Oops, I totally missed doing an update last week! As I wrote last Wednesday, I gave up on tracking complaints over the weekend two weekends ago, but was attempting to get back to it last week. I didn’t quite get all the way back to the rigor of my tracking spreadsheet, but I still think I made a lot of progress.
First, I finished reading A Complaint-Free World. Although I did find the book to be a bit lacking in tactical advice, it was heavy on inspiration. (Note: I do not consider that to be a complaint since it focuses on the positive.) There were a lot of testimonials from people whose lives had changed as a result of trying the 21 day challenge, and many of the examples featured people who sounded like they complained a lot more than I did at the beginning. To be honest, after reading this book, I wonder if I was making up a problem that wasn’t really there, since counting the number of times I complain made it evident that it was generally fewer than ten times a day, which really isn’t too bad. (Unless you’re with me for most of the day, in which case it would be totally annoying. This is why my biggest inspiration for this challenge was that I wanted to complain less frequently to coworkers, since I spend most of my time with them.)
One example that really resonated with me was a study by Brad Bushman on “catharsis theory”, or the idea that venting can produce a healthy release of emotion and be good for you. In fact, the facts don’t back this up. You Are Not So Smart has a great summary of Bushman’s research here, but the takeaway is that “people who vent their anger are about twice as aggressive as those who do nothing at all.” Wow!
The majority of the book focused on “why you should stop complaining” – which wasn’t entirely helpful to me, since I had already decided that I wanted to stop complaining :) But there was one chapter that was very actionable in that it categorized the different reasons why people complain, using the acronym “GRIPE”, and then explained how you could get someone to turn the behavior around if they are complaining to you.
1. Get attention. If someone is doing this, the best way to get them to stop complaining is to give attention about something else. “Oh, sorry to hear about ABC. But what’s going well with your XYZ?”
2. Remove responsibility from taking action. Complaints frequently take the form of excuses, but you can turn this around by asking a blue sky question: “but if it WERE possible, how might you do it?”
3. Inspire envy. If someone is gossiping, they’re likely doing it to demonstrate how they are superior to that person. So compliment the gossiper on having the opposite trait. E.g., if someone is complaining that Susie is always late, you respond with, “I’m so glad that you’re always so punctual.”
4. Power. Complaining about someone else can also be an attempt to get power. If that’s the case, try inviting that person to speak directly to the person they’re complaining about (and hopefully in a constructive way that will encourage change) rather than using you as the middleman. This one is incredibly awkward to do, but I could definitely see it working!
5. Excuse poor performance. This is a little different from #2 because it’s complaining about something that has already happened rather than something in the future; to flip it around to the positive, ask what they will do differently next time
Being realistic, I think the majority of my complaints are to get attention (e.g., “can you believe I have to deal with XYZ?”) and to remove responsibility (e.g., if I’m worried about a project I’m working on, I sometimes complain to hedge my bets against failure). Gosh, it is embarrassing to assign those labels to my complaints – what dumb reasons for complaining! So what should I do if I feel a complaint coming on? There were three tactics mentioned in the book that I really liked:
1. Be silent. This is probably the one I’ve been employing the most since I started this challenge, and since I’m working from home this week, it’s probably the one I’ll continue to use the most. One thing I’ve noticed over the last few weeks: sometimes I keep a complaint to myself when there isn’t anyone I feel comfortable voicing it to, but then later when I’m around friends, I can’t remember what I wanted to complain about. I think that goes to show how trivial so many complaints are – and reminds me that maybe I should keep my mouth shut even more.
2. Go to someone who can help and explain what you want. I’ve been doing this a lot in the form of reframing my complaints as problems that I’d like the other person’s advice on solving. I liked this quote from the book: “The first step toward progress is dissatisfaction. But if we stay in dissatisfaction, we never move forward to higher vistas.” The book also noted that it’s important to speak about what you want rather than complain about the way things are – which goes along with reframing things in a more positive way.
And finally, if you’re complaining in order to criticize someone:
3. Don’t talk about what the person didn’t do right in the past; talk about what they should do going forward. Basically, before you criticize someone, give them a chance to correct it. I have my mom visiting me for ten days right now, and sometimes it can be a challenge for us to get along, so I’m trying my darnedest to use this tactic to help keep my sanity intact without being rude :)
One more week to go of this challenge! I’m hoping it will be an easy week since I’m home in Colorado. The main reason I moved here was because something about the mountain views just calms me down. Literally, when I lived in NYC, I would visit Colorado and instantly feel a sense of inner peace as soon as I stepped off the plane… like nothing could go wrong and everything was right in the world. I still feel like that whenever I’m home!
Finally, I’ll end with an article from one of my favorite websites, Barking Up the Wrong Tree, on How to Be Optimistic. I definitely complain less when I’m in a good mood, even if something goes wrong – so these tactics for changing my thought process will hopefully help me finish the challenge strong. Have a great week!