Giving Up Complaining

How easy is it?

Posted Jun 11, 2012

An organization calling for a Complaint-Free World provides bracelets you wear on one wrist. When you utter a word of complaint, you must move the bracelet to your other wrist. The thought process goes that if you realize how many times each day (or each hour, or each minute!) you are complaining, you will stop doing it as much.

They say that to “complain” is defined as “to express pain, grief, or discontent.” Sure, it makes sense to express pain, grief or discontent occasionally, but some people do so constantly. In so doing, they are talking and thinking about what they do not want in their life and, thereby, attracting more pain, grief and discontent. Instead, think and talk about what you are grateful for. Talk about what you DO want and not what you don’t want.

The Complaint-Free World website states that the average person complains between 15-30 times each day. In order to do the complaint-free process, it only counts when you actually say the complaint out loud. Thinking a negative thought isn’t really complaining — I guess that’s like thinking about another person when you are married isn’t the same as cheating!

I was very intrigued by the idea of having to move the bracelet every time I talked about things I don’t want. I believe “triggers” are very important in making any type of behavioral change. When we recognize our triggers, it gives us a few seconds to stop and think about what choice we want to make next: Do we want to be triggered, as we usually are, or do we want to choose a different path?

Wearing the physical bracelet was a real eye-opening experience for me. I think of myself as a reasonably upbeat and happy person, relatively complaint-free to start with. So when I became aware of all the different times throughout the day that I complain about something, I was astounded.

The weather. The traffic. My family members. My weight. The work I needed to complete. The event I was attending. A soreness in my arm. The list went on and on and on! Every time I thought, “Wow! I complain a lot, I’m going to stop now,” there would be something else that came along that grabbed my attention and where I responded with negativity. The people around me may have been listening, but no one else knew that I was doing this little project. After then fifteenthtime during any given day, I started to feel embarrassed in front of myself about how many times I had to move that band.

Why is it that we are prone to complaining — and unless we are ill or someone close to us falls ill, we tend not to look at what’s positive in our lives? We might see someone who is suffering from some debilitating disease, or hear a sad story and we say either out loud, or to ourselves, “I have nothing to complain about” — and yet we go on to complain about something later that day.

As I thought about this dynamic, it became clear to me that much of my complaining (and maybe that of others too) is because of unmet expectations. If I wanted to get somewhere, I assumed that traffic would cooperate, the person I was meeting would be there on time and the meeting would be uplifting and fulfilling! If any of these did not happen, I would start to complain to my husband over dinner, “What a day I had! Traffic was terrible, the person was late and the meeting wasn’t very fruitful.” I began to think what it would be like if I simply went throughout my day without expecting anything, without “future looking” but just encountering whatever I encountered. This would require emptying my mind and just going about my daily business. I decided to investigate and try this for a day, being very conscious about my activities and thoughts about what I was about to do — or find out.

So I proceeded — with no expectations. No plans for how things would turn out. Just an open mind and interested curiosity about what was coming next. What a load of pressure it took off my shoulders! What a load of pressure it took off everyone around me. Whatever happened, just happened. Without expectations, there was nothing to complain about. There wasn’t anything that “should have” happened that didn’t or vice versa.

It was an interesting experiment. I can’t say that I feel confident enough to do it every day, but it opened my eyes to how much I can be my own worst enemy at times. Letting go — of expectations and complaints — feels good. Try it for a day and see how it works for you.