The Cultural Complaining Conundrum

How our society encourages complaining and how I choose to fight it.

Illustration by Mike Baldwin

I don’t know when it started, but I knew I had to end it. A couple years ago I noticed a disturbing pattern with my response to the standard “how are you” question.

My knee jerk reaction was to pick a complaint to discuss. I travel weekly for work so the topics were usually plane delays, rental car issues, and unacclimated weather.

Why did I do this?

Looking back on my mindset at the time, I felt that the obstacles I was going through were more interesting to talk about than the positives.

Sound familiar?

I wasn’t grateful for the little things that were going right, and the few disruptions in my day became the highlight. Commiseration validated that the extra two hours I had spent in the airport was a legitimate life problem.

Besides, how could I illicit an engaging dialogue by responding with a reflex; “I’m good, how about you?”

After the light bulb went off for me, I noticed it everywhere. I couldn’t escape it. I realized that our culture celebrates and encourages complaining. It’s a constant feedback loop.

Listen closely during water-cooler gossip, stroll into your local DMV, or peruse any Facebook comment sections (people will find a way to complain about puppy videos).

Social media has given us the ability document and share any relatively unpleasant experience to countless other users, and complain on an unprecedented scale. On a given day, I could go through my Snapchat or Instagram feeds and find numerous cases of self-pity ridden posts in real time. The question of “Who’s got it worse” becomes the driver of competition for digital sympathy.

What’s more, if the people around you are complaining, you are likely to feed into the loop unconsciously. Complaints become the story you tell yourself and it transforms into a self-fulfilling prophecy of victim-hood. Therefore, the content we ingest, spread, and create becomes the attitude that we perpetuate.

“The quickest tell to me in the world that you’re not a winning player is that you complain…complaining is literally a zero return investment.” — Gary Vaynerchuck

I wanted to make a change. I knew I needed to start thinking differently. I didn’t want to spend time on a zero return investment.

My adjustments have not been perfect, but practice has made me more aware, and I rarely complain now. Careful observance allows me to stop myself when I’m about to gripe absentmindedly.

Image courtesy of Unsplash

Six Ways I’m Reducing My Complaining:

  1. Journaling each day for planning, reflection, and gratitude: I plan out my days in the morning, and reflect at night. I also write about what I’m grateful for and positive things that happen each day (no matter how small!). As Tony Robbins says, “You can’t be angry and grateful simultaneously.” I use the 5 min Journal for this.
  2. Meditating for a minimum of ten minutes a day: Committing to mindfulness is crucial in my ability to stay calm and realize that things I’m tempted to complain about are NOT a big deal. I use Head Space for my guided meditation, and also visit a local meditation service on Sundays. I’ve noticed my patience and contentment improve tenfold.
  3. DES Routines (Dieting, Exercising, Sleeping): Eating food for purpose (rather than just enjoyment) — although I do let myself indulge on weekends — can make a big impact on my mood. I mostly consume a Slo-Carb diet during weekdays. Morning exercise, whether going for a run, punching the heavy bag, or lifting weights all get my endorphins pumping. I find it best to workout first thing because it gives me an accomplishment to start the day, a boost of energy, and I don’t have to force myself to do it later after my work day. A consistent sleep routine (11:30pm bed time, 5:46am morning alarm) without snoozing my phone when I wake up has done wonders. I have less to complain about when my body feels fresh.
  4. Reading inspiring literature: Opening my mind up to new concepts of positive thinking, self-improvement, spirituality, and habits has led to my enlightenment around the self-destructive nature of complaining. I’m also a proponent of book reviews/clubs with friends who are reading along with you. Currently the two groups I’m in are reading Tools of Titans and The Happiness Hypothesis.
  5. Aligning content to my desired attitude: As I mentioned above, the content you absorb, spread, and create will perpetuate your attitude. Before I send or post content, I ask myself simply, “does this content align with the attitude I want to convey?” This content can range from comments, texts, emails, to articles like this. It can be easy to overlook a negative tone that attaches itself to something you send. Especially over digital mediums, it is difficult to control the feeling transferred from the encoded message to the decoder. I concentrate on absorbing positive material, spreading it, and creating content of positive value. By doing this I will naturally perpetuate networks of purposeful thinking and avoid the negative trap caused by complaining.
  6. Starting conversations off with a positive nugget: This is tactical gold. Intelligent Change described this technique in a recent newsletter. I challenge myself to do this. When I greet someone, I lead with a positive. What good thing (however trivial it may seem) has happened in my life recently? What can I mention that makes me smile? What do I appreciate about the person I’m talking to? Always give a genuine compliment to start a conversation if you can! This can be especially effective to practice with a significant other.

Having said all this, venting is a necessary human activity. We all go through times of unfavorable emotion and a healthy extraction of anger, frustration, and sadness can be therapeutic. I have a select group of people in my life I vent to, but it’s not the norm of our interaction. I never want to burden someone I don’t know or hardly know with my issues. What kind of first impression is that?

  • How do you want to appear to others?
  • What experience do you want to create for the people around you?
  • How could you change your attitude with the content you interact with?
  • Can you imagine if your interactions started with a positive statement rather than a complaint?

Challenge to the Reader:

Please like, share, or comment with your feedback. I’d love to learn how others tackle the cultural conundrum of complaining. View my other articles here:

  • Evaluate your role in complaining among your peers, friends, colleagues, & loved ones.
  • Determine how you can reduce your complaining. Take action with consistent practices and attention. Thus, you’ll reduce complaining around you.
  • Absorb, spread, and create content aligned with your desired attitude.
  • Start out your conversations with a positive.

Could you be complaint free for 21 days? Tim Ferriss has taken his own version of Will Bowen’s challenge. I’ve not tried it yet, but I’d like to. Who would do it with me?

Jordan is VP of Customer Engagement at Kindred Marketing and Founder of Dinner Dialogues. His purpose in life is to connect people, stories, & ideas for success & positive change in the world.

Linkedin: Jordan Carroll

Twitter: Jordan Carroll


Originally published at https://www.linkedin.com on February 16, 2017.