Are you determined to take your life to the next level? Sick and tired of the status quo? Tempted to stick your head out the window and shout,” I can’t take it anymore?”
Then there is one habit you must change. Can you guess what it is?Complaining!
The seductive nature of complaining is that it feels great – at first. Who doesn’t like a good vent every now and then? But studies show that complaining isn’t healthy for you.
Complaining shrinks an area of the brain that’s critical to problem solving and intelligent thought. It releases the stress hormone cortisol raising your blood pressure and blood sugar, which in turn weakens your immune system making you susceptible to a host of undesirable states – from high cholesterol to obesity to making the brain more vulnerable to strokes.
But even with these health warnings, we’ll probably still complain!
Why? Why is complaining so hard to stop?
It’s the payoff. Most counterproductive habits have a strong benefit, one we usually don’t pay attention to – because it’s habitual! It’s this benefit that makes the pattern seem unbreakable. Our brains are designed to be “reward happy.” We are wired to continue a pattern at any cost, as long as we get that reward!
In the case of complaining, it’s the release of an unpleasant emotion, many times anger, which is the alluring prize. However, if we pause to think about it, there are other ways to get rid of toxic emotions – and get that reward, without complaining.
Switching focus to something we are grateful for is one way. Working out the negative emotion with something physical like a walk or a few deep breaths is another.
How does complaining get in the way of making the changes we want to see in our life?
If we complain to temporarily eliminate the frustration of the status quo, we’ve lost precious energy that could be directed into constructive action. If we choose to get grateful while waiting in a line that is ten people deep to return the hideous sweater our aunt gave us, we can change our mindset and our world, at least for the moment.
Focusing on the thoughtfulness of the gift or simply recognizing how much we love the taste of the mocha latte we’re holding in our hand – is enough to discharge the negativity. By bringing a smile to our face, we prove that we are in charge of our brains’ focus. We experience being in a power position from which better solutions are a natural outcome.
As a result, we may decide to skip the line and donate the sweater at the nearest Goodwill instead of trying to get the $34.95 credit. It’s a lot less hassle (more calm), saves time we could use for more important things (better focus) and would contribute to a better sense of happiness (more generous).
If something is truly unjust, we can be more purposeful with our complaining rather than use it as a self-soothing device. Before we speak up, we can decide on an outcome and sandwich it between positive statements to make it more productive. Here an interesting article from Entrepreneur magazine about how to do this.
As we look to grow in our lives, to reach for more, we are bound to hit brick walls every now and then. Complaining will seem like our “natural tendency” but it’s more of an acquired habit. One that can be changed (as all habits can) with awareness and a willingness to take different action.
So tell me, what have you complained about today? Anything else you could have done to feel better?
Today’s action item-Write down a habit that gets in the way of what you want. It could be complaining or something else. Write down actions you could substitute next time it comes up.
Jo-Aynne von Born, Certified Professional Coach
Leadership and Executive Success, Coaching, Training, Speaking