You may not think you complain very much. Especially out loud.
But what about that constant chatter in your head? About 70 percent of the information we take in from the outer world is negative. And then there’s that inner critic!
It can take a lot of energy to get ourselves back to neutral — much less get into the positive zone.
Just like smoking or overeating, complaining is a habit. And, when you repeat a behavior over and over, the neurons in your brain form familiar go-to pathways.
So, if you keep focusing on how nothing is working for you, your mind finds those familiar pathways to your brain. The more you complain, the more this becomes your default behavior. Yikes!
Did you know complaining can even affect your physical health?
Your body releases the stress hormone cortisol into your system when you complain. You’ve probably heard of the fight-or-flight syndrome. Cortisol shifts you into this mode, directing oxygen and blood to the systems that are essential for immediate survival.
Cortisol also raises your blood pressure and blood sugar — so you’ll be prepared to defend yourself or escape. It can even impair your immune system, making you more susceptible to high cholesterol, obesity, diabetes and heart disease.
While this process came in handy during the threats of saber-toothed tiger days, we generally don’t need such an overhaul these days.
The one-word defuser
Here’s an easy way to take the “charge” out of your complaints. I first heard of this connector concept as a technique used with improvisational comedy.
Just add the word “and” after your complaint. The idea with improv is that it gives those studying stand-up comedy some time to add something else at the end — to keep the story going.
With complaints it can help neutralize your statements. Take a look:
“I’m so tired ...
- and I know I can finish this one last task.”
- “I don’t like what she said, and I’m not going to take it personally. She’s probably having a bad day, and her mood has nothing to do with me.”
- “All this construction is causing so many traffic delays, and I’ll know to leave earlier next time. After all, I wanted those potholes fixed.”
Get the idea? Look at having some go-to and connectors already in your emotional toolbox so it will be easy to attach them onto complaint statements. Although this takes practice — and may seem a bit contrived at first — it will become second nature over time.
Stopping the cycle
The good news is you can actually rewire your brain. You don’t have to stay stuck in old patterns. Try out these three steps:
- Catch yourself in a complaint.
- Switch your focus.
- Congratulate yourself.
1. Catch yourself — Try wearing a covered rubber band on your wrist, and snap it whenever you find yourself complaining internally or externally.
2. Flip/switch technique — Switch your thought to something pleasant for which you’re grateful, for example, an image of your pet, the beach, a child or grandchild.
Here’s the key: Worry and complaints all stem from fear. And the emotions of fear and gratitude cannot occupy your mind at the same time.
3. Congratulate yourself — It’s OK to fake it till you make it. Over time, your authenticity will come through. Anchor in your success with a fist pump.
Of course, there are times when complaints are warranted, and action is necessary. Just stay focused on solving the problem:
- Have a clear purpose. Know your anticipated outcome. If you can’t identify a purpose, you may be complaining for its own sake.
- State your case objectively so you don’t put the other person on the defensive.
- Before launching into a tirade, say something like, “I’ve been a customer for a long time and
- Be specific. Don’t dredge things up from 20 years ago. Invite the other person to get on board. “How could we make this work?” “I need your help to see what’s possible here.”
- Conclude on a positive note. “I’d like to work this out so we can continue our business relationship.”
I’ll raise the caution flag here. Egregious situations may require a more firm approach. For everyday stressors, though, these tools can come in handy.
Try them out the next time you find yourself in a long grocery checkout line. You may even start to welcome these little time-outs that help you make more positive choices.
Remember the and connector and the flip/switch technique. Add and at the end of your complaint. Flip the complaining thought — and switch your focus.
I guarantee the flip/switch method will lower your stress levels more than the “flipping off” method!