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Stop Whining & Start Living: Understanding the Power of Our Words

What we tell ourselves — and the griping that we do — has a direct effect on our circumstances. My friend Jamie offers some alternatives to whining.

The following is a guest post by Jamie Martin of Steady Mom and Simple Homeschool.

There was a time when I used my words in a bad, self-defeating way. When my husband arrived home from work, I greeted him with tears and a litany of tales from our two toddler boys’ craziness.

(But oh my goodness – weren’t they cute?!)

I couldn’t believe how hard I worked all. day. long. This motherhood gig wasn’t exactly how I had imagined. I felt I had every justifiable right to discuss, in detail, the challenges from my day.

I didn’t realize that with each negative remark I made life even harder on myself.

In Western culture complaining has become a birthright, a way of life, a habit. So much so that many of us don’t realize how much we speak negatively — about lives that many of our third-world neighbors would eagerly trade places with us for.

What exactly is wrong with complaining and a little venting anyway?

What Complaining Is

In A Complaint-Free World, author Will Bowen defines the process of complaining as “expressing pain, grief, or discontent.”

That definition covers a lot of territory: remarks about the weather, that pain in our shoulder, our kid’s constant whining, or the character faults of our husband. It also covers discontentment — wishing our children were a few years older, wishing our blog’s pageviews were higher. Wishing, wanting other than what we have.

Gossip counts, too. It really is true what our mamas taught us, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”

What Complaining Does

There is a natural law in life — the law of sowing and reaping. Farmers know it well, but it operates for all of us. What we reap, we will sow. When a farmer plants a cabbage seed, he doesn’t wonder if a watermelon will grow.

If we sow complaints, we reap more to complain about. If we sow gratitude, we reap more to be grateful for. It’s not a big mystery, just the way life works. Those who look for the bad will find it, every time. Thankfully, the reverse stands true as well.

What Complaining Teaches

We work hard to teach our children positive habits, but if we aren’t aware of our own words, we may find we subconsciously undermine ourselves. When we complain, we pass on to our kids ideas of limitation and negativity.

But there’s good news, too. We can change–not to achieve perfection, but to make progress. To use our words with more intention, to show our kids that we can rise above the tough stuff of life – that we can live in grace and freedom.

What to Do Instead

When we recognize that we haven’t been using our words effectively, we can begin moving forward. With awareness, comes power.

Personally, I don’t reside in a state of Mommy Nirvana. I have a real, beautiful, messy life–homeschooling three kids, growing a career, nurturing a marriage, and plenty of ups and downs along the way. But understanding how my words can help or hurt me has made a big difference.

Here are a few strategies that have brought more happiness and peace to my own life.

1. Talk less.

If you’re not sure whether or not you complain much, begin to pay attention. When a negative remark arises, close your mouth. Don’t worry about changing your thoughts at first, just keep those words in when they want to rush out.

2. Choose your audience and timing wisely.

Several studies have shown that what people justify as “venting” often makes them feel worse instead of better.

But this doesn’t mean that we should never discuss real issues or share about life’s challenges with anyone. We can choose our audience and timing wisely, not allowing our emotions to govern our speech.

3. Look for and speak out the good.

Instead of highlighting what’s wrong in life, highlight what’s right.

Even in the midst of tragedy and grief, there is a spark of gratitude. And for most of us, what we complain about is petty and unworthy of attention anyway. When we speak out the good, we discover more good to speak of.

What we seek we’ll find.

4. Watch how your words affect your thoughts. (and vice versa)

Words are a concrete representation of our thoughts. As we begin to change our words, we’ll find our thought patterns begin to improve, too.

Understanding the power of words is just one practical step I discuss in my latest e-book, Mindset for Moms: From Mundane to Marvelous Thinking in Just 30 Days. In this book, which is broken into 30 short entries, I share the journey that led me to improved thinking and a more purposeful life. And I give plenty of ideas for easy, quick, and guilt-free implementation.

A Special Offer for Life as Mom readers:

Any Life as Mom reader who buys Mindset for Moms in any format (PDF, Kindle, Nook, or iTunes) can receive a FREE PDF version of my first book, Steady Days: A Journey Toward Intentional, Professional Motherhood (a $9 value!).

To take advantage of this offer, simply send Jamie an email after your purchase with the subject line “I bought Mindset for Moms” and I’ll respond within a few days with your free copy of Steady Days. Offer valid through April 30, 2012.

How do you feel about complaining and its effect on our lives and our families?

