Wondering why you hate your job? It’s possible you’re venting about it a little too much.
Most people like to engage in a little light complaining about their jobs. But there are good reasons to resist the urge — or at least, to dial back the frequency of those venting sessions.
The habit of complaining is anything but benign. It can hold you back in your career in all kinds of different ways. It often isn’t until you stop complaining about work that you realize the full impact.
“If we do not like our work, and do not try to get happiness out of it, we are a menace to our profession as well as to ourselves.” – Helen Keller
Complaining about work is common.
Just because something is normal, that doesn’t mean it’s right, much less good for you. People complain all the time, about 30 times a day on average, according to researchers. It’s safe to assume that, for many of these folks, a fair share of the griping is about work.
Just like any other habit, the habit of complaining is strengthened through repetition. The more you do it, the more it seems normal and the more you’ll tend to keep it up. The groove is carved even deeper if you’re surrounded by other people who complain a lot about their job, too. This further helps to normalize the behavior in your mind. You may start feeling as though everyone complains about work — so you won’t think twice about doing so yourself.
There are reasons people fall into the habit. It can feel as though it’s serving a purpose. Maybe you do it as a way of letting others know you had a bad day. Or, maybe you think that you’re showing everyone that you’re working hard when you complain. If you didn’t, how would they know what a difficult day you had? Perhaps you do it to fit in on the job, chiming in when your coworkers complain. Or, maybe you’re simply giving voice to the negative thoughts that cross your mind about your job, honestly expressing your feelings to those around you.
However, there are better ways to meet these needs and send the right signals to others. Complaining isn’t serving you well, professionally or otherwise. Don’t be mislead by the fact that it can be a common practice.
How complaining affects your career:
- It affects your mood. Complaining about your job doesn’t serve as a release. It’s not like swearing when you stub your toe, which can actually help to soothe the pain. It doesn’t make you feel better. In fact, just the opposite is true. Researchers have found that complaining worsens, or even causes, stress. Because of this, it not only negatively affects your emotions, but also your behavior and even your physical health.
- Others are dragged down by your complaining. Humans are empathetic. So, when you complain, it encourages others to do the same. They want to help you feel better by showing that you’re not alone. Or, maybe they want you to know they’re having a difficult time at work, too. No matter how you cut it, you certainly aren’t lifting others up and helping them to feel good when you complain. Instead, you’re steering things in a more negative direction.
- It’s damaging to your professional reputation. The truth is that not everyone complains about work. Many realize it isn’t a helpful way to navigate the world and they try to avoid it. Others simply enjoy their work or are too engrossed with it to spend time and energy complaining. So, there are some people, maybe even quite a lot of people, who really won’t like it when you complain. They’ll see you as negative or immature or as a burden to the rest of the team. Your professional reputation will suffer.
- You learn to focus on the negative. Our brains have enough of a negativity bias as it is. We’re predisposed to remember negative things more than positive things because doing so has benefited our survival over time. If you had a perfectly lovely day today — except for the part where a tiger attacked you — it would make sense to remember exactly where and when you saw that tiger. However, most of us are lucky enough not to be fighting for our physical survival on a daily basis anymore, so there are lots of ways this bias holds us back more than it serves us.
5 ways to stop complaining:
Don’t worry if you aren’t able to stop complaining about work altogether. Even doing so less often could make a big difference in how you feel and function. Just like leaning into complaining encourages more of the same, leaning away from it helps make it easier to move further and further in that direction, too. Here are some tips for pointing yourself the right way:
1. Always remember why it matters.
Complaining might seem harmless at first. But you know better now that you’ve explored the impact and learned just how damaging it can really be. So, remember why you’re trying to keep your complaining to a minimum.
Your words and actions have a real impact on your life and your career. Focusing on what’s working rather than what isn’t can help you make progress toward your goals. Dragging yourself and others down with complaints isn’t a positive habit and it won’t help you get where you’d like to go. So, try to catch yourself before you start complaining and remind yourself of why it’s better to skip it.
