Banishing The Complaining Habit

“If you have time to whine and complain about something then you have the time to do something about it.”
Anthony J. D’Angelo, author of “The College Blue Book”

As I speak to hundreds of organizations and thousands of people across the country, I’ve learned that complaining is at an all-time high. I suppose that’s why my keynote and seminar on “The Leadership Payoff: How The Best Leaders Bring Out The Best In Others … And So Can You” has become so popular.

The economy has shaken many people’s sense of security. Our leaders don’t seem to have the answers to fix the problem. And so complaining goes on the upswing.

But even if the economy was good, the world would still have negative, whining, complaining people … because complaining has become a habit for way too many people. As William A. Bennett quoted an anonymous poet in “The Book of Virtues,”

“The ones who miss out on the fun
Are those who say, ‘It can’t be done.’
In solemn praise they stand aloof
And greet each venture with reproof.
Had they the power they’d efface
The history of the human race.
We’d have no radio or motor cars,
No streets lit by electric stars;
No telegraph or telephone,
We’d linger in the age of stone.
The world would sleep if things were run
By those who say, ‘It can’t be done.'”

As we’re about to feast this week of Thanksgiving, let me make a radical suggestion. Go on a complaining fast. Don’t utter a single negative comment for an entire week. It may be one of the hardest things you will ever do, but it will also be one of the most rewarding things you’ll ever do.

Of course, you may be wondering HOW you can stop the complaining habit, or you may be wondering what you can do INSTEAD of complaining. Try these five techniques.

=> 1. Practice an attitude of gratitude.

You’ve probably heard the old song that says, “Count your blessings, one by one.” Turns out that advice was not only theologically correct but scientifically correct as well. Research shows that when you count three blessings a day, you get a measurable boost in your energy, your spirit, and your overall happiness. It’s physiologically impossible to be stressed and thankful at the same time.

So if you’re practicing an attitude of gratitude, you can’t be negative. You will also energize and engage your coworkers by letting them know you are grateful for them and their work.

=> 2. Appreciate yourself.

Instead of being your own worst enemy, try being your own best friend. Instead of putting yourself down for all your shortcomings and mistakes, pump yourself up for the good that lies within you.

This may not be easy. After all, as a child, you were probably cautioned about “tooting your own horn” or being conceited. Again, not bad advice, but taken to the extreme, you fail to give yourself credit when credit is due or beat yourself up for the smallest of mistakes. And that shuts down your heart, contracts your energy, decreases your happiness, and feeds your complaining habit.

One way to start appreciating yourself is to stand in front of a mirror and talk to yourself at least once a day every day. Tell yourself, “You’re kind … You’re patient … You’re compassionate … You’re a hard worker” or whatever you appreciate about yourself.

You may feel uncomfortable, silly, and stupid. In fact, the more uncomfortable you feel, the more you need to work on appreciating yourself. But over a period of time, it will become easier to list reasons for liking and loving yourself.

And it’s a mighty healthy thing to do. Even the Bible taught 2000 years ago that “You should love your neighbor as YOURSELF.” More recently, the psychiatrist Dr. Nathaniel Branden re-affirmed that teaching when he asked, “How do we keep our inner fire alive? It takes an ability to appreciate the positives in our life … Every day, it’s important to ask and answer this question: ‘What’s good in my life?’”

Branden is right. But he also alluded to the next thing you’ve got to do to break the complaining habit. You’ve got to …

=> 3. Be action oriented.

The happiest, most successful, most esteemed, and most respected people are action oriented. They simply don’t waste their time complaining. Instead of wasting one precious moment complaining about what is not working, these people invest their time learning and doing … and then learning and doing some more. They get in the habit of getting good ideas and acting on those ideas.

Somehow or other, non-complaining people have learned what President Franklin Roosevelt learned. As he said, “Happiness lies in the joy of achievement and the thrill of creative effort.”

When I quoted Dr. Branden above, I only gave you half his quote. His entire quote went like this: “How do we keep our inner fire alive? Two things, at minimum, are needed: an ability to appreciate the positives in our life … and a commitment to action. Every day, it’s important to ask and answer these questions: ‘What’s good in my life?’ and ‘What needs to be done?’”

So ask yourself what needs to be done and do it. Develop a sense of urgency. After all, time is one of the most valuable commodities you’ll ever have, and when you get right down to it, every business seminar has something to do with using your time more effectively and more efficiently. The better you use your time, the more action oriented you are, the less complaining you will do.

