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How Complaining Rewires Your Brain for Negativity…Promote Positivity Instead!

Learn how complaining rewires your brain for negativity and how you can use this process to promote positivity in yourself and others.“It is better to light one small candle than to curse the darkness.” ~ Confucius

You know THAT person, the one who opens her mouth and out tumbles complaint after complaint. Chronic complainers are draining and irritating. But could someone be saying that about you? It’s possible we’re complaining and not even recognizing it!

Of course, we all complain to vent and blow off steam. And that’s a good thing, right? It’s not hurting anyone. Um…yes it might be. Not only could it be hurting your relationships, it might be modifying your brain. For a starter, let’s examine how complaining rewires your brain for negativity…

Our brain takes the path of least resistance to conserve energy. That’s why it favors well-worn thought patterns. When you tie your shoes, you don’t have to recite the childhood verse, “Bunny ears, bunny ears, playing by a tree. Criss-crossed the tree, trying to catch me. Bunny ears, Bunny ears, jumped into the hole, popped out the other side, beautiful and bold.” The process is automatic. In the same way, complaining can become an automatic form of communication.

How complaining rewires your brain for negativity and how you change it…

Your brain creates easy-to-follow pathways from the consistent patterns we practice. This is part of the wonderful process called neuroplasticity. We can use it to our advantage or let it lead us to our disadvantage. It’s like when you’re driving on a slightly rutted, mud road in the forest. It’s easier to keep your tires in the rut, rather than forging a new path. That means the more you collect negative complaints, the better the brain gets at storing them and building the rut deeper. 

There are times you will have to create new pathways to get where you want to go. The good news is you can direct your thoughts more positively through mindfulness and self-leadership. As Maya Angelou said, 

“What you’re supposed to do when you don’t like a thing is change it. If you can’t change it, change the way you think about it.” 

It’s important to recognize that the only way complaining helps is that it reveals underlying emotions the complainer (You, perhaps?) is avoiding. Listen to the wisdom hidden in the complaint. Picture it as a customer, at the service desk, telling the store rep what’s wrong with the product. Your job is to listen carefully to discern what’s out of balance.

It never helps to escalate complaining to blaming. We need to take responsibility for our feelings, needs, goals, and values and voice them in a way that others clearly hear what needs to change. 

If you’re on the receiving end of complaints, help the complainer by saying: “What I hear you saying is…” and then rephrase it in a clarifying way. Hint: you can even do this for yourself, when you hear yourself complaining. Ask yourself, “What is the real issue here?”

People complain for a variety of reasons. They’re depressed, stressed, feeling trapped, not sure how to solve the problems, have given up, or are not getting enough positive feedback and support in their relationships.

Here are some ways you can help complainers rewire their brains for positivity (yourself included)…

One of the best ways to get your frustrations and disappointments is expressing them. I encourage people to journal, so you can express yourself, without burdening someone else. If journaling doesn’t bring you peace, you may need to speak with someone, but try to do so without it becoming a complaint. You can say, “I’m feeling X, because Y (insert a specific reason, not an excuse, accusation, generalization, or bringing up the past).”

Listening usually doesn’t cost us anything. Of course sometimes, we’re so stressed out, we can’t bear to hear a complaint. It brings us down. At that point we can say, “I can’t deal with this right now. Let’s talk about it when I’m not so stressed.”

Be aware that some complain because they crave attention. You can help the complainer by not making a big deal about it. But, please do make a plan to revisit their problem of complaining at a time unrelated to the complaint.

Over time, you can forestall complaining by catching the complainer in good behavior and praising it sincerely. When they get positive feedback, they’ll learn that they don’t need to complain.

You will be tempted to offer advice. A good rule of thumb is to give advice only when you’re asked for it.

Have you enjoyed learning about how complaining rewires the brain for negativity? I’d love to hear your comments on Facebook. And if you’d like to explore more steps for moving forward to becoming a deeper, more thoughtful person, download an Introduction to my Stepping Forward Program

Thank you for the use of your photo Katrina Wright on Unsplash.

emotions, Positive thoughts - Negative thoughts


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