Complaining. Sure it may feel better in the moment, like you’re letting out some steam, but it actually does more harm than good. In fact, a study by Stanford University found that complaining may be more dangerous than you think. Their research showed that complaining shrinks your hippocampus, reducing your memory and problem-solving abilities.
It also increases stress hormones that can cause you to gain weight and raise your risk for serious conditions, including diabetes and heart disease.
While it may be difficult to stop complaining completely, especially when you’re moving through something like the shattering of trust or betrayal, you can train yourself to complain less and do it more constructively. Use these tips to help you deal with dissatisfaction.
Tips for Complaining Less:
- Monitor your behavior. Studies show that chronic complaining rewires your brain so grumbling may become automatic. Count how many times a day you vent. Keeping a written journal may help. Note your personal triggers and how you feel after you vent. Of course you’re moving through lots of emotions but complaining is a powerful way to keep you painfully stuck.
- Cultivate gratitude. You could also use your journal to increase your sense of appreciation, a powerful antidote to complaining. Remember the things you have to be grateful for and seize opportunities to thank others. When you’re moving through challenging emotions, it may seem hard to find things to be grateful for, but even the warm sun, a roof over your head or having coffee in your favorite mug all count.
- Reduce stress. Taking care of yourself makes you less vulnerable to complaining. Meditate daily or find other ways to relax. Walk in nature, listen to music you love or read something inspiring. Learn to laugh at yourself. Any way you reduce stress improves your well-being, giving you less incentive to complain.
- Decide to change the behavior. Do you complain to get attention? Note the difference in your conversations and those who want to be around you when you’re the one bringing a more positive energy into a room. Again, when you’re healing from painful experiences, it can be hard to be joyful but note how much better you feel when the attention you’re receiving is because of your honesty or vulnerability, versus your anger and complaints.
- Find new friends. Finding the problem in a situation and complaining about it is contagious. You may need to limit your time around others who find this way to spend time interesting or entertaining. Surround yourself with positive influences and strong role models.
- Set limits. Challenge yourself to give up complaining for an hour at a time and then extend it longer. See how much better you feel as you limit the negativity that pulls you down.
Tips for Expressing Dissatisfaction More Constructively:
- Focus on solutions. Before you start venting, think through what you’re trying to achieve. Pick areas of your life where you have significant control over the outcomes and work towards solutions versus just venting about the problem.
- Choose the proper channel. Think about your timing and ensure you’re complaining to the appropriate person. For example, your boss will be more likely to modify an assignment if you approach them first and discuss your concerns privately instead of airing them with others.
- Manage your emotions. Stick to the facts even when you’re upset or angry. Hostility and exaggerations put others on the defensive. At that point, the issue becomes less about what actually happened and more about the reactions and responses that come afterwards.
- Take responsibility for your part. Hold yourself accountable for your role in any situation. Blaming, shaming and complaining keeps all solutions and change at bay. That doesn’t mean taking responsibility for someone else’s behavior, but it does mean that when you take responsibility for your reactions and responses, you harness your power instead of giving it away.
- Be specific. Resist the urge to air your grievances in large batches. Address one point at a time so others can understand your position. While making one thing about everything builds your case, it does little to handle the issue at hand.
- Chronic complaining crushes hope. Listen to others’ perspectives instead of clinging to your own point of view and be open to the possibility for change.
- Take action. Steer your discussions towards coming up with a concrete plan of action that you can implement and evaluate. Be prepared to do something about what’s bothering you even if it makes you feel uncomfortable. Change happens on the other side of your comfort zone.
- Get the right type of support. Changing any pervasive habit can be challenging. If you’re having trouble breaking the cycle of chronic complaining, get support from someone who can help. They can help you form new and more rewarding habits.
Complaining reinforces negative thinking and compromises your well-being. Train your brain to complain less and focus on solutions when you do decide to discuss your dissatisfaction. When you do, you start to feel better and that’s where positive change happens.
Founder and CEO, The PBT (Post Betrayal Transformation) Institute