Complaining Is Useless

One Sunday last August, maybe halfway through a 22-mile trail run in 85 degrees and full sun, the day after we’d run 24 trail miles as part of a training schedule, I said to my friend Jayson something along the lines of, “It’s definitely warm today.”

Jayson, sarcastically and appropriately, replied: “Thanks, I hadn’t thought about that.”

I historically have tended toward negative thinking, but for about the past 15 years, have gravitated toward people like Jayson who do not. And because of that, I have learned the utter uselessness of complaining about things I can’t change—like the fact that during the summer, it’s often hot outside. In the winter, it’s often cold outside. Sometimes when we want to do things outdoors, it’s windy. Or it’s rainy. Or the things we like to do make our feet hurt, or our shoulders. Or we have to carry heavy backpacks to get somewhere to do something. And whining about it does exactly nothing to help.

I climbed a lot with my friend Lee for about six years, and the general theme we arrived at through many long hours in uncomfortable positions was that pretty much every problem you have in the mountains is your own fault, and there’s no sense in complaining about it. Cold? Should have brought more layers. Tired? Should have gone to bed earlier before our 3 a.m. start. Getting rained on? Could have waited for a day with a better weather forecast. Scared of a hard move on a climb? Should have trained more and gotten stronger. Handhold or foothold broke? That’s geology; rocks don’t last forever. Usually one of us would acknowledge the ridiculousness of our uncomfortable hobby with the same joke, which neither of us ever laughed at: ”You know, we could be at home watching golf on TV right now.”

My grandmother used to be fond of the saying, “You can wish in one hand and shit in the other one and see which one fills up first.” Which is a way of saying that if you’re not going to do anything to fix a problem, talking about it just to talk about it is pointless. Whoever originated that saying was, however many decades back, talking about what Dr. Travis Bradberry calls “solution-oriented complaining.” Bradberry says you should minimize complaining, because of its negative effects on many areas of your mental and physical health, but if you do complain, make sure it has a purpose other than just venting.

I’ve learned to rein in my negative thoughts over the years, realizing the friends I hang out with don’t really want to hear them, and it’s helped me to minimize them or eliminate them in my own head: If it’s hot, acknowledge it and review things I need to be doing to deal with it: hydrate, slow down, find a pace that won’t result in heatstroke. If it’s cold, I make sure my clothing is layered so I’m not sweating and my extremities aren’t going numb. If it’s windy, I just laugh and try to stay upright.

I’ve also listened to a lot of interviews with people who succeed—whether in climbing mountains or other pursuits—and I started to notice a trend: None of them seem to complain their way to the top—they are good at finding solutions, not whining about problems. We’d probably all do better to follow their lead, even when it’s hot outside, or cold, or windy, or raining, or snowing.