The art of not complaining

“Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault, in this warped and crooked generation”

Philippians 2: 14-15

Do we really complain once a minute?

As Brits, we’re pretty good at grumbling, aren’t we? Whether it’s about the bad weather, bad traffic, bad traffic, or the bad politics around brexit … we often just love a good moan about things.

In fact research shows that most people complain about once a minute during a typical conversation.

Once a minute? I don’t feel like I complain that much (!!) but maybe that’s because it’s so habitual that we barely even notice it half the time. I don’t know…

But regardless of the accuracy of the science for measuring our negativity, I think that learning to grumble a bit less is an idea we can probably all get on board with.

Because the truth is that often we can be so quick to grumble about what we don’t have, to complain when things don’t work out as we think they should, and to let it overshadow all of God’s goodness to us, can’t we?

Not a new problem

And I don’t think this is a particularly new phenomenon either.

In fact, it’s a pattern that’s echoed again and again through the Old Testament, despite God’s continued supernatural protection and provision for His people.

I mean, just look at the book of exodus. God works so many miracles for the Israelites in the wilderness:

He guides them with a cloud to shelter them from the sun by day, and a pillar of fire to light their way by night.

He supernaturally provides them with manna and quail from heaven to eat daily, and clean water to drink drawn from rocks.

He sends His physical presence to journey with them, and a set of rules to guide their way too.

And He even delivers them from their Egyptian enemies by parting a sea before them.

But still … they are so quick to forget, to take it for granted, and to fall back into grumbling and complaining about their circumstances again.

Isn’t that so crazy, so short-sighted but also, just so human? In many ways, I actually fit it reassuring as well because I’m not sure my attitude is often so different from theirs.

Complaining is contagious

And the thing about complaining is that it’s really contagious. Negativity breeds more negativity.

In fact, research shows that repeated complaining actually rewires your brain towards a tendency to be negative, regardless of what’s actually happening around you!!

And that, in turn, also influences other people’s behaviour as well as your own.

What’s more, it’s also pretty bad for your health. Experts will tell you that whenever you complain your body releases a stress hormone called cortisol, which raises your blood pressure.

And too much of this hormone in your system makes you more susceptible to a range of health conditions including high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and stroke.

Pretty scary, huh?

So when this verse from Philippians implores us to ‘do everything without complaining or arguing’ it really is talking some good sense!

The simple truth is that complaining and arguing doesn’t do anything good for us at all.

But what about when things plainly suck?

Trying not to complain might well be good for our physical and mental health, and better for those around us too, but it’s still a tall order to do everything with grumbling or complaining.

Because let’s face it, sometimes things that happen in life can just plainly suck or be really unfair.

And what does not complaining really look like in practice, anyway? Just denying our feelings and being phoney positive, even when we actually feel deflated, discouraged or low?

Personally I don’t think so.

It’s got to be okay to be real if you’re having a hard time with something. Aside from anything else, telling someone that you’re struggling gives them permission to come alongside you, to encourage you, and to help.

But also, I think that who we choose to share with and the way that we choose to talk about problems really matters; it definitely shouldn’t look like grumbling or complaining to anyone who will listen…

How can you quit complaining?

I know that it’s easier to be positive when everything in life is going well.

But let’s be honest, if you wait til all of the conditions are perfect to start trying, it may just never happen.

Much better to learn how to be more positive, right in the midst of life’s challenges.

And I am certainly no expert on this. Truthfully, I am writing this blog post because I feel deeply challenged about the subject, but also as a sloooooow work in progress!

But the single best antidote to complaining that I have ever found is to proactively cultivate an attitude of gratitude instead.

So now, every time I feel a grumble or complaint stirring up inside me, I am trying to actively choose to shift my attention to something I am grateful for instead.

And honestly, it’s hard to do this at first, it feels a bit counter-intuitive and a bit like swimming against the natural tide.

But do you know what? The more you do it, the easier it gets – so why not join me and decide to start practising it today?

3 tips to help you quit complaining…

1. Keep a gratitude journal. Use it regularly (daily at first if you can) to keep a list of all of the things you are grateful for. And try to spend a few moments reflecting on this at the end of each day.

2. Turn negatives on their head. Practice finding a positive response to every negative you think, speak out or hear someone else say. It takes a lot of energy to see the good side of everything at first, but the more you do this, the more your brain will rewire itself to be more positive.

3. Find an accountability partner

There is nothing like a bit of self awareness to help you break a bad habit, so find someone close to you to be an accountability partner for you in this, such as your partner, or a close friend. Ask them to challenge you every time they hear you grumble or complain about something, be it large or small. It really will make you think twice before you open your mouth.

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