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  • Steve Nguyen, PhD

Being Negative and Complaining

"Two men look out the same prison bars: One sees mud and the other stars." -Frederick Langbridge

It's very easy and so tempting to be negative and complain. I should know. I'm a reformed "complainer."  When I was a preteen, I had a very bad habit of being negative, pessimistic, and complaining. I saw what wasn't working, what could go wrong, and made sure to let others know about it. 

It wasn't until one day when a friend made this passing comment, "Why do you complain so much?" that it finally dawned on me that I complained too much. At first, it stung because, well, it was true and I didn't want to admit it to myself. But when I really stepped back and thought about this question and let it truly sink into my soul, I knew I had to change.

And change I did — TWO decades later!

One of the hardest things to change is ourselves. If we're not careful, we become complacent and will allow our bad habits (e.g., thinking and doing without considering) to dominate.

We're just so accustomed to being a certain way, and our habits and patterns of behaviors become attached to us and our sense of identity. Regarding my bad habit of being negative and complaining, others started seeing me as the guy who always sees the negative side of things and who complains or whines too much. It's definitely NOT the way I'd want anyone to think of me! 

It took many, many years of persistent self-reminding (to not be negative and not complain) and a more consistent pattern of positive thought and behavior (to see the positive and be thankful) to FINALLY break free of this very bad habit. In addition, surrounding myself with positive, encouraging, and uplifting people helped tremendously.

It was especially challenging to fight my default mode of thinking (i.e., my urge to be negative and complain) when faced with difficulties and placed in situations where it was easier to see what wasn't working and complain than to not complain.

“If you took one-tenth the energy you put into complaining and applied it to solving the problem, you'd be surprised by how well things can work out... Complaining does not work as a strategy. We all have finite time and energy. Any time we spend whining is unlikely to help us achieve our goals. And it won't make us happier.” ― Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture

My advice to anyone trying to change this bad habit is to WORK on YOURSELF (easier said than done, I know) AND to surround yourself with POSITIVE and ENCOURAGING people!

A useful way to channel my tendency to look for problems and poke holes in something (i.e., tendency to find mistakes or problems in a plan) is to redirect and channel it to something call a "PreMortem" exercise or thought process.

A PreMortem is a great way to anticipate problems in a plan or project by finding key weaknesses or vulnerabilities. You and/or your team can do this by anticipating/forecasting a plan’s weaknesses through the simulations of different disaster and failure scenarios.

Also, instead of complaining, try practicing gratitude. It's a simple way to reframe your perspective and to learn to be grateful.

Shawn Achor in his book “The Happiness Advantage” talks about a technique called “The Tetris Effect,” a way to train your mind to concentrate on the positives instead of the negatives in your daily life.

Achor cites a research study that found people who wrote down three good/positive things each day for a week were happier and less depressed at the 1-month, 3-month, and 6-month follow-ups.

Action Item: Write down THREE good things in your job and life that happened today (do this each day). This forces your mind to look back on your day for the positives, potentials, and possibilities. These three things can be simple, small things—things that made you smile or laugh, things that brought a sense of accomplishment or hope, etc. It does not need to be deep or profound, only specific.

“Your complaints, your drama, your victim mentality, your whining, your blaming, and all of your excuses have NEVER gotten you even a single step closer to your goals or dreams. Let go of your nonsense. Let go of the delusion that you DESERVE better and go EARN it!” ― Steve Maraboli, Unapologetically You: Reflections on Life and the Human Experience  

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.

Organizational & Leadership Development Leader


Achor, S. (2010). The happiness advantage: The seven principles of positive psychology that fuel success and performance at work. Crown Publishing Group.

Nguyen, S. (2024, May 27). What You Should Know About Leadership Development Training.

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