Direction

How what you complain about might be costing you – and what to do about it

It’s Friday night and you’re down the pub with your mates, or you’re hanging round the coffee machine with your co-workers, and you’re in moaning mode. I’ve been there, you’ve been there. Glass or mug in hand, putting the world to rights and letting everyone know why something isn’t as it should be.

Let’s face its a pretty common scenario. Movies and TV shows replicate reality and repeat this phenomenon over and over again. It’s a part of life. Letting out our frustrations and complaints is helpful on many levels, and arguably better for your mental health than holding it all in. I’m not going into the pros or cons of complaining in this article. I’m more interested in the fact that you’re complaining at all, and what it might mean for you.

Your world is not the same as my world

A complaint is, according to the dictionary, a statement that something is unsatisfactory or unacceptable. I’m going to add in a bit to this. A complaint is “a statement that something is unsatisfactory or unacceptable…according to you and your view of how the world should be.”

What’s unacceptable to you may be totally acceptable and reasonable to the person listening to you. Of course they won’t often admit that, and yet there it is. Your interpretation is not the only interpretation that exist. Remember that example of the dress that pops up all over social media from time-to-time? Do you see a black and blue dress or white and gold dress? It’s crystal clear to you that what you see is exactly what everyone else sees too. The idea that other people might be telling the truth when they say that they see a dress in a totally different colour seems bizarre at best, even wrong.

I reckon you don’t even notice how your complaints and your way of thinking about your situation and the world around you keep you stuck. I’ll go further and bet that those complaints you make give you a kind of payoff that means you keep reinforcing the same cycle of behaviour. Over and over, again and again the same pattern repeats itself. You moan about the same old stuff day in and day out. It might be connected to different situations or people and it’s the same creature with a different mask. Your payoff might be feelings of safety, or certainty or something very different. It doesn’t really matter what your payoff is, it’s real to you and it keeps you treading endlessly on the same wheel.

But what’s the cost?

Not recognising the pattern you repeat in how you behave, and what you complain about, costs you deeply through the loss of your vitality and energy, loss of open and honest connection with other people, loss of fulfilment or achievement, and the loss of being able to stand-up and express yourself as the person you really are when all the rubbish is stripped away.

In contrast, if you notice your patterns of behaviour, you can choose to interrupt the cycle. You can do something differently. Like not blame your bad mood on the traffic, and instead know that you’re very tired and need to get some sleep. Or rather than moaning about how your boss treated you, ask yourself (or your boss) what you could do differently next time that might make everyone’s life easier. Or decide not to moan about why your school failed you and thats why you’re in a job you hate, and instead start doing something about it.

The more you interrupt the cycle, the easier it will be to do it next time. Rather like pushing the pedals on a bike, the first few pushes from standing still are tough and it takes a lot of effort and focus to get moving, then when you’re off you build momentum and before you know it you’ve travelled a long way and arrived at a very different place.

Start noticing

What do you keep on complaining about, and what is it costing you? It’s not an easy task to unpack the cost of your old habits and behaviours, and it’s all the more valuable when you’re brave enough to show-up and notice it. Where else does that behaviour show up in your life? Give yourself permission to notice when and where it pops up.

When you do, you’ll know what it’s costing you, and knowledge is powerful. Once you know the cost, you can make a choice. You can choose to leave things as they are, in full knowledge of the cost – and that might be absolutely OK for you and where you are right now. It doesn’t have to be that way forever.

Or you can choose to interrupt the pattern, to make new choices and do something different when you notice the pattern repeating. Don’t make it a make or break moment. Habits are hard to kick, and if you jump onto your bike expecting to be able to conquer the race and change instantly you’ll have a hard fall. Be kind to yourself, and do it little tiny pushes at a time. Even kids don’t learn to pedal a bike on the first try. They try and fall, and get back on and fall again, and try again. And they celebrate when they hit tiny milestones, and you can too. Then one day they realise they are finally doing it all by themselves, and they are no longer stuck.

Get a partner

A supportive accountability partner or a coach can be an immense help in encouraging you to identify patterns of behaviour, and in taking action to break the patterns and create a new path through keeping you accountable to making change, and asking those big, challenging questions to break you out of your old mindsets.

Commit and pedal forwards

Once you’ve noticed your patterns and committed yourself to making a change, get on your bike and slowly start pedalling. Who knows what might happen when you do, and you’ll have one amazingly fascinating ride.

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Keep it small

There is only one thing that stops you making a significant change in your life.  You.  There is nowhere else to lay blame or fault.  If you aren’t living the life you want, do something about it.  Don’t do nothing.  That is the absolute worst thing you could do.  A fat old nothing.  I know, I’ve been there.

It’s totally possible to sit around feeling sorry for yourself, going over and over all the “what ifs” and stay firmly stuck in what a wise friend once called the crazy-thought loop.  You can turn to chocolate, wine or a good TV series.  And the next day will roll around and there you will be, in exactly the same place as the day before.

Or… or you can tell yourself that enough is enough and you can do something about it.  You can take action.  Action is exciting, terrifying and hopeful.  It can be a huge death-defying leap or it can be a tiny step like the tentative first step of a baby starting its journey as a toddler.  Action is beautiful because action leads to more action, just as one step leads to another, and another and another.  And before you know it you’re not in the same place, you’ve changed direction and you’re on your way.  You may not know the destination yet, and that’s OK.  Sometimes the destination won’t make itself clear until we’ve started out.  And we need to start.

Too often we stop ourselves from taking action because we make it too big.  We make it about the huge leap and not the baby step.  So my advice to you is to keep it small. Find one thing that you want to do differently today, just one thing.  Maybe you’ll take a different route to your workplace, or drink a different kind of coffee, listen to a new artist, make a call you’ve been putting off.  What it is doesn’t matter as much as doing it.  Whatever change you want to make, start somewhere.  Keep it small.  Baby steps.  You’ve got this.