The Secret Payoff of Complaining

whinyWe all have areas in our lives that we persistently bitch, moan and complain about.  We say we want these areas to be different (“I  can’t lose these 20 pounds!”  “How come there are no good men out there?”  ”I hate my job!”) But alas, these are the areas of life where we just seem STUCK!  We have all of our reasons for why we can’t find the time to eat right and exercise, why a good relationship is impossible to achieve, and why we need to remain in a job or career that sucks the life out of us.

Consider the possibility that the source of much of your suffering in your life is YOU!  Consider that the reasons you can’t change that which you are chronically complaining about, is because you are buying into a story that your mind convinces you is the TRUTH.  We have a voice in our minds, that I call the Inner Critic, that tells us a story about our lives, but convinces us that the story is real.  This voice says things like, “If I leave my current relationship, I will be alone forever.” Or “I can’t be happy until I find my true calling.”  Not only do we identify with the story of our inner critic, but we also listen to its advice about how to deal with these “truths”.  And, usually the way our inner critic has us deal with it is to play it safe unless there is a guarantee that life will turn out exactly the way you want it to.

According to Margie Warrell of, “Advances in brain imaging technology have enabled neuro-scientists to prove that we are wired to over estimate the size of risks and under estimate our ability to handle them. Accordingly, our choices are often driven more by a fear of what we don’t want, than a commitment to what we do.”  We chronically complain, and yet don’t take action to make changes, because we are afraid to take risks.

Most people don’t know that the reason we are afraid to take risks, and hold on to their complaints, is that they are in some way validating the inner critic’s story.  The repetitive, persistent complaints allow you to avoid personal responsibility for some aspect of your life. You get to avoid the uncomfortable, and often scary, work of taking responsibility for why life looks the way that it does.  If you take the leap to start a new career, how will you support yourself?  Better to just stay put, says the inner critic.  To lose those 20 pounds, you might have to look at the emotional reasons why you’re eating in the first place. Better to just keep eating and complaining instead of looking at your pain, says the inner critic.   Making changes and taking risks in life is very scary to many people.  So scary, in fact, that we would rather find justifications and excuses to stay safe and not risk rejection or failure, than to take action and make a change.

Sometimes, persistent complaints are justifications for the inner critic’s story.  For example, if you are someone who has always felt that in some way you are not good enough, then keeping an extra 20 pounds on is a sure-fire way to make sure that you don’t have to risk putting yourself out there with people.  Your inner critic convinces you, “once I lose these 20 pounds, I will feel more comfortable about meeting new people.”  But, the 20 pounds stay on, because it is too scary to talk with new people, because then they will find out “the truth” that you really aren’t very interesting or don’t have a lot to offer.  Or, staying stuck in a safe job, even though it is killing you, seems like a safer idea because, “you really aren’t good enough to be successful anywhere else”, says the inner critic.

Here are 4 steps to break free of your persistent complaints and take action in your life:

1.     Write a list of all of the things you repetitively complain about in your life.
2.    Make a list of the beliefs, or stories, behind the complaints, that keep you stuck in each of these situations.  These stories are part of your identity that comes from the stories that your inner critic has convinced you of for your whole life or what other significant people might have said about you, and you have accepted as the truth.  The inner critic LOVES to strengthen itself by complaining.  All of the “should’s”, “shouldn’ts”, and “what if’s” of life are really stories that your inner critic has been telling you forever.
3.    Catch your inner critic in the act of retelling you your story for the millionth time!  Notice the body sensations, emotions, moods, and behaviors you have when you are, once again, listening to this story.  Recognize the repetitive, habitual mind chatter that you have heard over and over and over.  Pay attention to those thoughts as nothing more than your conditioned, habitual inner critic, who is at it again!
4.    Try to see the circumstances in your life as they REALLY are, not through the story attached to the circumstance.  It is the story that your inner critic convinces you of, that keeps you stuck in the chronic complaints of your life.  The story is NOT THE TRUTH!  Separate the facts from the story.

The bottom line is this:  Don’t let your life be guided by the story of your inner critic, that you have been believing is the TRUTH.  Start noticing where your mind has created fear that keeps you stuck and feeds your chronic, repetitive complaints.


4 steps to calm your mind and stop the chaos

Do you ever wish that you could just take a vacation from your mind?

