Confronting Our Complaints

Suzanne DaileyBlog, Connect Better, Engage Better, Lead Better, Reflect Better, Teach Happier


  • Gratitude helps wire our brains to look for the good.
  • Research has shown that, on average, people complain about once a minute during a typical conversation.
  • The more we complain, the more we wire our brains to focus on the negative aspects of our lives.
  • Try to go one full day without complaining.

Constant Complaining

In this Teach Happier space, we’ve explored the concept of gratitude quite a bit. So why not take this idea and flip it on its head? Since we understand how gratitude helps our brains scan for what’s right and what’s good, we also have to honor the fact that it’s in our DNA to scan for potentially dangerous stuff. Therefore, we also need to scan for what could go wrong. Depending on the way we are neurobiologically wired will determine what comes more automatically, scanning for what’s going right or scanning for what’s going wrong.

Regardless of how we are wired, we can agree that we all see the good stuff and also see the bad stuff. Let’s pause here. How do we share the bad stuff? By complaining. We all do it. Sometimes complaining makes us feel better; when we get a chance to vent or unload some of the heavy stuff in our lives with people we trust. But that’s not what we’re talking about today. Today, we are talking about the constant complaining about tasks, the weather, or the co-worker that talks too loud on the phone. Science tells us that this kind of constant complaining can have negative effects on our personal and professional lives.

Our Invitation

This month’s invitation was inspired by Jimmy Casas, author of Culturize and the newly released Recalibrate the Culture. A few years ago, Jimmy came to speak to our district (he’s wonderful!) and invited us to make a small shift which when you think about it, is a small shift in thought, language, and action.

Here it is: Go one full day without complaining.

Hear me out. Research has shown that, on average, people complain about once a minute during a typical conversation. Since I read this fact, I’ve been paying closer attention to my conversations and interactions and I think it’s pretty accurate.

The article, “Science Shows what can happen in our Brain if we Complain too much” (2020) explains that due to neuroplasticity, the more we complain, the more we wire our brains to focus on the negative aspects of our lives. Author Alana Kelter says, “When we get caught up in the habit of continually complaining, in the form of thoughts in our heads or out loud to anyone and everyone we come into contact with, it will directly alter our thought processes. Altered thoughts lead to altered beliefs, which will inevitably lead to a change in behavior.”

The more we complain, the more we wire our brains to focus on the negative aspects of our lives. Click To Tweet

No Complaining for a Full Day

Let’s revisit our invitation. One full day without complaining. One full day? This may seem like the easiest invitation yet, but I am telling you, it is hard. I can say this because I tried this on an ordinary Thursday, November 17th. The day was filled with lessons, meetings, errands…all the things. I made the intention to not complain about anything—not the weather, not the annoying question at a faculty meeting, not the meeting that could have been an email, not the mediocre lunch that was just “meh,” not the sprint to run my kids around to where they needed to be after school.  Instead, I put my limited effort and energy into speaking words of truth, kindness, and goodness.

This. Was. Not. Easy.

This. Was. Not. Natural.

Although I am a pretty happy person, I am also like a thermostat. This can be a good thing—I’ll often adjust my energy as I sense the energy of the room. But it can also be a bad thing—if I am around someone who is complaining, more than likely, even though I hate to admit it, I’ll start complaining too. Gah.

To help me move through November 17th as presently as possible, I wore a bracelet that was a part of a fundraiser for my good friend Bryan who has ALS. I wore this bracelet for 2 reasons: the first was to have a physical reminder for me to see throughout the day that may disrupt my thinking or language when I wanted to complain. The second reason was to remind me that my dear friend Bryan is going through so much each and every day as this heartbreaking disease progresses. And guess what? Bryan is not complaining. If he can do it, so can I.

When I chose to not complain about stuff I can’t control, like the cold weather, the Buffalo Bills record, and the list of afterschool tasks, the day felt lighter. More manageable. A tiny bit better. When I went to bed I didn’t feel as weighed down as I do on the days that I literally give negative things a voice through complaining.

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How Did It Go?

Did I get annoyed throughout November 17th? Yep. But as best as I could, I thought those things in my head instead of adding negativity to the universe by verbalizing them out loud. When I caught myself being a little more cognizant of this, it made me feel empowered and happy, which encouraged me to stick with it.

Did I slip? Also yes. And that’s OK. I’m human. I complained to my best work friend, someone I trust and feel safe with. As mentioned earlier, since we are wired to keep our eyes open and scan for things that could potentially harm us, it’s difficult to simply turn off complaining 100%. But complaining 95% less than a typical day made a huge difference in my energy level and perspective both at work and at home.

Can we go without complaining every day? Of course not. But maybe we can become a bit more aware of those moments when we contribute a quick eye roll, heavy sigh, or complaint to the world. Although it’s a seemingly simple decision to confront our complaining, it’s not easy!

December is the time!

The month of December is often unique. As we prepare for the upcoming holidays, we tend to get out of our routine at school and at home. Since our routine is a bit disrupted anyway, we might make it even more unique by choosing one of these days to eliminate complaining to see how that impacts your thoughts, language, and actions.

Here’s to a month of more gatherings, decorations, recipes, traditions, celebrations, and beautiful memories.

And fewer complaints.

Small Shifts, Big Gifts!

Give it a try! Choose an ordinary, routine day and see if you can go one full day without complaining! You may want to consider having a visual cue to help remind you of your goal (like my bracelet did for me). See if this shift contributes to your overall happiness at work or at home.

About Suzanne Dailey

Suzanne Dailey is a proud member of the Teach Better Family! She is an instructional coach in the Central Bucks School District where she has the honor and joy of working with elementary teachers and students in 15 buildings. Suzanne is Nationally Board Certified, a Fellow of the National Writing Project, and has a master’s degree in Reading. She is dedicated to nurturing and developing the whole child and teacher. Suzanne lives in Doylestown, Pennsylvania with her husband and two children.

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