Is Complaining Undermining Your Organizing?

lotus.
Image by ghorng from Pixabay

Habits are powerful little things! I talk about them frequently, because they are strong drivers of behavior. Habits can help us or hurt us because we repeat them over and over. As the famous quote says, “We are what we repeatedly do.” (Often attributed to Aristotle, but actually coined in 1926 by Will Durant.) One particularly damaging habit we often fall into is complaining. While it seems harmless in the moment, the habit of complaining frequently becomes a barrier to achieving the change we desire.

What’s so bad about complaining?

1. Complaining exacerbates stress.

We may convince ourselves that complaining is a way to “vent” bad feelings so that we will feel better, but in reality, we are focusing our minds and energy on a topic which is distressing.

2. Complaining perpetuates the sensation of being out of control.

Complaining is a way to avoid dealing with an undesirable situation. When we feel empowered to make an improvement, we generally take action. For example, few people “complain” about an untied shoelace. We simply bend over and tie it. In contrast, we complain about circumstances that we either don’t feel like addressing, or that we don’t know how to fix. When we complain, we settle into a pattern of griping as a way to deal with our negative feelings.

3. Complaining is contagious.

When we complain, we invite others to join us in our unhappy state of mind and affirm our “right” to be unhappy. Misery loves company. Similarly, when we hear someone else complain, we often join into the conversation in the spirit of being supportive and empathetic. However, when we don’t share the same complaint, we often offer our own trial to share, “one-upping” one another with how bad our lives are.

4. Complainers are often “tuned out.”

When we repeatedly complain, many people eventually grow weary of listening and ignore us. We become known as negative and unpleasant to be with. The very people who might otherwise be able to help us change our situation become frustrated by our preference to wallow.

While complaining may feel good in the moment, the results are rarely positive. Like running on a treadmill, we strengthen our “complaining muscles,” but ultimately go nowhere. When we complain, we tend to remain where we are.

***

The question, therefore, is how can we break the complaining habit and actually improve our situation?

There are a couple of techniques we can try.

FIRST: Clarify your triggers.

It is critical to be willing to dig deep enough to clearly define what is making us unhappy. Is the complaint really that our spouse leaves clothes on the floor, or is it that we feel that we are seen as a maid? Are we upset because the house is too small, or are we disappointed with ourselves because we can’t seem to make ourselves put things away? Try to clearly articulate the true source of frustration.

SECOND: Do not dwell in discontent.

When the urge to complain rears its head, rather than acquiesce, we can choose to acknowledge the existence of the problem and then redirect our thinking. Refuse to keep talking and thinking about it. Have you ever heard someone say, “You are going to eat your words?” This phrase bears much truth. The words we speak enter back into our ears and down to our spirit. Like it or not, we listen to ourselves all day long. Rather than succumb to complaining, we have the ability to speak words of gratitude, hope, and optimism to ourselves.

THIRD: Do not let the reasons for your unhappiness become excuses for inaction.

Often, we have valid reasons for complaining. For example, our home is full of chaos because the kids are forced to do e-learning, the pets are chewing on everything, we are busy trying to care for a sick and aging parent, and our spouse’s work supplies are all over the kitchen table. We have little time to regroup get our own work done, let alone to participate in the activities that refresh and restore us.

While this situation is understandably challenging, it isn’t beyond improvement. For instance:
  • We can have a family meeting to discuss a reassignment of household chores.
  • We can establish new organizational systems to make it easier to restore order at the end of the day.
  • We can declutter crowded areas so there is less to manage.
  • We can hire professionals (e.g., a junk hauler, professional organizer, extra childcare, etc.) to ease the burden of trying to figure it out on our own.
  • We can carve out a space in our home that is ours alone, where no one else is allowed to come in and create a mess. (e.g., bedroom, closet, corner of the basement, desk, etc.)
  • We can negotiate a time each day/week when we can reliably be “off duty” to focus on our own needs.

We don’t want to allow the valid reasons for our complaining become mental barriers to pursuing positive change. It might take a bit of trial and error, but if we push through, we can diffuse the tension and make the scene more palatable.

Did you know that the lotus flower grows in the mud? Your situation may indeed be sticky and heavy, but you can still thrive and bloom. The antonym of complain is “rejoice.” Which would you rather be doing?

***

Do you struggle with complaining? What techniques have you found helpful for quashing the tendency to complain?

