I just happened to be walking past the TV not too long ago and saw the Today show’s third hour, the one where they deal with less serious topics. The anchors were talking about something they were doing all week, a “complaint cleanse.” Turns out, they were inspired by a social-media post from a poet. That poet, Cleo Wade, you might say, complained about complaining: “Complaints have no magic,” she wrote, “They don’t make anyone’s day better, and they don’t help any situation.”
I agree. It’s so easy to find fault, look down on, and outright diss other people and their ideas and efforts. And it can become a bad habit—one that I’ve fallen into myself and more often than I’d care to admit.
Here are three things I’m going to do as part of my own “complaint cleanse,” and I invite you to join me. Start now, and we can all head into the summer with good will in our hearts and sweet words on the tips of our tongues.
1. Get your attitude as clean and uncluttered as you want your house to be.
I admit I can be a complainer sometimes—everybody does it—but when I analyze why, it’s usually because I feel powerless in a given situation. Think about that and be a little empathetic toward people you have power or control over, such as children or entry-level employees. Are they complaining because they’re mean tempered, or because they need a little more agency and decision-making power over their lives? To paraphrase Marie Kondo, look at your attitude, and if any of it doesn’t bring other people joy, toss it in the trash and clean house.
2. Remember what the good stuff is and encourage it.
Try keeping a gratitude journal, or at the very least pay extra special attention and take note of what people around you are doing right, what you appreciate about your spouse, children, pets, customers, employees, and friends. What you yourself have achieved, dreamed, and tried that you should be proud of. Now put those assets to work and give those people a challenge or an opportunity—knowing you believe in them, as a parent, colleague, friend, or employer that could help them close the distance between great and even greater heights.
3. Stop giving your problems all the power.
Rather than simmering under the constant heat of imperfections, hold reverse grudges. When a complaint wafts up toward your lips, bite it back and think about how to say something affirmative instead. If you are mindful of the positive and never forget what you have in your life to be grateful for, it will be right there on the tip of your tongue. And the more you practice reverse grudges, the more the people around you will take note.
Complaining can become a way of life, a bad habit, a fallback way of communication among groups of people with common grievances. Occasionally it’s a good idea to empty the cache, so to speak. Cleanse the complaints and start fresh.