We all love to complain. It won’t take an extensive observation to reason that it’s something we love to do as human beings. We tend to feel better once we have a good moan. Getting things off our chests seems to relieve a burden or two. A problem shared is a problem halved, right?
I have caught myself complaining a lot lately about a project that I’m doing. At the same time, research shows that most people complain once a minute during a typical conversation. It is tempting to complain because at that moment it feels good. However, like many other things that are enjoyable, such as smoking or consuming too much alcohol, complaining isn’t good for you.
How Your Brain Works
Writer Steven Parton describes in his post on Medium: “Throughout your brain, there is a collection of synapses separated by empty space called the synaptic cleft. Whenever you have a thought, one synapse shoots a chemical across the cleft to another synapse, thus building a bridge over which an electric signal can cross, carrying along its charge the relevant information you’re thinking about.”
He continues: “Every time this electrical charge is triggered, the synapses grow closer together in order to decrease the distance the electrical charge has to cross… The brain is rewiring its own circuitry, physically changing itself, to make it easier and more likely that the proper synapses will share the chemical link and thus spark together – in essence, making it easier for the thought to trigger.”
From Temporary To A Fixed Habit
If you think about what Parton described, your brain loves efficiency – it doesn’t like to work any harder than it has to. When you repeat a behaviour, your synapses reach out to each other to shorten the flow of information. This makes it easier to repeat that behaviour in the future. And can you really blame your brain for making such connections?
Here’s a practical example: Who would want to build a temporary bridge every single time you need to cross a river? That would be a waste of time and effort. It makes a lot more sense to build a permanent bridge.
That’s exactly what your brain is doing: Your neurons grow closer to each other and the connections between them become more fixed.
As time passes, you find it’s easier to be negative than to be positive, regardless of what goods happening around you. Then complaining becomes your default behaviour, which changes how people perceive you.
We As Humans
Since human beings are inherently social, our brains naturally and unconsciously mimic the moods of those around us, particularly people we spend a great deal of time with and it’s the basis for our ability to feel empathy.
The flip side, however, is that you don’t have to complain yourself to suffer its ill effects. You have to be careful about spending time with people who complain about everything. Complainers want people to join their pity party so that they can feel better about themselves. If you find yourself in this situation, it’s better to distance yourself.
Besides that, here are two things you can do when you feel the need to complain:
1. Engage In Solution-Focused Complaining
The first thing you can do is to engage in complaining that is solution-focused. This is applicable when you have something that is truly worth complaining about – see it as complaining with a purpose. Solution-oriented complaining should do the following:
- Make your purpose clear. Before complaining, identify what outcome you’re looking for. If you can’t identify a purpose, there’s a good chance you just want to complain for the sake of complaining, and that’s the kind you want to avoid at all costs.
- Start off positively. Starting positively helps to keep the other person from getting defensive. For example, before rushing into a complaint about poor customer service, you could say something like, “I have always been thoughtfully assisted with your service, but…”
- Specify the situation. When you’re complaining, don’t search up every minor annoyance from the past years. Just address the current situation and be as specific as possible. Instead of saying, “You have treated me poorly,” describe specifically what that person did wrong.
- End positively. If you end your complaint with, “I’m never shopping here again,” the person who’s listening is not motivated to act on your complaint. In that case, you’re just complaining with no purpose other than to complain. Instead, restate your purpose, as well as your hope that the desired result can be achieved, for example, “I would like to solve this so that we can remain doing businesses.”
2. Practice Gratitude
The second thing is the practice of gratitude. When you feel like complaining, shift your attention to something that you’re grateful for. Taking time to consider what you’re grateful for reduces the stress hormone by 23%.
Whenever you experience negative thoughts, use this as a signal to shift gears towards thinking about something positive. In time, a positive attitude will become a way of life.
Originally published at ye-chen.com.
- When was the last time you caught yourself complaining?
- What is your failproof way to stop complaining?
- How do you deal with people complaining to you?
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