Stop Complaining. Take Control. Reprogram Your Brain.

Two workers sit down and open their lunch boxes. The first one says, “I got a meatloaf sandwich for lunch. I hate meatloaf.” The next day she opens her lunchbox, and exclaims, “Another meatloaf sandwich! I can’t stand meatloaf.” On the third day, yet another meatloaf sandwich shows up in the lunchbox.

Her friend says, “Why don’t you just ask your husband to make something else for lunch instead of complaining about it every day?”
“I make my own lunch.” She replies.

If you’re unhappy, change something. You are in control.

You look out the window and see that its rainy and cold. That’s an observation. But then you say out loud, “It sucks that it’s rainy and cold today.” Now you’re adding a negative descriptor. On the other hand, if you add “Looks like winter is coming. I can’t wait to go skiing!” then you’ve added a positive twist.

Complaining is self-reinforcing. Complaining begets complaining. And the more you complain, the more you look for things to complain about. The more we reinforce those negative neural pathways, the more available and accessible they become. Sound like anyone you know if your life?

Even if you’re not naturally a complainer, the topics you choose to talk about can set you down a negative mental path. About 30 times a day, we complain about all kinds of things. Topics such as our weight, the weather, traffic, prices, crime, politicians, health care, government, the image of America in the world, environment pollution, and views on the police, all prompt more negative inclinations in our minds.

Initiating discussions on these topics are more likely to put you in a bad mood, and more likely to bum out the people around you, because our moods are contagious. Constantly focusing on what goes wrong, or what you don’t like, or who offended you, or how the chef ruined your meal, simply perpetuates a conversation about what’s wrong.

The average person has no awareness of their own complaining. According to Will Bowen, it’s like bad breath. You are only aware of someone else’s, not your own.

This isn’t a message to shut up, and suck it up. This is a message to stick to the facts, not indignation. When you say to the waiter, “Why did you serve me cold soup?” you are saying How dare you offend me like this? When you say to the waiter, “Did you know the soup is cold?” you are saying Would you please warm this up for me? Focusing on complaining is focusing on the problem. Focusing on facts is focusing on solutions.

Guy Winch, Ph.D. says people enjoy complaining because they find it a bonding mechanism. Winch says, “complaints can make us feel like we connect with someone because we have a mutual dissatisfaction about something.”

The most important thing to remember is that you are responsible for making your own luck.

Here’s a trick to get started. Take the 21-day Complaint-Free Challenge. It’s pretty straighforward. You put on the bracelet on either wrist. If you complain, you switch to the other hand. It gives you an instant awareness of your complaint level.

And if you think your life is too stressful and crazy to start a challenge like this, I’ll tell you I’m only going to the gym after I get in shape. The time for taking charge of your life is always now.


Our company Mindscaling, is busy building powerful human and digital learning experiences for companies of all sizes. My new book Small Acts of Leadership, is a Washington Post bestseller! You can grab a copy now. Have a meeting coming up? I love to work with groups large and small. Let’s talk.

In other news, our son and I bicycled across America with two other dads and their teenagers. We published a new book about it called Chasing Dawn. I co-authored the book with my cycling companion, the artist, photographer, and wonderful human jon holloway. Buy a copy. I’ll sign it and send it to your doorstep.