Some time ago, as I was crossing the street, a speeding car appeared from around the corner. I instantaneously jumped backward and yelled to get the attention of the driver. He noticed me at the last moment, slammed the breaks, and barely avoided running into me.
If the driver had reacted just a fraction of a second later, I would be smashed into the pavement so hard I would probably die on the spot.
I called him an idiot and continued crossing the road. It took me a few moments to calm down but, after I did, I got on with my life without thinking too much about what just happened.
If this happened several years earlier, things would be much different.
This short incident would bleed into the rest of my life and eat up significantly more of my time and energy. I would come home mad and throw stuff around, talking to my roommate about what happened, how the driver is an idiot, how bad drivers kill people, how people drive drunk, how people don’t pay attention, how the laws are bad, etc. I would retell that story to my family, friends, girlfriend, coworkers, and acquaintances.
With each retelling, I would revisit those ten seconds focusing on what could have happened. That would be my reaction every single time. It took me years to realize how this approach results in me being a lot more negative than I currently am. But hey, that’s “normal“, right? Everybody needs to vent sometimes. What’s wrong with that? After all, it was a near-death experience. At the very least, a story worth retelling.
That’s the reasoning I would use, at least. And I bet it’s the same reasoning you use whenever you complain about everything in your life, from your alarm clock not going off to problems with family, school, work, anything.
The truth is much simpler than that: Complaining is bad, always and without exceptions.
Ugh, Complaining Is The Worst, Right?
People love to complain. It’s easy, it’s popular, everybody does it. So when someone like me strolls along and says that complaining is absolutely, totally fucking useless, the complainers get annoyed… and start complaining.
So let’s get something straight — complaining does not refer to all types of negative talk. Negative talk can be useful. Analyzing a problem, standing up for injustice, battling tyranny — all amazing things. However, none of them can be achieved by complaining, as complaining implies talking shit for the sake of talking shit.
Look, I used to complain a lot. I get it. Everybody has their own justifications for why complaining is actually “not that bad” and “makes you feel better” and “helps you solve problems”. All of these reasons are bullshit and I’m about to prove it to you.
Here are some popular justifications you probably use:
1. You have to talk about negative things to solve them
Analyzing an issue or criticizing bad behavior in order to improve it is useful. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. What complaining implies is that there is no change as a result. It’s negative talk for no purpose other than to talk negatively.
It always implies inaction. It doesn’t solve problems or change reality. It doesn’t provide solutions or life lessons to avoid the same problem in the future.
It simply places the blame on something and says “this sucks”. No shit, Sherlock. It’s easy to point fingers and blame everybody else for everything that’s wrong in the world. How about you try pointing that finger at yourself from time to time?
2. The world can be negative and you can’t avoid it
Holy smokes, Batman. I’m the first guy who will agree with this and give you a high five.
However, what does that have to do with complaining? Yes, there will always be negative things in the world. This doesn’t mean you should talk about them all the fucking time. You can just as easily say that there will always be positive things in the world and talk about them all the time. But you won’t, will you?
I’m not trying to say you should be deluded into always being positive and not recognizing when things are objectively shitty. I’m simply trying to say that, for the most part, the things you complain about on a daily basis are unimportant and you are better off simply letting them go. They literally don’t matter unless you make them matter.
Just take a look at my story from the beginning. It can be a meaningless incident or a “near death experience”; it all depends on how I choose to interpret it. On one hand, shit happens and it’s not a big deal. On the other hand, I’m a poor victim who is the center of attention and deserves praise and pity.
Which of these do you think makes you look better?
3. Everybody needs to vent sometimes, it’s just blowing off steam
Venting is the same as complaining and, especially in moments like these, it does more harm than good. It may make you feel a bit better at the moment but, in the long-run, it has been shown to increase negative perception, make you angrier, more agitated, and likelier to focus on problems rather than solutions.
It forces you to relive that same event and spend more energy on it. It brings all of those negative emotions back every time you talk about them and makes you increasingly more negative in general. This, in turn, makes you actively look for things to complain about, even if you aren’t consciously aware of it.
After a while, this negativity becomes your default state of mind. You become a cynical and negative person who complains a lot, but never solves any problems.
Replace Complaining With Something Better
A better alternative to complaining is to learn from the situations you complain about. Instead of focusing on the fact that a negative event occurred, try to see how you can avoid similar situations in the future.
