Stop Complaining and Do Something!

One of my personal goals this year is to stop being so negative. Looking back on my blog posts from last year, there were too many where I complained about things without offering good solutions. I even did it in an email this morning (sorry Jorge).

Complaining takes a lot more energy than actually doing something. Complaining drains your emotional, spiritual and physical energy.

So what can you do to stop a spirit of complaining?

First you need to realize that you’re asking the wrong questions. Instead of asking questions like:

Why aren’t things moving the way I want them to?
Why isn’t this getting done?
Why are things done this way?

you should ask questions like:

What can I do to move this along?
What can I do to improve this process?
What can I do to make this happen?

If you’re having trouble asking the right questions, you can just follow this advice:

If something is within your sphere of influence, just fix it. If the dishes aren’t getting done, do them. If the code isn’t getting reviewed, find someone to review it. If the bug isn’t getting fixed, fix it. Complaining about something that you can immediately fix is a waste of time and energy. We’ve all seen people spend more time complaining and discussing a problem than it would have taken to actually fix it.

If something is outside your sphere of influence, stop complaining about it unless you’re going to do something to change it. If you don’t vote, you can’t complain about who got elected. And once someone is elected, complaining doesn’t accomplish anything. Become part of a grass roots movement, or get involved in the process. Don’t just stand on the sidelines and complain.

If you do feel that you really need to complain, don’t bring a complaint, bring a solution, maybe even more than one. People will be a lot more willing to listen to you if you’re not just complaining all the time.

Finally, read the book: QBQ! The Question Behind the Question: Practicing Personal Accountability at Work and in Life. It’s an absolute must read on personal accountability.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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7 thoughts on “Stop Complaining and Do Something!

    • I actually feel like I’ve got the positive part down. I just let too many negative reactions jump into the mix.

      I ACT positively but REACT negatively.

  1. I agree that this is generally good advice, and it’s something I’ve been looking at too (at the very least, in blog posts where I’m ranting I at least try to provide alternatives or “how I would’ve done it,” even if I don’t want or have time to do it).

    Having said that: what’s your answer to organizational situations where the only outlet is complaining? For example, this situation can be observed in office politics (you’re actively blocked from making the situation better) or in certain open source projects (where the public face of the project yammers on about community and openness, but a corporation with a multi-million dollar budget just hires the community and then executives redirect the open source project via the internal management structure, and actual-community members are marginalized or ignored).

    As I said, your advice is good, and I really try to strive for doing that, but it’s hard to maintain a positive attitude when you spend time providing reasonable feedback (with data!) or a mockup/prototype, and it gets repeatedly ignored, then those entities, in my opinion, are asking you to complain, but do no more.

    (Or they’re asking you to leave outright, which may be true, but in the open source example, that conflicts with the common understanding of open source and often with the “marketing” side of the project.)

    • @Preed:

      That’s a tough situation.

      In a corporate situation, I would probably keep moving up the chain until I found results. What typically happens is we complain to the people around us and it ends up turning to almost gossiping rather than simple complaining. But if I was part of an organization that simply refused to fix problems that were pervasive in the organization, I would probably find something else to do. In my mind, that points to a systemic problem.

      As far as your open source project, this is something I’ve been struggling with and was kind of hinting at in my blog. I love the idea of open source, but in practice I think that a small set of people exercise an immense amount of control and so it’s not as open as it could be. I don’t think this is necessarily bad or good. There obviously has to be some level of control or a product will never ship.

      That being said, I think blogging and posting in newsgroups sometimes becomes necessary when it seems like things aren’t moving the way they should. It’s important to try to get the community behind you when you’re trying to work through problems. Sometimes they don’t realize what is going on.

      For me the key is to avoid sounding like a whiner and complainer 🙂 A few of my posts last year caused things to move, but I probably could have done it in a better tone. I think your post had an excellent tone.

      If I ever got to the point where I felt like my input into an open source project wasn’t valued, I would simply choose to leave.

      And believe me, this is something I struggle with every day. There are certain aspects of the Firefox project that are driving me insane. What I’ve decided to do is try to drive/control the parts I can, and just accept there are are things that I can’t change. And if at some point those things become so big I can’t deal with it anymore, I’ll just stop participating.

      Hope that helps.

  2. Its just sicking to listen to every on complain so I choose not most of the complaints are derived from a part of a statement that some one made and taken total out of context , stat paying attention people these fluff storys are to make take your eyes off the ball , start paying more attention to whats going on in your home and work out from there it something you can control Im sure kids and your love ones would like it more then talking about what some new person said or what a movie produced said there are more important thing to do start at home and then go to your local goverment and then the state they dont want you pay attention to what going on they want you looking at kim k butt or that but justin beeper enough said I dont and Im happy and im under control of my life thanks