I’d like you to stop and think for a moment: What went wrong today? If you were to list your complaints, how many would there be? If you can summon a long, detailed list of minutia (that makes you annoyed all over again just thinking about it), then you definitely will want to keep reading.

Complaining can be a trap that sabotages our happiness and success at work.

So what exactly do I mean by complaining? Complaining is expressing dissatisfaction, resentment, a grievance or a state of suffering.

Complaining is not just making an observation of something that’s wrong. Complaining is taking an observation and adding negative energy or emotion to it.

When our attention stays on all the bad stuff, which makes it really hard to see things in any other light. And without being aware and making a conscious effort to override our instinctive negative tendencies, we keep ourselves from seeing what’s good around us. Even worse, we overlook all the possibilities for correcting or improving our situation.

Why does complaining feel so good, especially when others jump in?

It’s not the communal complaining that creates a sense of relief, it’s the sense of being heard and acknowledged. It’s validating to have others share your feelings; it means you’re not alone.

Complaining in itself is completely unproductive. How can you focus on potential solutions or positive improvements when you’re so busy spreading negativity to friends, colleagues, loved ones, the cab driver … and anyone else who will listen? You’re the only person who can actually change your situation.

So how do you break the pattern and get out of this trap?

  1. Go on a one-week “complaint vacation.”For the next seven days, I want you to take a rest from complaining. This might not be easy at first; it’s not unlike quitting any bad habit. You just have to be really aware—of your feelings, your attitude, your moods—and as soon as you feel yourself about to slip into complaining mode, pause to take a breath and focus on neutralizing your tone and energy.
  2. Write down 5 things you appreciate. Focus on finding the positive in your work and your life every day during your complaint vacation. At first this may seem fake or arbitrary, but the more you do it, the more you’ll notice what you have to be thankful for. (Funny how that works.) And if you’re really having a hard time, remember that things like your parking spot, the free coffee, and even your intern’s sense of humor all count as things you appreciate.
  3. Notice what you notice. You’ll start to become aware of your awareness, and that will help you become less reactive and more mindful in your choices—including how you choose to see your reality.
  4. Figure out what you really want. Need more help breaking free of complaining—and ultimately dealing with the root causes of it all? In other words, do you want more happiness at work? Download this free worksheet to help you figure it out.

The problem with complaining is that it keeps us focused on what we want to escape from, rather than what we want to move toward. The key to happiness is to know what’s most important to you and to keep your eyes on that. Once you have that clarity and mind training, complaining naturally subsides.

Stella is the founder of WOOPAAH. Download her free Vision Generator to help you figure out what you really want.