This is how complaining sounds:
- “The stupid bus was 30 minutes late for the third time this week. The drivers are incompetent and they are making me late.”
- “John is annoying, he is always late to our appointments and wastes my time. It’s his problem.”
- “That driver is an idiot, he almost killed me because he was looking at his phone while driving.”
This is how the alternative sounds:
- “The bus was 30 minutes late for the third time this week. Since the bus is often late, I will try to catch the earlier one and have a Plan B in case the bus doesn’t arrive on time. I cannot influence the bus’ schedule but I can adjust to the circumstances.”
- “John is always late to our appointments and it’s annoying. Since I cannot influence John’s actions, I can either stop making plans with him or I will make plans 30 minutes earlier than expected (e.g. 6:45pm) so he will arrive on time (e.g. 7pm).”
- “The driver is an idiot, but there will always be bad drivers. This taught me to stay alert in traffic, even if I have right of way, because not everybody will pay attention.”
If you complain about things that have no relation to you — laws being passed, the state of the country, anything involving celebrities — the course of action is the same. Either shut the fuck up or do something about it. Yelling at your TV about “how everything has gone to hell” will never solve anything.
You’re not making the world around you any better by complaining. You’re just making it worse.
Not Complaining Is Actually Kind of Fun
Think about it like this: complaining is the main display of lack of self-control. It consists of negative thoughts and negative emotions being displayed through negative behavior with no purpose or a goal.
When you look at it from this perspective — that complaining is just thoughts that you don’t need to express or pay attention to — the solution becomes much simpler.
This will change your life: Try the No-Complaint Experiment. It’s super simple, super easy, and it helps you limit complaining and control your thoughts better. Tim Ferris rightfully named this method “Real Mind Control“.
1. Get a bracelet that’s easy to put on and remove. Put it on your arm.
2. Whenever you complain about something, switch the bracelet to the other hand. Try to go 21 days without switching.
3. That’s it. Seriously.
On the surface, it sounds too simple to work. In reality, it works spectacularly well. It is one of the simplest, but most effective thought control methods I have ever tried.
- A complaint is whenever you talk negatively about something or someone without proposing a solution to the problem.
- Swearing and cursing count as “complaint qualifiers” and they are forbidden in these scenarios. Your quality of words often determines the quality of your thoughts.
- Make the switch anytime you get flustered or annoyed, even if you don’t say it out loud. Self-control isn’t just about controlling your behavior, but thoughts and emotions as well. If you don’t manage to stop yourself from complaining inside your head, make the switch.
The point is to stop getting worked up over nothing, not to just hide it from other people. If you start feeling annoyed, aim to immediately stop the thoughts from escalating and calm yourself down. Change your thoughts to “Okay, calm down. It’s not that important” and stop yourself from exploding (either internally or externally). If you manage to do this, do not make the switch.
The Many Benefits of a Complaint-Free Life
Look, you probably aren’t even aware of how much you actually complain. When I first tried out this method, I switched the bracelet every 10 minutes. Whaaat?
This was super embarrassing and shameful to realize. I wasn’t even aware of how often I complain until I had visual feedback. But the more I focused on keeping the bracelet on one hand, the more interesting it got. I turned it into a game.
The result were real, however. In just the first week, I would complain significantly less, felt calmer, and more positive as a result. Every time I wanted to snap at some minuscule inconvenience, the bracelet on my hand reminded me that “Hey, just chill dude. It’s not that important.”
According to the author of this challenge, Will Bowen, it takes about 6 months to go full 21 days without complaining. Even if you never make it full 21 days, you will feel stronger, more confident, and much calmer. Just because you won’t eradicate complaining completely, cutting it down will have a significant impact on your life. If you complain 30 times a day, cutting that number down to 10 is still a huge improvement.
You will also become better at judging whether something is actually a crisis or not. You will become focused on solving problems rather than just being outraged by everything. This will help you keep a cool head and make better decisions.
Don’t be one of those people who complain all the time and blame everybody else. Nobody respects those kinds of people. Instead, be someone with firm beliefs who accomplishes what they set out to do and thrive in the face of adversity.
Or just complain about how I am wrong and don’t know what I’m talking about. Either way, you will prove me right.
P.S. If you want to know more methods for better self-control, check out The Essential Rules of Mental Strenth.