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The Solution to All Your Complaints


The first time I ran with a trainer, she stopped once in a while to ask me how I was doing. As soon as I’d start to answer—or, more accurately, whine—she’d cut me off and tell me to keep running. She knew that if I was able to talk, I was able to keep running. I completed nine miles that day and realized how much time and energy we spend complaining about our problems—time and energy that could be spent conquering them.

I always thought that a good vent session was healthy, but a study from the University of Kent shows that it can be anything but. Students kept a journal of the “most bothersome failure” they’d experienced each day and how they’d coped with it. Those who turned to social support (including denial, venting, disengagement, and self-blame) felt less satisfied at the end of the day than those who used positive reframing, acceptance, or humor. In a nutshell, focusing on a problem doesn’t solve the problem—it just makes you feel bad.

I’ve found that the following steps have helped me put the kibosh on complaining and reach a solution instead. See if they work for you too.

1. Specify. Don’t allow yourself to get lost in the anger. Think about exactly what it is that’s making you upset and name it so you can face it. I used complain a lot about all the work I had to do around the house. Further reflection made me realize what I was really mad about was that my hubby wasn’t helping me more with the housework.

2. Know what you desire. Once you know what’s bothering you, you can start thinking about what you’d like to happen instead. When I told my husband what I wanted, he was happy to help.

3. Close the vent. Figuring out how to get from Point A (being angry about doing everything myself) to Point B (having my husband willingly pitch in) required some connecting of dots. In some situations you may need help finding a strategy. Talking with friends about possible solutions to problems isn’t venting; it’s brainstorming.

4. Change what you can, and let go of what you can’t. Knowing the difference is key. If there’s something you can do to fix a situation that’s upsetting you, do it. If it’s beyond your power to change something, don’t complain about it, just let it go. The energy you save can be spent on something good for you—like running perhaps.