Did you know that when we complain, our body releases stress hormones which immediately inhibit areas of the brain used for problem solving and other cognitive functions?
Moaning is second nature to most of us, and in fact evolution primes us to focus on the negative for survival. We have a warning system within us which is constantly on the lookout for anything which seems like it might hurt or harm us. But if we are complaining all of the time, it reduces our brain’s capacity for learning and reasoning, which can have a detrimental effect on our achievements at work and at home.
When you pay attention to how much you whinge and moan, the findings can be quite alarming. I’m generally quite a positive person, but I’ve realised it’s the little things I complain about most, and particularly first thing in the morning when I haven’t slept well, or when I’ve been woken up too early by my son. It’s then all too easy to complain about being tired, not being able to concentrate, not getting enough help, or the house being a mess!
It explains why there is a growing movement of people who want to curb their complaining. Earlier this year, more than 1,000 other people signed up for the Complaint Restraint project, established by Thierry Blancpain and Pieter Pelgrims. The goal was simple: less complaining. “There’s no secret sauce. Simply stop complaining,” says the website. “Be mindful and notice when it happens”.
A similar project, “A complaint free world”, driven by Will Bowen’s international bestseller, has amassed a global following. More than 10 million purple ‘Complaint Free’ bracelets have been sent to people in over 106 countries, which they wear as a visual reminder to not complain. Every time they do, they switch the bracelet to the other wrist. The goal for this project is to go 21 days without complaining.
But is it possible to go cold turkey and stop complaining, for a whole month? Probably not. The founders of the Complaint Restraint project admit they fail with it every year. Do we really want a complaint-free world? Surely sometimes, complaining can be the trigger for change.
“Psychologically, it’s really unhealthy to squelch complaints,” said Guy Winch, a psychologist and author of ‘The Squeaky Wheel’. “By not complaining aloud, it doesn’t mean the dissatisfaction has gone away. You’re just not voicing it.”
Sometimes, we just need to vent. It can be satisfying to sound off to a trusted friend about a situation that hurt you. Bottling up our emotions can sometimes be just as damaging as complaining.
Moaning can also be a way of building rapport with people, as it creates a kind of solidarity. This is something I can easily relate to and particularly since running my own small business. Being your own boss has its highs and its lows, and being able to gripe about the frequent need to work evenings, the lack of time for general admin and the difficulty of detaching completely from work at weekends, to someone who understands, can be hugely bonding and reassuring.
The good news is, there can be a healthy middle ground.
Here are some tips on how to keep your moaning in check, and particularly in the workplace:
1. Note the difference between complaining and pointing out something that’s wrong or not to your liking. If it’s pitched as an observation, rather than a moan, it’s ultimately less harmful.
2. Some complaining is fine, but problems arise when we over-do it. Spend one day taking note of the number of times you whinge and moan. You may be shocked at how often you’re doing it as for many of us, it’s a habit.
3. Seek out a trusted friend or partner who can help to keep you in check. Ask them to let you know if they think you’re moaning too much one day.
4. Separate yourself from chronic complainers. If there’s a colleague at work who likes to moan a lot, try to avoid spending periods of time with them. If they corner you, listen politely, but try not to fuel their negativity. If you can, end the conversation with a constructive or positive observation.
5. Be less judgemental. Everyone makes mistakes, and being critical often leads to complaining. Instead try to focus on complimenting someone on a job done well.
6. Set a zero-tolerance policy for the sort of complaining which can be seriously damaging to your career or personal life, or which is becoming debilitating for you.
7. Accept responsibility and seek to address the root cause of your complaints. If something is really bothering you, instead of moaning, think about what you can to do improve the situation. Take note if you are continually complaining about the same thing.
8. Jon Gordon, author of The No Complaining Rule suggests the importance of being grateful, in order to turn a complaint into a positive. To do this, think about replacing “have to” with “get to”. So “I have to cook for the family every night” becomes “I get to cook for the family every night”. This mindset change can become habit over time, and will help to create a better balance.
If you decide to try and eliminate complaining for a month, please let us know how you get on!