I’ve learnt that everyone complains. Some complain about everything all the time, some complain about some things all the time, some complain about some things some time, some complain about everything some time, but the point is, at one point or another, everyone complains.

There are also varying degrees of complaining. Sometimes it’s just a passing complaint. Sometimes it’s something that annoys you and you just want to let some steam off. Usually complaints are harmless outputs of frustration. However, some complaints may be an indication of more serious underlying issues. In my experience, I find that the people whom I think are happier and more successful tends to be the ones who do something about these complaints.

If you find yourself complaining about the same thing to the same people, or even worse, to multiple people, after a long period of time, then perhaps it’s time to be honest with yourself and take a look at these issues seriously. “Long period of time” is highly subjective, but for me, 3 months is way too long, and if you’re complaining about something 6 months down the road, well, I’m not sure why you haven’t done something about it yet.

Unfortunately, we always have a tendency to want to feel busy instead of actually being productive (which by the way, is a key difference between workaholics versus high-performers). In this case, the act of complaining does exactly that - It makes us feel like we’re doing something when in actual fact, nothing has really changed.

I am guilty of that myself. It is way too easy to fall into the trap of complaining to others. After all, misery loves company. When others can identify with your complaints, you suddenly feel a sense of camaraderie. To make things worse, some people identify themselves with their blunt and matter-of-fact complaints. They adopt this “That’s the way I am, take it or leave it” mentality, and sometimes people like that get idolized as well. What happens now is that instead of a single person complaining, it becomes a group united by negativity. Perhaps there’s even this sense of “power” as you realise that you’re not alone in this. And I’ve seen time and again, people falling into this trap, becoming close “friends”.

If you’re in a place like that right now, I really encourage you to be honest and ask yourself if things have truly improved for you. What I’ve seen happen repeatedly is that being stuck in a negativity-united group often worsens the situation. You start thinking that perhaps it’s normal that these situations happen since there’s so many others who’re affected. You lose hope and instead of focusing your energy on trying to fix things, or even walking away, all of your energy is directed at generating more negativity. I assure you, that once you resolve your issue, your “friends” will no longer welcome you into their group.

More importantly, plan how you want to deal with complaints. For me, I try to stick to the following:

  • Whine about it to 3 people, and stop it
  • If it’s still affecting me after whining to 3 people, look at it more seriously and either:
    • Let it go and suck it up
    • Do something about it

I’ll admit it, I’ve wasted at least 6 months complaining on things that I probably should let go and walked away from. There’re many things in life beyond our control, but there’re also many things in life within our control. You may not be able to change how your partner treats you, but you can choose your partner wisely. You may not be able to change your parents, but you can choose how you respond. You probably have little to no influence on your work environment and culture, but you can change your job. For every situation where you have no say, there is almost always a way out where you do have a say.

“Everyone wants change, until they are asked to change.”

So the next time you feel like complaining about something, go ahead and do it. But follow up with doing something about the complaint itself. Then you may soon realise that you’ll stop complaining altogether.

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