And that will never be more true than those times you …

=> 4. Serve others.

Bill Lee is one of my role models when it comes to this point. Bill says, “Based on my experience … the best and least expensive cure for depression is to be proactive about doing something for someone who is worse off than you are.” And Bill knows what he’s talking about.

But let me tell who Bill Lee is. He’s one of eight members of an elite group known as “Master Speakers International,” eight professional speakers who are tops in their field and a household name to millions. I’ve had the privilege of being one of those eight members for the last twelve years, and those seven other people have blessed my life and my career in ways I never could have imagined.

Bill taught me that one of the best ways to stop complaining is to start serving others. Eleven years ago, Bill was introduced to mission work at an orphanage in Mexico. Since then, in addition to his full-time speaking and consulting business, Bill has made 50 trips to Mexico to work with the orphaned and abandoned children of Casa Hogar La Familia … all at his own expense.

As Bill puts it, “I can’t possibly say enough about the personal benefits of giving service to others. I have learned so much about happiness from a group of 30 children who have no material things whatsoever.” No toys. No electronics. No brand-name clothing. In fact, each child has a cubby hole in their dorm room that is 15 inches wide and 36 inches high that contains 100% of everything they own.

“And I tell you this,” Bill continues, “these same children are enormously happy. They almost never fight … cry … or complain. I never return from a mission trip that I am not amazed … compared to other nations in the world … how rich we are in this country … and how much time we spend complaining that we don’t have even MORE.”

Because most of these children have been abandoned by their parents … virtually all of them have good reasons to be bitter and selfish. Yet they’re not. They are amazingly generous in their service to others.

Take Arturo, for example. Bill has seen him grow from age 5 to his present age of 16. Arturo is the second oldest of four children … all of whom have lived at La Familia virtually all of their lives. And like the other children, Arturo has no personal possessions.

During one of the mission trips Bill led to La Familia, one of his team mates gave Arturo a straw hat he had purchased to wear while in Mexico. On the last day of our mission trip, they bought a large cake and had a big birthday party for all of the children who were celebrating birthdays during that particular month. One of the birthday boys was named Cesar.

During the celebration, Arturo came running over to the man who had given him the hat and was rattling off a mile a minute in Spanish. The man didn’t speak any Spanish, so he asked Bill what Arturo was saying. Bill told him that Arturo wanted permission to give his hat to Cesar as a birthday present.

You have to understand … Arturo loved that hat. He wore it every minute of the day. He even slept in the hat. After all, that straw hat represented 100% of everything Arturo owned in this world, yet he wanted to give it to Cesar as a gift.

As Bill finished his commentary, he said, “Living a life that includes being of service to others … is always more beneficial to the giver … than it is to the recipient.” You learn to practice an attitude of gratitude when you’re serving others and you just naturally stop the complaining habit.


=> 5. Change things for the better.

As writer Maya Angelou advises, “If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. Don’t complain.” She couldn’t be more right.

Jill Blashack Strahan, the President of Tastefully Simple, and Kay Watson, one of her consultants, call it “Divine Discontent.” Effective, productive, successful people focus on “kaizen” or continuous improvement instead of complaining.

As Jill says, “Divine Discontent. What an absolutely awesome phrase. I love being with people who have Divine Discontent, people who are always looking for ways to improve and are never quite satisfied because they know they can always be better.”

Of course, some people might say, “Whew! That sounds like too much work … always trying to improve things. Why can’t you just accept the fact that life can be a real bummer? And what’s so wrong with blowing off a little steam once in a while and do some griping when griping is justified?”

Well, Jill knows there are some tough things in life that can’t be changed. She says, “Accepting the things we can’t change is the key to peace and contentment. Sometimes we have to be willing to lie down in the water and let the current take us where it flows.”

HOWEVER, “When we look for ways to make things better, it’s like pushing against something to build a muscle. That creates positive results. Divine Discontent is knowing that there are so many things you can change … for the better.” And doing them. Then, Jill concludes, “Life becomes one big candy store!”

This may be Thanksgiving week with an official “Thanksgiving” day. That’s nice. But what really counts is making your life a “Thanksgiving” life that is free of complaints. And you can start by implementing these 5 strategies today.

Action:  Find someone to serve this week who is worse off than you are.