26 thoughts on “Is Complaining Undermining Your Organizing?”

  1. OMG, you are so right about this. I am a very sympathetic person….unless someone is still complaining of the same thing and not even trying to do something about it. As for myself, I wrote a post called “Why I Love Chores”, which I don’t, but whenever I feel resentful about them, or tempted to complain, I remind myself WHY I do them. And then I feel better. It helps me to remember that it’s a CHOICE I’m making; that I’m living my life by design, not by default.
    Hazel Thornton recently posted…3 Questions (to ask yourself about COVID-times)My Profile

    1. I love that phrase, Hazel, “living my life by design, not default.” That’s a great way to frame doing things you don’t love. It feels good to make choices that we know will satisfy us later!

  2. Yes, I try so hard not to complain. But you are right when I do succumb it definitely doesn’t make me feel better by any means and has the opposite effect. So, definitely will keep your advice in mind the next time I have the urge to complain. So, thank you for that 🙂

    1. That’s the funny thing about complaining: it makes us feel worse. May your week be full of joy and void of all things which might make you want to complain, Janine!

  3. As I was reading, I recalled one of my mother’s famous quotes, not hers of course. “Laugh and the world laughs with you, cry and you cry alone. “I never liked that one.
    Complaining becomes such a chore when it’s over and over and over again and nothing has changed. It can become tedious to listen to. As you mentioned, when we are the ones doing the complaining, the bigger issue is that it keeps us stuck, doesn’t it?By focusing on that particular negativity, we can’t move beyond it.
    Complaining can be tough for someone to undo. I like how you offer smart ways to deal with it that make so much sense.

    1. Yes, that is a terrific quote! Complaining drains us of energy, and it is a hard habit to break. Actually, most habits are hard to break, but not impossible. We can choose to do something else when the urge strikes us, substitute another behavior. Sometimes just acknowledging that we want to stop is the first and most important step!

  4. This really speaks to me, Seana. Misery does love company and the urge to follow a complaint with one that matches or “beats” the initial complaint is enticing to some. Changing the tune or the channel is not impossible. I love your suggestions for dealing with the overwhelm of the situations many families find themselves dealing with right now. I am and always have been a glass half-full kind of person. I like to look for the positive and encourage my clients to do so also.

    1. I’m the same, Diane. I like to try and bring positive energy to a situation. I don’t always feel it, but I try and cultivate it, both for me and for clients. We need to own the responsibility for how we are feeling, not only rely on others to lift us up.

  5. There are so many interesting aspects to what you’ve described here, and I love what you wrote! Complaining serves a purpose, but it’s how we address it that can be harmful or helpful. I agree that no one likes to be around people that complain all the time. I’m a patient person, but constant complainers are tough for me and I tend to remove myself from that energy,

    On the other side, complaining is an indicator that our emotions calling. As in, something isn’t right, bubbling up, or bothering us. It’s not good to ignore that noise. But it’s how we deal with it that is key. At times, talking with a trusted listener is useful. Because sometimes we just have to get it out, to release that energy.

    I’m reading a book now that suggests using “private” complaining sessions. It’s part of a larger concept for working with your emotions, but I found the idea fascinating. The idea explains that it’s unhealthy to squash our emotions. Find a way to honor them and let them flow. So in this case, give voice (but privately, and in a limited timeframe) to get the “complaints” out, and then move on. It’s basically a private complaining session by yourself. I don’t know if it works, but the idea intrigued me.

    1. That is a pretty interesting idea, Linda! I do think it can help to vent off the feeling that can overwhelm us, and doing it privately spares others who may be weary of hearing us repeat the same complaints. Acknowledging the situation is always the first step to making any change. And, life can be frustrating! Many people have been experiencing those emotions during this pandemic season. So yes, give voice to your concern, allow your emotions to flow, and then choose a positive action. I think the key is to avoid the wallowing that keeps us stuck under the mud instead of blooming!

  6. Seana – this was so well written. It resonated with me because I’ve been having issues with my almost eleven year old son doing a lot of complaining over the past year or two–pandemic and pre-pandemic. Your post is eye-opening and made so much sense regarding his behavior. Thanks for offering me and your readers some insight into how complaining can rear it’s ugly head and what we can do to control it. I will be re-reading it often and using your strategies to show my little guy how to turn his complaints into positive action.

