The harder leadership challenge I’ve ever done?
A 3 day fast. Not from food –
It had snuck up on me. For some reason, it had become the way I related to people.
I blamed it on being a New Yorker. We’re all companionably grumpy with each other.
But it was getting out of hand. I didn’t like being with myself anymore.
I tend to be an all-or-nothing person, So I decided to stop complaining – forever. Realistic, no?
I couldn’t get any traction. But I kept trying different things.
After many frustrating tries, I decided to simply stop complaining for three days, and create some rules, strategies and emergency plans.
It worked. Not only for the three days – the effects stuck around for months afterward.
Here’s my framework for how to do a 3-day complaint fast – and how it will make you a better leader!
The 3-day complaint fast
This challenge is a great way to start breaking your bad habits and avoiding the negative thinking that can come with them. It’s slightly daunting, but doable. Try taking it one hour at a time if you need to. If you accidentally complain, start over at day one!
What to talk about instead
The number one thing that can trip you up is not knowing what to say. If you’re used to bonding with coworkers or friends through complaining, try out some of these ideas:
- Talk about the things that are going well in your life. This can include anything from sharing a funny story about one of your colleagues to telling someone how impressed you are with something they did.
- Talk about something good that happened recently (it doesn’t have to be big—did you have a really good sandwich the other day? I promise it’s more interesting than hearing you complain about the weather –again.
- Talk about what excites or inspires you—and if possible, share that with others so they can get excited too!
- Share any new skills or knowledge that have come your way recently—you never know when someone might need a good tip! Pick two or three of these and try them out. Positive small talk is surprisingly easy – so long as you’re prepared with some opening lines for a while.
The emergency brake (when you REALLY NEED to complain)
I get it. Some days suck. Everything that could go wrong did go wrong
Yes, one hundred. Not by rote. Think about each thing as you count it and try to associate a sense with it. When you are thankful for your dog think of the swish of her tail when you come through the door.
I get it. Some days suck. Everything that could go wrong did go wrong over and over, and you feel like you are just going to explode if you can’t unload it all.
Here’s your out… you can complain, but you have to think of 100 things you’re grateful for first. It will take a while – it takes me at least 20 minutes. I sit down, and I make the list. most of the time I lose count and have to start again. But that’s ok, 20 minutes later I feel so much better.
After the three days
You don’t have to stop after three days, but I find having that endpoint makes it more realistic. That doesn’t mean I go back to being a Negative Nancy on day four. I try to keep it going as long as possible, and I do this several times a year.
Now that I’m aware of it, I see so many subtle shifts that happen when people stop complaining. Here’s how it affects your career – probably more than you thought.
You’re seen as more competent when you stop complaining
When you’re always complaining, it’s not just your own reputation that suffers—it’s that of your entire team. When people in the workplace start to see you as a complainer, they’ll immediately assume that you don’t have any control over your life or career. They might also assume that you can’t handle the small stuff and therefore can’t be trusted with difficult situations or important tasks.
Your colleagues might also take on negative traits from being around too many complainers; if everyone around them is constantly whining about how hard things are, they’ll begin to think this behavior is normal and acceptable.
In contrast, when employees see their leader taking action instead of complaining all day long, they feel more inspired by their example and are more likely to follow suit themselves.
You’ll be a better leader
If it bothers you that much that you stained your favorite shirt or couldn’t find parking how can you possibly handle the big stuff? Employees felt more secure and looked up to me. Since I was no longer easily ruffled, they knew that they could come to me with tough things like change, conflict, and pressure. While this turnaround didn’t happen in three days, I was immediately aware that the things I was talking to them about in our small talk felt totally different, and I made a concerted effort to keep any whining away from my team.
When you stop complaining, you focus on solutions
If you make a habit of complaining, you may find that it’s hard to stop. But for me, it became easy to keep the negative thoughts at bay when I simply asked myself: What can I do about this?
While there are certainly problems in the world that are beyond our control, most of the time we have options for dealing with them. If a colleague doesn’t show up on time for a meeting, I might choose to ask my boss if they can reschedule rather than complain about how unreliable my colleague is. If my kid gets sick after school one day and I need to stay home with her instead of going into work, I could call up my colleagues who’ve been there longer than me and ask them how they juggled their responsibilities while taking care of their own children at home.
When you stop complaining and start focusing on solutions instead, not only do your relationships improve but also your sense of empowerment grows exponentially—and as leaders know all too well: The more empowered people feel within an organization, generally speaking, the better off everyone will be (including those leaders).
You’ll become more inspiring
Most people complain a lot. It’s an easy trap to fall into. So when you STOP complaining, all of a sudden you start to stand out. People won’t know what exactly has changed, but they’ll want to be around you more. The things you talk about start to sound like a good idea.
What do you do when you’re trying to inspire someone? You tell them about something awesome that happened, or something powerful they’re capable of doing. But if you’re always complaining about how much everything sucks and how nothing works, you aren’t going to be able to inspire anyone else. If anything, your constant stream of negativity will just make people think you don’t know how to achieve a positive outcome.
When you stop complaining, things stop bothering you.
Complaining is a reward loop that can be hard to break out of. You complain because it feels good to vent, but then your brain associates the act of complaining with relief and comfort. That makes it easier to complain again in the future when something else bothers you—because now there’s a reward associated with it. There’s also evidence from psychology experiments that shows how talking about your problems actually makes them seem more important than they really are: when we talk about things and share our worries with others, we tend to exaggerate their importance relative to other things in life.
So if I’m no longer going to complain (and therefore not giving myself this “reward”), what am I supposed to do instead?
After the three days are over, you will feel great. When you can’t dwell on negative things, you stop noticing them so much. They float into your consciousness and then float right back out again.
Mindset is a huge component of whether you will succeed or not as a leader. The Complaint Fast is one of the many customized tools I use with my coaching clients to remove blind spots and take their leadership to the next level. If you’re interested in working with me, set up a chat with me here.