Slow internet, a rainy forecast, an annoying favor for your sister (ugh)—it’s almost too easy to fall into a spiral of complaining. Sure, it feels cathartic in the moment, but we know it’s not productive, and we certainly know how grating it can be for those around us (just think of the help-rejecting complainers you’ve put up with). But how exactly do we kick this beloved pastime? We asked wellness coach Laura Buckley how to stop complaining, and turns out, it’s one of her favorite questions to answer. Here’s what she told us.
Why do we like complaining so much?
“Complaining initially leaves us feeling a bit uplifted because it creates a false sense of superiority, whether we recognize it or not,” says Buckley. This accounts for that cathartic but ephemeral feeling.
But is complaining actually that bad for us?
“Complaining literally drains brainpower,” Buckley says. Seriously. She explains, “Our brain is naturally more attuned to the negative because it helps with survival, but when we spend a lot of time complaining about things that aren’t true threats, we start to notice those things more and more.” And here’s the catch: Even though the object of your complaints (see: all that paperwork) is not a threat to survival, it winds up increasing stress levels and affecting our mood—which does affect our health. Buckley refers to this as the net-negative effect: “We end up feeling victimized and powerless, which snowballs into defeat and becoming uninspired to make the lifestyle changes we deeply desire.”
How to stop complaining once and for all
Good news: Complaining, like biting your nails or cracking your knuckles, is a bad habit that can be broken. Here are Buckley’s tips for breaking the complaining cycle.
1. Freeze-frame mid-complaint
Breaking the habit starts with awareness, guides Buckley: “We have to recognize our complaining before we can change it.” When you catch yourself complaining, push pause on your mouth and redirect the conversation with something like, “You know what? I’m just complaining. Let’s talk about something else.”
2. Ask yourself what’s the want behind the complaint
“Inside every complaint is a request or a want,” Buckley tells us. Think of it this way: When we don’t like the way something is, it’s because we want it to be different. Put your finger on the real want of the situation. Instead of taking the shortcut (complaining), put yourself in the driver’s seat and pinpoint your actual want. For example, if your complaint is “My husband never helps around the house, and I’m doing EVERYTHING,” maybe the real desire behind the complaint is “I would like some help around the house.” Or better yet, Buckley recommends getting even more specific: “I would love if my husband helped with the nightly bedtime routine.”
3. Focus on what you can control
When we complain, we usually focus on things that are completely (or mostly) outside our control (the traffic, other people’s work ethics, COVID-19). “The key,” Buckley explains, “is to put your attention onto what is in your control.” For example, let’s say we’re talking about traffic—something out of our control. We can control what time we leave the house, what route we take and what podcast we’ll listen to on the way.
4. Rewire your brain by practicing gratitude
We’ve all read about the power of mindful gratitude—hell, it can even save marriages. Buckley also strongly advocates rewiring our brains for positivity. “Gratitude is a powerful antidote to complaining,” she says. “And best yet, it’s super simple: Just jot down three to five things you’re grateful for every day.” Sounds easy enough, but if you need some training wheels, consider something like a Panda Planner.