Do you wish that you had an “on-off” switch on the side of your head that you could turn off your worry about the future, your regrets of the past, the things you keep telling yourself over and over that you need to work on or change?

notes-allOur mind, the Queen of Chaos, can literally drive us crazy.  We live in a culture that fosters an overactive mind, that creates worry, frustration, dissatisfaction, sleeplessness, and a feeling that no matter what life we have, something (or many things!) about our life needs to be different.  It is as though our minds create a war inside of us, and we think that the way to peace is through continuing to examine what we need to change, how we need to improve, or we fixate on changing or improving someone else, like our spouse or our kids!

The bottom line is this:  We will never feel the content, joy, love and satisfaction that we want to feel in our lives by remaining at war with ourselves.

So, how then do we stop the war?  There is one simple answer:  We have to practice not listening to the chronic chaos of the mind.

Peace will never come from losing those 10, 20 or 50 lbs.  It will never come by finding the perfect mate.  It will never come from finding the perfect career or raising happy kids.  Rather, all of these things that we think will be the key to our peace and contentment, are actually all CAUSED by first and foremost, finding the inner peace and love first.

No matter what life looks like now, and it may look chaotic, the first step always needs to start with ending the war within your mind.  It is only when you learn how to stop beating yourself up for life not looking the way you want it to, that you can actually find some clarity to change what you want to change.

I have had thousands of clients come to me because they want to fix some aspect of themselves, their relationship, or some other chronic issue in their life, hoping that if they fix this part of their life, they will finally feel the way they want to feel.  But, this approach is backwards.  It is only when we recognize that it is the internal response to our life circumstances that determine how we feel and think about ourselves and our lives, not the circumstances themselves.

Just like you brush your teeth twice a day, every day to keep your teeth clean, so too must we have practices every day to keep our minds clean from chaos.  If you miss brushing your teeth even once, the grime starts to grow.  The same goes for the chaos in the mind!  Here are some daily practices to keep the chaos at bay:

1.    The Morning Questions:  Every day, as soon as you wake up, ask yourself this question:  “What do I need to let go of right now to be calm?”  In other words, what are the thoughts I am having that are causing chaos in my mind?  Ask this question over and over for 5 minutes (set a timer on your phone), and write down the responses that come to your mind.

Then ask yourself the second morning question:  “What do I have to be grateful for?”  Set the timer for another 5 minutes and write down the responses.  These 10 minutes have the power to change your whole life!

2.    Be Aware of Your Addiction to Thinking by Noticing Your Body Sensations Throughout the Day:  Every thought that we have creates some sort of physical response in our nervous system, and emotional feeling in our bodies. Yet, we just allow our mind to go wherever it wants to go, and never take control over the direction that it goes in.  The definition of addiction is being enslaved by a habit.  So when we are habitually and unconsciously thinking, we are literally addicted to this pattern of thought.

Start to pay attention to the emotional and physical responses in your body when your mind goes to that habitually negative place it always goes.  Does your neck get tense?  Do you have knots in your stomach?  Do you feel run down?  Cranky?  Pay attention to the physical reactions to your addictive thinking.

3.    Notice Your Attachments to Outcomes:  When we have a strong attachment to producing a particular outcome in our life, we become fixated on trying to control aspects of our lives that we really don’t have any control over.  This causes fear and anxiety, because the more we try to control something that we can’t control, the more out-of-control we feel.  Then in order to try to feel more in control, we try even harder to control what we can’t control in the first place!  Does this sound insane, or what?  Ask yourself who or what you are trying to control, that in truth, you don’t have any control over?

4.    Choose to Let Go:  Sometimes we are afraid to let go of the thoughts that our minds fixate on because our fixations actually become a part of our identity. I often hear my clients say, “I don’t know who I would be if I didn’t keep trying to fix or control that part of my life.”  We focus on past mistakes because we think that if we keep feeling the shame and regret, it will prevent us from making the same mistake again.  We focus on worrying about the future because we think if we spend our energy worrying about it, some how we can control the outcome of our future.  A daily practice of letting go of past regret and future worry, and consciously direct your mind to right here, right now, creates an immediate sense of calm and peace within.

The bottom line to managing your internal chaos and creating a peaceful mind is to PAY ATTENTION!  Pay attention to where your mind automatically goes, and don’t blindly follow it.  Be in the driver’s seat of your mind instead of being a backseat passenger and giving the Queen of Chaos the keys.