Here's a hard truth - complaining feels productive so it easily becomes one of the biggest time wasting activities even for usually sharp people. According to one article by Psychology Today, people complain for a plethora of reasons. The list includes stress, depression, cultural conditioning, attention seeking, and much more.
My 5 Most Helpful Question
I find that even though I have a low tolerance for complaining, I still do it more often than I’d like. My wife is often the one who helps me to see when I’ve gone too far. I decided I needed a simple, systematic way to coach myself out of the habit. This is what I found most helpful.
There are 5 questions I ask when I catch myself complaining or about to complain. Sometimes I run through all of them internally and others times just one or two will help. Feel free to modify the list as you need to.
Why am I really complaining? If you can identify what the motivation for your complaining is, then you can begin to take the right steps to address the real problem. If you’re complaining because of stress, for example. You can begin to take steps to relieve that stress and reduce or completely stop complaining.
Is complaining going to improve or resolve the issue in any way? The answer to this question is often no. Generally, we complain to “just get it off our chest”. Which when translated just means, we want to talk about it instead of do something about. Don't fall for that, it's an investment in future regret.
What actions (if any) can I take to resolve the problem? If the complaint is valid, there are often clear actions we can take to do something about it. Inform someone, return something, schedule time to fix something or have a conversation, etc. The faster you choose to take action, the less complaining you’ll need to do.
What’s the worst that could happen if I just ignored this issue? Sometimes there are things and people that stress you out that you can really just ignore. Not in a mean way, but take an honest look at whether it’ll have any impact on your life or future if you choose to just disengage. If there’s no impact, do yourself and them a favor, and just move on without it or them.
Have I complained about this before? Catching a repeat offender in your complaining cycle is a bit win! It's like finding out where the slow leak is in your personal happiness after months or years of searching. Once you identify something you repeatedly complain about, write out a three to 5 step action plan on how you will address it once and for all.
QUESTION: What’s the most consistent reason you find yourself complaining?
As stated above, knowing why you complain could be the easiest way to stop complaining. If you can’t tell right away what the underlying reason for complaining is, spend some time journaling each time you find yourself complaining. Then review it after about a month and see what the theme is.