 – Jamie is a mama to three cute kids born on three different continents. She blogs about mindful parenting at Steady Mom and serves as editor of Simple Homeschool.

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Comments

  1. Jamie,
    A much-needed post. I get into feeling like things are tough all the time. And then I remind myself I work at home, have so many choices in my life, have healthy kids and a loving husband. I have gained so much from hearing the story of Viktor Frankl. A survivor of the concentration camps and a psychiatrist, he used his mind to gain freedom and extract himself from the terror of his surroundings. He points out that no one can take your attitude away from you. No one can take how you react to your environment from you. He attributes his ability to take control of his mind and perspective as part of what helped him survive.
    I look around the world at the challenges so many people face and it helps me gain perspective when I’m complaining about a slow computer or feeling a little tired or crabby kids.
    I’ve also put together a blog post on my 6-step plan for getting out of this mode:
    http://www.yourhealthyhomebiz.com/emotional-intelligence-in-business-a-6-step-plan

  2. I recently read a beautiful Scottish proverb that applies here: “It is no music to a man to recite all his woe.”

    Thanks for reminding me to watch my words and for the helpful tips.

  3. Really great suggestions. Over the past few years, I’ve found that complaining really isn’t productive, and frankly, no one wants to hear complaints over & over again- even my husband. I think it’s good to vent & talk to get some stress out, and I do that when something is bothering me, but I try limit it.

  4. This is a very good reminder! I try to ask the kids (and myself)- what were your three favorite things today- I get surprising answers!

  5. I’m always amazed at how different my day looks when I intentionally focus on the good instead of the bad. And I figure if I do it long enough it just might become natural.

  6. I never comment on these, but this article really spoke to me. I have been complaining for the last few weeks about a carpool situation I’m in and how lopsided the situation it has become. Surprise! It’s gotten worse and come to a head and now I’m scratching my head wondering how it got this bad. So needed to see that my complaining brought about more misery. Stopping immediately. Thank you for the great article!

  7. Wow, you must have been reading my mind. I’ve been having a rough few weeks and I’ve realized that my words have not been helpful. Unfortunately I tend to be a pessimist and so need to change that attitude. This was a much need encouragement to keep working on what comes out of my mouth. Thanks!

  8. This is very true, thank you for sharing. I will be working on this as we go through some difficult times coming up.

  9. JoAnna Bettencourt says:

    Thank you for the GREAT blog – but thank you even more for your 2 GREAT books!! I HIGHLY recommend anyone to buy and read Jamie’s books – THEY ARE AMAZING and will change your parenting and life for the better! I’m reading them through for the 2nd time now!! :)

  10. Katherine says:

    I used to think that venting was a healthy thing to do but I totally agree and finally have realized that it makes nothing better, actually it makes me dwell on whatever is bugging me. I read once you get what you speak and expect. So now when something is going bad I keep saying to myself or out loud if needed how everything is going to work out just fine, how whatever it is just temporary and a challenge I can get through with God. I cannot say I always succeed but the majority of the time I keep on and don’t waste energy whining. It really makes all the difference focusing on the good and not bothering someone with sharing the annoying or hard, I know my husband appreciates not getting the blow by blow details anymore! Poor guy used to get an earful, now it is on a need to know basis with alot of happy stuff mentioned and not much of the irritating.

  11. During Lent, I attempted to give up complaining. OK, so I had moderate success but I realized what a hard habit complaining is to break! I did notice I felt better when I focus on the positive and keep my trap shut when the complaints are on the tip of my tongue. My problem now is my husband is frustrated with his job and when I try to get him to focus on the positive he gets even more defensive. Personally I believe he is very fortunate to have a stable job in a volatile field (collegiate coaching) and there are hundreds of other folks that would love to have his position. Any suggestions for getting others, especially a man to reduce complaining?

    • Hi Meagan. That is an often-asked question, and I think it’s good to remember that we really can’t change anyone else’s response to events or complaints, only our own. But that in turn helps to create a positive environment, which over time influences those around us!

  12. Thank you for this. It was a much needed reminder. My goodness its amazing how easily I can slip into this.

  13. Wise words, Jamie.

    I think I tend to complain, at least to my husband, when I want him to value and appreciate the magnitude of the job I do. But I’ve realized that this strategy often backfires, as we can end up in sort of a one-upsmanship about how tough we each have it. I need to get my approval and value from God, who truly sees what I do and can give me joy in it, instead of seeking it in a way that actually damages my other relationships.

