Practicing with the Complaining Habit

By Leo Babauta

We often can spot complainers, when it’s other people — they’re the kind of people who always seem to be complaining, negative, stuck in victimhood.

It’s harder to see it when we’re the ones who are complaining so often. And in fact, in my experience most of us are in the habit of complaining, either out loud or to ourselves. Myself included.

I’ve seen people who have gone on a “Complaining Diet” — where they don’t let themselves complain for a month. This is incredible practice. However, if we simply try to stop the complaining, we miss a wonderful opportunity to bring mindfulness to the process.

For example: if we are complaining, what is the emotion underneath the complaint? Could we practice being with that? Could we be with the fear that is at the root of the emotion?

With this kind of mindfulness practice, the complaint becomes an opportunity to be with our experience, to be with our fears and emotions, instead of simply shutting down a part of ourselves.

Let’s take a look.

Why We Complain

We complain when we don’t like things the way they are. This is essentially saying, “Things are not the way I want them. I want things my way!” So the complaint is a frustration, irritation, anger that we’re not getting our way.

What’s wrong with not getting our way? Are we so entitled? In fact, there’s nothing wrong with things not going our way — but there’s a fear that we won’t be OK if things aren’t the way we want them. We fear not having control over things.

So we feel this fear of a lack of control, a fear that we won’t be OK if we don’t get our way. We then feel frustration, irritation, anger.

Then we create a narrative about how things shouldn’t be this way, they should be some other way. They shouldn’t act that way, why do they always do that? I should be better, I shouldn’t be this way.

In fact, this is what’s happening when we try to get rid of our complaining — we feel that there’s something wrong with us when we complain. So we need to change, because we shouldn’t be this way.

Getting rid of complaint is essentially a form of complaint.

The Opportunity to Practice

So the practice is simply to be with what is.

That means that when we feel complaint, we can be with the feeling of not liking things the way they are. We can be with our irritation, frustration, anger. We can be with our fear underneath all of that, the fear that we won’t be OK if we don’t have control.

We can be with our narrative about how the other person should act differently, or that we should be different than we are.

Once we’ve done all of that … we can then be with the person or the situation, just as they are or just as it is.

We can be with what is. It’s as simple as that: open our awareness and simply rest in what we can perceive, just as it is, relaxing with it. Maybe even finding gratitude in it.

This is a beautiful practice. A lifetime practice.

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