What Complaining Really Means

I actually remember the last time that I complained to anyone with the express purpose of making them feel sorry for me.

It was about a year and a half ago, from the time of this writing.

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Simply put, I just don’t do it. It’s not part of what is taking me to where I want to go.

Jack Canfield has an interpretation of complaining that I feel is worth outlining here, and it is this:

“Complaining means that you have a reference point to something better that you’re not willing to work towards.”

Separated at birth! He and I think so much alike.

Basically, what he is saying is that we have an idea of what we want to change, but that we’re not thinking of anything more productive than telling someone else about it, regardless of whether they’re actually in a position to help us or not.

Complaining is not an action step.


It doesn’t lift anyone up, doesn’t effect any meaningful change, and it’s not going to bring that reference point any closer.

What it DOES do is sap your energy and strength, push others away, and keep you mired in self-pity. I’m not a fan of pity on the best of days, but SELF-pity? Give me a goddamn break.

You have three options:

Option #1 – Keep it to yourself

Option #2 – Bring your desire for change to the attention of someone who can help you, and do so in a way that shows you are willing to take action, with their help

Option #3 – Take action yourself

Usually, I take option 3. But that’s not to say that you always should.

Isn’t human rights activism a form of complaining? In way, I think it is. But this is constructive, and has a purpose related to increasing human flourishing. If no one complains about how some people around the world are being treated, then nothing is going to change.

But complaining to the rest of your bar staff when a few customers didn’t tip you as well as they perhaps should have? That’s garbage.

One, you’re not bringing it to the attention of someone who can actually HELP you. It may not be in your best interests overall to start demanding tips from customers, but your co-workers aren’t going to make up the difference, so why are you wasting their time with this stuff?

This is just one example of MANY.



You’ve been working at the same job for a few years and haven’t really made any progress in securing a promotion. For the sake of argument we’ll assume you’re a solid employee, with no real strikes against you, but you just haven’t moved forward.

Option #1: Keep it yourself

For how long? Are you NEVER going to speak up? As Seth Godin has said, no one is going to pick you. You have to pick yourself. So option #1 is out, unless you want to spend the rest of your life what you’re doing now.

Option #2: Bring your desire for change to the attention of someone who can help you, and do so in a way that shows you are willing to take action, with their help

Now we’re getting somewhere! You bring your grievance to the boss, because he or she is the one who can help you. They are the one that makes all the promotion decisions, and if you want one, you’re going to have to go talk to that person.

Call a meeting, prepare an argument that makes the case for you being deserving of a promotion, and speak professionally with them in order to reach some sort of agreement. If you’re as good as you think you are, you’ll probably get what you want.

Or not.

But it’s way better than the alternative.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to eliminate complaining from their life.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to eliminate complaining from their life.

Option #3: Take action yourself

This could take many forms, but if you have a meeting with the boss and they say no, then maybe you have to take action in the form of leaving that job and looking for opportunities elsewhere.

Or not.

But again, what else are you going to do? Complain to someone who can’t help you? Wallow in self-pity?

Those are garbage options.


There’s an old decision-making device that you’ve probably heard in some form or another. If you have a problem and you can’t do anything about it, then stop worrying. If you have a problem and you CAN do something about it, then DO something about it!

It’s that simple.

And that hard.

I always try to think in terms of conserving my mental energy. My human rights activities demand that I give my full attention and compassion to the suffering of others, and I can’t afford to waste any time feeling sorry for myself, or trying to inspire that feeling in others.

It’s easy for some people to spend a MINIMUM of 15 minutes per day complaining to someone who can’t help them, about something that either isn’t important or worth complaining about anyway. 15 minutes per day.

That’s 91 hours per year.

Almost 1,000 hours every decade.

You can probably read a 250-page book in about 8 hours or less. I’m a slow reader so it usually takes me a little longer. Plus I take notes!

But we’ll say 8 hours.

In the time it takes you to complain for 15 minutes per day for 10 years, you could have read 114 books, or 11 each year. Give or take.

I’ll leave you to think about the implications on your own.

All the best,

Matt Karamazov


Matt Karamazov is a mentor, boxer, and human rights activist who reads 200 books per year and throws 300 punches per minute. The website, Godlike Discipline, is his most deeply felt project, dedicated to raising money for causes like Doctors Without Borders, and Human Rights Watch, among others. It’s also dedicated to helping people tackle their biggest willpower challenges. He also like death metal, and so, consequently doesn’t get many second dates. Here he is on a horse.

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