  14. This post is full of wisdom. It certainly takes great effort at moments to choose praise or gratitude in the middle of difficult moments or seasons. I think it is, like you said, appropriate to share wisely. As an example, I’ve been waiting 20 years for a hip replacement (taking drugs/cortisone shots to keep walking) and have lived with chronic pain and bouts of not being able to walk. Until this year, no one but my husband and dad (and kids) knew. I didn’t want to dwell on the struggles but this year things got really bad and I realized that sometimes it is a fear of vulnerability or asking for help that hinders us from sharing our real struggles. So both are good – but these bigger issues (a big health issue, a dying parent) really help put all those smaller complaints in their place.

    • Wow, Kika, your perseverance is an encouragement! And yes, our petty complaints really pale in comparison to the serious challenges of life. Blessings to you!

  15. Great thoughts, Jamie!

    I love your thought of speaking the good and choosing your audience and timing wisely. There are times to share things with our spouses about our kids, but oftentimes, that is not in front of the kids. I dealt with the issue earlier, we don’t need to rehash the same issue again after Daddy gets home. I might share concerns that he needs to know about after the kids are settled in bed.

    I wanted to add another thought to the comments…
    I think there is a proper place for complaining….and that is to Someone who can handle it and not be burdened by it.
    I take my complaints and worries and problems to God in my journal, and pour out my heart there. I find I need to get my thoughts and feelings out, to feel heard and to release those burdens. In this process, of journaling my heart and listening to Jesus, God gently and tenderly reminds me of truth, His love and goodness, of why I’m doing what I’m doing. And I feel more refreshed afterwards.

    If I take those same complaints and worries and problems to my husband after I’ve talked through them with God, it makes it so much easier to handle those things as a couple. The fire and power of the problem or complaint went to God, who can handle it, since, He knows and is in control of all of it.

    Thanks for sharing!

  16. “When a farmer plants a cabbage seed, he doesn’t wonder if a watermelon will grow.”

    The wisest words anyone has ever said!

  17. Wonderful insights! About a year ago, while complaining to God about my 4-year-old’s irritating whining habit, I realized that I was guilty of whining too! That was an eye-opener and has helped me be more aware of my words and attitudes. If I’m being negative, how can I expect my children to be otherwise?

  18. I agree wholeheartedly! It’s so easy to get caught up in negativity, and that’s certainly not the lesson I want to teach my children.

  19. I like this commentary. In the past year, we lost our home, moved to a different state where I have no family, and I have continued to home school my 3 children. Two will start “real school ” in the fall, wherever we finally find a place to go. In the meantime I’ve held in a lot of complaints and later blowing up because of the tough circumstances. I agree that complaining or “venting” leads to more sadness and frustration between ourselves and loved ones. It does affect our children’s language. Acknowledging what we miss from back home is acceptable, recognizing what we do like about where we live now is more positive role modeling. It’s tough and takes constant self-monitoring but it’s worth it for our children and as well our own well-being. When I find myself “hating life” I apologize to God and give thanks to what He has provided all this time through this very rough transition and pray for His voice to en lightness on what to do.

    • Jessica Fisher says:

      Hang in there. We once lived in one place and wished for a different one. We made the best of it. And God, thankfully, brought us back home. You never know what He had planned.

  20. Jessica, Not sure how this works may I use part of post as post on my FB and leave a link for your site there? Thanks for all you do in sharing your journey! You have been a blessing to my family, I have been reading your site for a LONG time :)

    • Jessica Fisher says:

      Thanks for your kind words. My friend Jamie actually wrote this particular post. But, I think it would be fine to quote a line, give credit to Jamie Martin and link to this post. Thanks!

  21. Thank you so very much for posting this! Words to live by, for sure. I’m not sure why, but it seems like I focus on the negative, out of habit. I have been praying about seeing the good in things and becoming more positive, what a blessing to read this, thanks again!

  22. Sharing a scripture if that is okay, I feel it is very relevant to this post. “A fool vents all of his feelings, But a wise man holds them back” Proverbs 29:11 NKJV

  23. Job 40:2
    Shall a fault finder contend with the Almighty?

  24. I used to be much more positive than I find myself now-yuck! I have noticed sometimes that it is much more socially-acceptable to be negative than positive. Why is that? BUT, when one person is positive, it can change the entire room!

  25. Yes, there is a difference in constructive, problem-solving by bringing a real problem to the fore-front and nitpicking and whining. When we used to complain when we were kids, my dad would say,”do something about it.” My Grandmother used to say we were given two ears and only one mouth , because we needed to do twice as much listening. If it is a real problem, ignoring it won’t make it go away, but carping continuously about trivia causes people to tune you out.

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