What Happens To Someone’s Brain When They Complain Too Much
The more we complain, the more we wire our brain to focus on the ‘negative’ aspects of our lives. Luckily this is a two-way street, and we can undo this wiring and begin to step into a more neutral mindset and outlook.
How much do you complain? The first step towards shifting this is becoming aware of it. Be honest with yourself, and take note of your thoughts, and what you are choosing to talk about.
We all know those types of people who always find something to complain about, maybe we are even one of them! How much of an effect does complaining actually have on the brain and what can we do about it? New research shows exactly how complaining every day might be affecting our brain and because the brain is an amazing and resilient organ we can even reverse these effects. The first step is becoming aware of the issue.
What is your first thought when you wake up in the morning? Are you already dreading the day ahead? Is it cloudy, and thus right out of bed, you find yourself in a grumpy mood? Well, if this is you, know that it is not too late to make a change. Complaining can become a habit, and the more we do it, the more we continue to do it. With some effort, we can break this habit and start to see the world in a more neutral light, if we choose to take action.
Within the past couple of decades, thanks to the development of brain imaging and neuroscience, we can now clearly see that the brain is indeed capable of rewiring itself. It is up to us, however, to make these necessary adjustments in order to allow for this to happen. Neuroplasticity means the brains ability to change and form new neural pathways and synapses, this is what allows us to break old habits, form new ones, learn new skills, grow, change and essentially, evolve.
Because of neuroplasticity, we have the capability to:
- Increase our intelligence
- Learn new and life-changing skills.
- Recover from certain types of brain damage
- Become more emotionally intelligent
- Unlearn harmful beliefs, habits and behaviors
‘Neurons that fire together, wire together.”
It is important to know, that there are two sides of the coin and we can indeed rewire our brains for the worse, if we pick up habits and behaviors that are detrimental to our well being, such as complaining.
According to Alex Korb, Ph.D., and author of The Upward Spiral: Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, One Small Change At A Time, “In depression, there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with the brain. It’s simply that the particular tuning of neural circuits creates the tendency toward a pattern of depression. It has to do with the way the brain deals with stress, planning, habits, decision-making and a dozen other things — the dynamic interaction of all those circuits. And once a pattern starts to form, it causes dozens of tiny changes throughout the brain that create a downward spiral.”
How Does Complaining Affect The Brain?
When we get caught up in the habit of continually complaining, in the form of thoughts in our heads or out loud to anyone and everyone we come into contact with, it will directly alter our thought processes. Altered thoughts lead to altered beliefs, which will inevitably lead to a change in behavior.
In fact, our brain possesses something that is called the negativity bias, meaning that the brain has a tendency to focus more on what’s wrong via our perception, not what’s going right or the positive events in our life. These negative thoughts can actually drown out the lighter experiences over time so that you aren’t able to even see the good events that are taking place in your life.
Neuroscientist, Dr. Rick Hanson sums up the negativity bias quite nicely,
“Negative Stimuli produce more neural activity than do equally intensive positive ones. They are also perceived more easily and quickly.”
So, by continually allowing ourselves to complain we are strengthening this behavior, as mentioned above, the first step towards changing this is to become aware of the problem. That alone, will make see the issue and likely ponder on your negative thoughts.
How Can We Change Our Brain?
This isn’t to say that we always need to “think positive” a common new-age misconception, but we should take the necessary action steps to move beyond the effects of thinking negatively all the time.
A simple and effective technique is to wear a complaining bracelet, this is a tactic that I learned from watching an episode of Oprah years ago. You simply wear a bracelet, any kind that can easily come off, and every time you catch yourself complaining about something, in your head or out loud to someone else, you switch wrists so you can be aware of what is happening. To hold yourself accountable, let your family, friends, and co-workers know of your challenge so in case you don’t realize that you’re complaining, they can call you out too. The goal is to see how long you can go without having to switch the bracelet, but this technique is also powerful for showing you how much you are actually complaining in the first place.
Meditation & Mindfulness Practices
Barbara Fredrickson, a positive psychology researcher and her colleagues from the University of North Carolina showed how people who meditate daily have more positive or uplifting emotions than those who don’t.
After a three-month experiment, Fredrickson’s team found that “people who meditated daily continued to display increased mindfulness, purpose in life, social support and decreased illness symptoms.”
If you are new to meditation, there are a ton of resources available to help get you started. Just 15 to 20 minutes a day could be enough to change your brain and your entire life, for the better!