This a tough one. The idea is simple but far from easy: stop complaining. Stop complaining about everything — the weather, the traffic, your kids, your partner, your customers, your boss, your coworkers, your neighbors, the economy, your losing team, those damn Democrats, those damn Republicans, the Kardashians, the IRS, kids these days…you get the idea. We are all guilty of this, even though we know complaining usually doesn’t fix or improve anything.
Yes, there’s a place for constructive negative feedback, if you’re directly addressing the person or institution in a mature and calm way, with the intention to effect a positive change. There’s also a place for limited healthy venting with a trusted confidante. But that’s not what most of us do. What I’m talking about is the incessant griping and complaining to anyone who will listen about things we can’t control. The constant toxic spewing of negativity and judgement that seems to erupt whenever humans get together, especially on social media.
I first realized how much I was affected by — and contributing to — constant complaining years ago at my restaurant job. As anyone who has ever worked in a restaurant knows, the kitchen is where all the employees vent. (If you’ve ever as a customer asked for, say…hot tea with honey and extra lemon in the middle of a busy rush, you can bet your server is bitching about you in the back.) It’s normal to let off a little steam if you work in a service job where you can’t complain directly to the paying guests who provide your livelihood without getting fired. But because complaining is a noxious and contagious habit, it quickly infects the entire staff and becomes the default mode of communication.
At my job, we servers complained about everything — the customers, the cooks, the managers, the bussers, the dishwashers, the hostesses. We complained about bad tips and messy kids, special orders and 2 for 1 coupons, being seated too much or not enough. We complained if it was so busy we were all running around like maniacs, and we complained if it was so slow nobody was making any money. We complained if we got cut too early, or if we had to stay too late. We complained about having to do sidework, and we complained that nobody else doing enough.
The crazy thing is that this is all just normal business as usual in the restaurant industry, and we all knew that. This is what we knowingly signed up for. But by constantly complaining we made the job seem even worse than it was, and made ourselves and each other miserable. As you can imagine, the vibe in the kitchen was usually pretty low.
Then I came across the movement A Complaint Free World and was intrigued by the idea and excited that there might be a different way. The program was founded by Rev. Will Bowen, who wanted a way to inspire his congregation to develop more gratitude by complaining less. He realized that it’s very difficult to be grateful for the things that are going well if we’re focused on complaining about the things that aren’t. He challenged people to go complaint-free for 21 days, and to help them break the habit he came up with the idea of wearing a specially-made purple bracelet. It’s very simple: every time you catch yourself complaining, you move the bracelet to the other wrist.
I was stoked to try this and ordered my bracelet and started wearing it to work. I was appalled to realize how many times during a typical shift I would catch myself complaining! Wearing the bracelet really helped me become more aware and helped me cut down. But was I able to stop completely?
I would love to write a happy ending here and report that I finally made it through 21 days without complaining, and that my positivity spread through the entire staff, and we all now hold hands and sing kumbaya and talk about how grateful we are to have a job at all. But it turns out that complaining is more stubborn a habit than I thought, and it’s something I still struggle with.
So dear readers and fellow complainers, let’s try working on this together! Just for today, put a rubber band on your wrist and switch it to the other side every time you catch yourself complaining about something. If you want to join the movement and be a force for positive change, check out A Complaint Free World and find out more.