Also, resist the urge to jump in when others are complaining. It may be tempting to commiserate, but there are better ways to deal with negative coworkers than joining in. Be positive and compassionate instead. And, try to keep your distance from especially negative people. You know enough about complaining to know that their bad attitude can be somewhat contagious.
2. Vow to improve, not to be perfect.
You don’t have to stop complaining entirely in order to reap positive rewards in your professional life. Cutting back is a great place to start. One way to really set this kind of change into motion is to promise yourself to complain as little as possible.
You won’t be perfect at it right away. Or, ever. But, some fundamental changes will happen immediately. You’ll begin to be more aware of your tendency to complain. You’ll notice when you do it and why you do it. You might start to notice that you complain more around some people than you do around others. You may find that you’re more likely to complain at some times of day, or on certain days of the week. Over time, you’ll begin to build a much better understanding of your own tendencies and habits. And that will go along way toward helping you to make new and better choices.
3. Manage negative thinking.
Pledging not to complain, without addressing negative thinking, is like trying to clear the smoke out of a burning house without addressing the fire.
Complaining starts with negative thoughts. When you give voice to them, they become even more powerful. But, the thoughts themselves get the whole process rolling. Plus, even if you don’t speak up, negative thinking, in and of itself, can hold you back. The process is self-perpetuating.
“The principle is simple: Throughout your brain there is a collection of synapses separated by empty space called the synaptic cleft. Whenever you have a thought, one synapse shoots a chemical across the cleft to another synapse, thus building a bridge over which an electric signal can cross, carrying along its charge the relevant information you’re thinking about,” explained Steven Parton in a piece on the science of happiness for Psych Pedia.
Parton went on to explain how having a thought can encourage similar lines of thinking to expand and multiply in the future. In fact, the idea that “synapses that fire together wire together” actually means that your thoughts have a profound impact on the way you experience and perceive the world around you.
“Here’s the kicker: Every time this electrical charge is triggered, the synapses grow closer together in order to decrease the distance the electrical charge has to cross. This is a microcosmic example of evolution, of adaptation. The brain is rewiring its own circuitry, physically changing itself, to make it easier and more likely that the proper synapses will share the chemical link and thus spark together – in essence, making it easier for the thought to trigger. Therefore, your first mystical scientific evidence: your thoughts reshape your brain, and thus are changing a physical construct of reality,” he continued.
So, manage your negative thinking for best results when you’re trying to complain less. More awareness goes a long way. And, practicing things like exercise and meditation regularly can help you think more positively, too.
4. Don't avoid uncomfortable feelings.
Complaining less doesn’t mean shoving all your negative feelings down and trying to ignore them. Sure, it’s great to focus on the positive. However, uncomfortable feelings that persist may be trying to tell you something, and you shouldn’t ignore them.
Thinking and acting in more positive ways should make it easier for you to face the things about your job that aren’t working. Complaining that you can’t stand your boss likely won’t do you any good, for example. But, ignoring that reality won’t help either. Instead, be honest with yourself about how you feel. Then, focus on moving forward. Work in the direction of making real concrete changes. Maybe you’re ready to look for a new job? Or, perhaps you have some innovative ideas that you can share with your boss in an effort to move your relationship to a new place.
Use those negative feelings to help you make positive changes. Doing this, rather than complaining, can change your life and your career.
5. Reflect regularly.
Setting goals is important. But, if you don’t reflect on your own progress, you probably won’t get very far. So, be sure to invest this kind of reflective time when you’ve vowed to complain less.
You could keep a journal, or a list on your phone, or you could also do this processing in more informal ways. The important thing is to think about how you’re doing with your complaining. When are you able to resist and when do you still give in to the temptation? What happens when you complain? How does it make you feel?
Talking with others who share your understanding about the importance of staying engaged in a positive way at work might also be helpful. Identify a few friends of colleagues who share this sensibility and chat with them about it once in a while. Their example can also serve as encouragement to continue.
— Gina Belli
This story originally appeared on PayScale.