Your brain is like a sponge. It takes in everything. Every sound you hear, sight you see, food you eat, everything you experience feeds directly into your brain. Normally, this is a good thing. We take in these experiences and we learn. Our newfound knowledge allows us to avoid the pitfalls and traps that we’ve fallen into in the past. There is, however, something that can short-circuit this healthy and helpful learning mechanism. When we feed our brain nothing but negativity, the only thing it learns is to be more negative.
Everyone complains, and this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Venting to a friend or family member can be a great way to get things off your back, to unload negative emotions. Your friend might even be able to offer you some perspective that can help you learn from your negative experiences. Keeping negative thoughts locked inside isn’t healthy and can cause a person unnecessary stress and frustration.
That said, as useful as complaining can be, it can also go too far and become a trap for some people. Complaining should only be done when you have a positive outcome in mind. A complaint should be a way to work through a problem and figure out a solution. If someone is simply complaining for complaining’s sake, without wanting advice or to find solutions to their problems, that can be a major issue. Another trap can be when you are complaining with the aim of gaining sympathy from others. In this case, you aren’t looking for solutions, you just want someone to feel bad for you. But one of the worst traps you can fall into is when complaining becomes chronic. This is when your brain starts to exist in the realm of constant complaints, where nothing positive can break through because of a reinforced negative mindset.
To an individual, this can be devastating to their goals. Chronic complaining is a constant reinforcement of negative thoughts. If you are only feeding your brain negative emotions, and viewing the world through a pessimistic mindset, then everything your brain takes in will be colored by that. Instead of learning from experiences, your brain will instead simply absorb experiences through the filter of complaining. In other words, your brain will learn that you should cope with negative experiences by complaining about them. Instead of looking for solutions to problems, your instinct will be to just complain about them and how unfair everything is.
This kind of negative feedback doesn’t only affect one individual’s performance. If a leader or manager in an organization complains constantly, negatively reinforcing the bad instead of learning from it, this mindset can be passed onto their employees. The fish rots from the head, and that is exactly what this negative talk and complaining can do to any office or department. In my experience as a coach, I’ve seen it again and again. Hardworking and ambitious employees can quickly become dragged down if they are stuck in an environment of defeat and negative reinforcement. Even if the overall culture in an organization is positive and healthy, it can be greatly damaged by one single department that is existing in a world of constant complaints.
If you recognize that you are caught in this mind-trap, you should know that you aren’t alone. This mindset is very common, and just about everyone falls into it at some point or another. You might feel like you are beating yourself up, or are being super hard on yourself. Either way, it can be difficult to escape this trap once you are in it.
Since complaining about things is what got you into this state of affairs, complaining isn’t going to get you out of it. All you will be doing is reinforcing your negative mindset once again. So, venting is out as a coping strategy.
You need to learn to not complain, and I don’t just mean complain out loud. If you are trapped in this mindset, then you are probably complaining all day in your head without even realizing it. The first step to stopping is to recognize when you are doing it. Pay attention to your thoughts throughout the day. When you catch yourself complaining about something, recognize that and stop it. At first, this can feel like a mental version of wack-a-mole. With every complaint you hit, another one pops up! It’s ok that it will be difficult at first, we are working to teach your brain a new kind of behavior. That is never easy!
Do you have someone that you trust in your day to day life? It could be a boss, your spouse, a good friend, anyone. They can be an invaluable resource to help you escape your negative, complaining mindset. Inform them of what is going on and ask them for their help. Whenever they catch you complaining or being incredibly negative, ask them to call you out on that behavior. Make sure that they aren’t coming down hard on you; that would be counterproductive. Just ask them to mention it to you so that you can take stock, recalibrate inside your head, and maybe take a more positive approach.
Please remember that shifting from a negative, complaining mindset to a positive, productive mindset is a process. This won’t happen overnight. The brain can be an incredibly stubborn organ, and once it has learned something, it doesn’t want to let it go. Use self-care and don’t be hard on yourself. You’ve recognized the problem and you are doing something to turn it around. See, right there, you have already made a big change. Instead of complaining about the complaining, you are doing something about it! Just take it one step at a time, as change doesn’t happen in a day.
Within a few weeks, you will start to notice that you are catching yourself complaining less and instead focusing on solving problems. The benefits of this will be huge. I’ve coached managers and employees to help them escape complaining mindsets in the past, and it is always worthwhile. Not only will your work environment improve, so will your relationships with co-workers and your success when tackling huge problems.
Contact Kathleen Joy, CEO of Lumiere Work to learn more.