Okay, so life has thrown you a curveball. Nothing too traumatic or life-threatening, just a bit crap.
You’ve fumbled the catch and it’s knocked you flat to the ground.
Heart thumping, nerves firing, gasping for breath, there are now two options available:
- Get up, brush yourself off and (try to) move on.
- Engage in a full-scale complain-a-thon, dragging friends, loved ones and the local barista along for the ride.
Tell me: What option do you usually choose?
Personally, I’ve done both at different times and as you’ll see below, each have their merits.
The case for complaining
I’m definitely not against letting off a little steam. Sometimes you just need to cry, swear, scream – whatever – to get it out of your system.
There have been times in my own life where I have absolutely lost it. I’ve been scared shitless, cried my eyes out and spent hours venting to family, friends or whoever would listen (I wrote here for the Huff Post about being both fearless and fearful on my last trip to New York).
Just last month I had one of those dodgy days - You probably know the kind I’m talking about. Nothing seemed to go right and a girlfriend was the supportive shoulder I needed.
But it’s only because I let the tears flow and the profanities fly that I was able to move forward.
Friends know they can always vent to me and vice versa. We’re all human and I’m not one for safe chit-chat when bigger or more important or real issues (good or bad) need discussing.
I think it’s vital to vent a little and in fact, it’s the people who NEVER complain, sweep things under the rug and attempt to portray life as a perfect utopia that you have to worry about!
If you’d like to read about this in a little more depth, I really love this Huff Post piece by Sarah Burton - a mother and self-described, feminist, activist and cognitive skills trainer. In it she discusses why it can be healthier (and less delusional!) to complain every now and again.
There is, however, a flip side to this story.
The case against complaining
While I’m all for being realistic about the challenges we face, I’m also an optimist at heart. Positivity is my default setting for life and I’ll always look for the good in something before I start having a grumble.
“There are many reasons why complaining is a bad habit.” Theo Tsaousides, Ph.D, explains in an article for Psychology Today. “It puts you in a bad mood. It keeps you focused on flaws and problems. It makes you sound suspicious and distrustful. It annoys the people who have to listen, or makes them feel that they are incompetent and unhelpful. Overall, complaining makes life feel like an ordeal instead of a gift, for both givers and receivers.”
So as much as I advocate for having a whine, I agree that complaining too much can be detrimental to your emotional health.
If you’d like to delve further into exactly ‘why complaining is unhealthy’ then this article by Dr Travis Bradberry is one of many that explains this important point in more detail.
To complain or not to complain?
So which one do you do? The answer in short – a bit of both. There’s no ONE way because every person and every situation is different.
What can you do instead?
Find a balance between complaining too much and not complaining at all.
Finding balance is like operating a hot air balloon: you need to release a little steam to get things moving… but you don’t want to release it all or the results could be disastrous!
So how do you find that balance point?
Simply ask yourself this question: What can I control?
If you’ve read ‘Find Your Fearless’ (download your free copy here) then you might recognise this point about focusing on what you can control. It’s one of the first strategies to successfully face fear and failure. It’s also a way of thinking that I’ve used (and continue to use) time and time again when faced with minuscule and mammoth challenges in my life.
Believe me, there’s plenty of stuff in my life that’s out of my control. Disabilities and chronic illness bring their own set of unique challenges but life became much easier and brighter when I accepted that there were lots of things I could no longer control. No amount of wallowing in bitterness was going to change that!
Other questions you might want to ask
Aside from asking yourself, ‘what can I control?’ there are other things you can think about instead of complaining forever or simply sweeping it under the rug.
Tsaousides recommends asking three more questions:
- What am I complaining about?
- What do I want that I am not getting?
- How can I get what I want?
It’s the ‘how can I get what I want’ that I really love because there’s a focus on solutions and moving forward.
For example… Not so long ago, I had a technical issue with my computer. I complained about it relentlessly for a few hours until I got sick of the sound of my own whiny voice!
I knew what I was complaining about (a problem with my computer), what I wanted (my computer to work normally again) and how I could get it (call a computer repair person).
Despite knowing nothing about computers and being unable to fix it myself (so I wasn’t in control of the whole situation), I was still in control of how I responded - taking deep breath then taking action to move forward.
I called the computer repair person and it was all sorted that same day.
Admittedly, this isn’t a particularly exciting story but it is an example of how I’ve applied this thinking to my own life. I realise you may have issues that are bigger than a busted computer but I also know you can probably relate more to this real-world example than one of my many recent trips to hospital.
The situations may change but the principles remain the same.
Life’s never perfect but don’t let those little problems become something that ruin your week. Instead of complaining forever or not at all, find a balance between the two extremes. Think about what you can control and focus on taking action on that instead.
Life’s too short to get bogged down by all the stuff outside of our control!
Lisa Cox is an awarded Australian writer (multiple author, copywriter and blogger), public speaker, advocate and ambassador. You can meet the woman behind the words on Instagram (@lisacox.co), Twitter (@LISACOX_CO) or Facebok.