We all know those people who we sometimes dread talking to because all they do is complain. Maybe you are one of those people and don’t even realize it. Complaining about things – whether it be life, another person, politics – whatever it is, may seem self-serving. But is it? How does complaining help us? Does it? And if not, how do you break the complaint habit?

Becoming Aware

Recently, I attended a presentation by Soraya Morgan whose company, Brand Launcher (www.brandlauncher.com) was hired to open the morning portion of a rally for a new startup networking company.

Soraya talked about change and in her presentation handed out rubber bands. She asked each participant to wear the rubber band on a wrist and to make a commitment to switch the rubber band to the other wrist any time they caught themselves complaining.

This, I think is a great idea. If someone were to get into the habit of changing that rubber band to the other wrist each time they complained, it would increase awareness of the frequency of complaint. And with a commitment to stop complaining, this useless habit could be changed.

I’m interested in why complaining becomes a habit in the first place.  A habit is formed when the brain recognizes a pattern and then makes the pattern automatic.  Since the job of the brain is to survive, and since the conscious brain has a limited capacity for processing data, sending the pattern to the subconscious is very efficient. An efficient brain has a much better chance to survive.

So the complaint habit had to start from a pattern that the brain recognized. Bruce Lipton, in his book, The Biology of Belief stated that most of our beliefs (thought patterns that the brain has automated) are formed by age 7. This suggests that the complaint habit must have been formed by age 7.

Have you spent much time around kids?  Do they complain? In my experience, they complain.

A lot.

In fact, the complaint habit is probably one of the first ones formed. Up until the age of 7 or 8, children are very dependent.  Without support from an adult provider, most children would not survive. The role that the child plays in their own survival is to make requests for their wants.

One of Google’s definitions of complaint is “the expression of dissatisfaction”.

So, for a dependent child, complaint is a matter of survival.  Complaint, demand and blame are the tools of the dependent who is reliant upon the willingness of a provider to remedy their dissatisfaction.

Now we begin to see the problem with complaint. As adults, we wish to be independent (self-governing, autonomous, self-regulating, free, liberated). Independence requires a person to be 100% responsible for their own satisfaction. Retreat into complaint is regression into dependence.

I challenge you to refrain from indulging your complaint habit. You may notice that without complaint, you are left with the responsibility for your own satisfaction.  You may be surprised to find that you are fully capable of providing your own satisfaction.

In his book, The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg states that a habit has a cue, a routine and a reward. The cue for the complaint habit is dissatisfaction. The routine is to complain. Originally the reward was a shift from dissatisfaction to satisfaction. This cue, routine and reward is a formula for survival in an infant or small child. In an adult relationship, however, this habit is a formula for disaster.  When one person complains and the other person acts to remedy the complaint, dependence is formed. In codependent relationships, both parties complain and both parties react to the complaints of the other. These codependent relationships lead to resentment, blame, dysfunction and unhappiness.

Complaint says someone else “should” take care of me.  In the absence of complaint, one is left with 100% responsibility.  With complaint, disempowered. Without complaint, empowered.

Please pass me a rubber band. I want my power back.

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