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Everyone complains - How to Break the Cycle of Complaining

Mon, May 14, 2018 at 1:00AM

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Everyone complains from time to time, but when we get stuck in a cycle of complaining over something how can we break out from that cycle?

This was what my friend asked me the other day. After our conversation I thought I would dig a bit deeper into the subject and write a post.

In the post I write about the cycle of negative thinking that is the underlying mechanism at play.

Please give it a read and let me know what you think!


Sometimes I find myself slipping into a cycle of negativity, this could be as moderate as being irritated and complaining or as severe as depression or anxiety. I’ve noticed that regardless of the severity, the mechanism is similar if not the same. These negative mindsets are maintained by a cycle of negative thoughts.

Recently, a friend brought up the subject of complaining. She found herself in an unfavorable career situation and was complaining about it to people, but she felt that complaining was bad and so she further became frustrated that she was complaining!

I’ve been there many times.

It is easy to complain. Sometimes people use it to start a conversation and bond over their mutual dissatisfaction with a situation. Some people do it so often they don’t even realize it, it has become a habit for them. Our society is fond of complaining about any number of things, just take a look at your Facebook feed or news media for some examples.

Complaining can be a social activity, but I notice that I also complain to myself through my thoughts. When I felt stuck in my last job, I certainly complained to myself quite a bit. At first I would judge myself for complaining. I believed that complaining was bad and wanted to end the habit, but judging myself for it was almost like complaining about complaining!

Instead of judging, I worked on simply observing my thoughts and emotions without any labels or intent to change them. That gave me the space to reflect on the situation, I realized that complaining was keeping me complacent: instead of using my energy to take action and change the situation, my energy went to complaining.

After that realization, I recognized that in order to change the situation I had to first accept where I was (stop complaining) and start looking at the options I had for change.

This brings to mind one of my favorite expressions: “If you can do something about it, why worry? If you can’t do anything about it, why worry?” The point is that when confronted with a situation you can either choose take action or practice patience, worrying does not provide any benefit.

Complaining is similar to worrying. While worrying deals with future possibilities that are concerning, complaining deals with present scenarios that are unsatisfactory. Both are mental occupations that involve thinking about something over and over – rumination.

The key to ending the cycle of complaining is to switch from rumination to reflection. Through reflection you can learn about yourself and what change you would wish to see from the situation. While rumination focuses on the problem, reflection finds the solutions.

 

Shifting from Rumination to Reflection

First: become the observer. Just watch your thoughts and feelings without intent to change them. Notice how they behave and transition. This also separates you 1 step from the thoughts and emotions.

Second: accept the feelings you are observing. Notice what caused them and accept that whatever event “made” you feel that way. (I put quotes because nothing makes us feel a certain way without our allowance, but nonetheless we are emotional creatures.)

Third: reflect on the observations. Beyond the initial cause of them, what is upholding the feelings? Are your thoughts perpetuating the emotion and/or making you feel worse? Sometimes I notice that I get attached to a feeling or emotion: when I was younger I would become depressed and continue digging deeper down into it through my thoughts – a negative cycle for sure, there was a subtle self pity feeling that was weirdly addictive, that’s the best I can describe it anyway. When I realized that I was in fact making myself feel that way through my cycle of thinking, I was able to let that go and stop beating myself up or using my imagination of the future to bring me further down.

 

Remember, negative thought patterns such as complaining function as a cycle. Starting with an external condition or event and our resulting reaction to it, something like this:

External situation or event → initial reaction (emotion) → thinking about external situation or event (and how bad it is etc) → secondary reaction to thinking about it (emotion) → …

After the initial event our thinking takes the place of the initial event in causing us to feel worse. We dig ourselves deeper into the feelings of the initial reaction by continuing to think about the initial cause and all the potential implications that we can imagine.

Since it is our own thoughts that perpetuate the cycle of negativity, we can also choose to break the cycle by changing the way we think. Make the shift in perspective and choose to reflect instead of ruminate.

 

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