
Great timing to read this. I was just pondering “how” to change my attitude towards difficult co-worker. How I’m managing situation is not working. I recognize I complain to other co-workers (even though I did try work with negative co-worker) my frustration. Only thing is has done is left me irritable and stressed. Not worth it. See if being more positive. Will work. I’m just completing the 100daysof happy. This will be next step. Marianne
Tom Morse says
I’ve become hooked on snapping a rubber band on my wrist but you won’t hear me complaining about it.