    1. Sending you hugs as you and your son navigate this rough time in his life. Complaining becomes a habit before we even realize it, and it doesn’t make us feel empowered to bring about desired change. Hope this helps in some small way, and cheering you on over here!

  7. I make a considered effort to try not to complain. I have discovered that there are some people I know who I feel are definitely complainers. Every conversation includes some complaint, often about a “nothing” matter. I think some people are only happy when they are unhappy. I am sure I do sometimes complain however so I will try to be more attentive to my own behavior.

    1. That’s an interesting point, Dianne. It does seem that some people are intent on being unhappy, and complaining is simply their normal style of conversation. They may not even realize they are doing it, nor may they be aware of the impact it is having on others.

  8. This is so important! Some people do not even realize they are complaining. Thank you for sharing solutions to complaining. I found that complaining stops the opportunity to find solutions. So, recognizing you are complaining is essential. If you do feel the need to complain, you can end the complaint fest with, “I am open to the possibility to find a solution to this issue.” This statement will help you break free of the blockage you may have placed while complaining.
    Sabrina Quairoli recently posted…Bathroom Organizing Essentials To Make Your Mornings EasierMy Profile

    1. Oh, I love that idea of ending your complaint with a “pivoting” statement. It allows us to speak the truth, our reason, but then turn and move forward instead of getting stuck. Terrific comment!

  9. I do but I think Cassidy found himself in that hole of complaining and then us tuning him out and finally things got more chaotic because none of us were organizing and he was on strike.

    It was a slow process, but definitely better now.

    1. I do think that complaining can come in waves for all of us, especially when life feels chaotic and challenging. I understand when you start tuning complaints out, because they bring you down. Hopefully your life will fall into a more predictable pattern now, and all of you can invest a bit more energy in restoring order so that everyone feels heard and settled!

  10. Wow, there’s so much wisdom in this post!

    If I don’t like the way something is organized, I consider how important it is. If it doesn’t interfere with the way I do things, I let it go. If it does, I’ll explain. Often the other person does things a certain way out of habit, without a preference, and will happily accommodate when they understand why I’d like it a different way.
    Janet Barclay recently posted…What’s with all the plugin updates?My Profile

    1. Clear communication solves so many problems! I agree that sometimes we may be tolerating a situation that in reality is not important to the other person. It’s always worth bringing up an issue respectfully if only to see if the other party is open to compromise. If all we do is complain, we just douse the environment with negativity, which is not conducive to mutually agreeable solutions.

  11. Yes! I am so on board with all of this. I often talk about trying to be a problem solver instead of a complainer. It’s all about seeing past the problem to whatever solution is available, no matter how small. Easier said than done, but as you demonstrate in this article, it takes practice and patience.

    1. It does take practice, and that is helpful to acknowledge so that we are patient with ourselves. It is worth the effort, both for our own sense of calm and joy, and also so that we can be a positive presence in the lives of those around us!

  12. My goodness, this is excellent advice! I used to complain much more, bemoaning the unfairness of things. But then I had a co-worker who only complained, and seemed unable to recognize that anything was good, and I found myself taking the opposite stance, no matter what. Now, if I complain, it’s rarely for any purpose but to make an entertaining anecdote; otherwise, I try to focus on the solution. Except for ONE thing, the only thing I predictably complain about (though only to my BFF) because I can’t find a way to change the situation, and I’ve yet to figure out a way to change my response to it. So, I guess you could say this post resonated with me!

    “Do not dwell in discontent,” is just about the best advice!
    Julie Bestry recently posted…Count on Accountability: 5 Productivity Support SolutionsMy Profile

    1. Sounds like you have made a great effort to break a habit in a rough situation with your co-worker. I love the way you decided to take the opposite, positive position. It’s crazy to realize that we actually have power in how we choose to deal with life’s various situations. Some issues are more challenging, and it is healthy to have a safe place to share your feelings. These may take more time to find a way forward. Nevertheless, we can be joyful in the midst by focusing our minds on the good things, and refusing to wallow. Thanks for the great comment!

  13. I especially liked your point – Do not let the reasons for your unhappiness become excuses for inaction.
    I have seen this with many of my clients and I would hate to look too closely at myself 😉

    1. I think we all tend to use our reasons as excuses, but at least we can be aware that this is happening, and then perhaps have a strategy ready to go when we recognize the pattern!

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