The other day, I found myself in a coffee-shop sitting close to two women who were complaining back and forth. One said how she hated her manager at work and the other chipped in how she disliked the taste of the coffee. Then again, one said how she hated her job and the other stated that she didn’t like Monday. 

This went on and on for an hour.

I’m fully aware that sometimes days feel long and situations we’re in feel hopeless, but it’s crucial to put things into perspective.

I know a mother, whose 2-year old child was diagnosed with fourth stage brain tumor and the kid passed away two weeks later.  I know a young man who jumped head-first into a lake when he was 14 and hasn’t been able to move anything below his neck ever since. The list goes on and on and on.

Most of the time, things aren’t bad for us, but we still complain about the tiniest things that don’t even matter.

The Science Behind Complaining

When we repeat a behavior of any kind, such as complaining, our neurons branch out to each other to ease the flow of information. Over time, neurons grow closer together and connections between them become permanent.

Repeated behavior rewires the brain and it becomes easier to see negative even when things aren’t that bad, such as getting angry when having to wait in the grocery store line for a few minutes or when somebody cuts in front of us in traffic. It doesn’t take long before complaining becomes default behavior.

It doesn’t stop there. Whenever we complain, our bodies release the stress hormone called cortisol. The more cortisol is released by frequent complaining, it makes us more susceptible to diabetes, heart disease and even makes our brain more vulnerable to strokes.

The bottom line, complaining is bad for our health.

The Solution to Complaining

We are social beings, and if we surround ourselves with people who like to complain, our brains naturally mimic the moods of those around us. The first step is to be cautious about spending time with people who like to complain about everything.

'I'm fully aware that sometimes days feel long and situations we're in feel hopeless, but it's crucial to put things into perspective.'Click To Tweet

As in most cases, it’s impossible to cut out all toxic people, something that helped me was a 21-day no complaint challenge. There are many definitions to “complaining” but I defined it for myself as follows: describing an event, person or how things are negatively without indicating next steps to fix the problem as well as profanity as complaint qualifiers.

I carried a piece of paper with me every day to keep track of my progress. I made a rule that each time I’d complain, I would start again from day 0.

By all means, I’m not a very negative person, I made it to 4 days on the first attempt. It took me around two months to clear 21-days. It was simple but effective metacognitive awareness training.

During the challenge, I’d reminded myself wisdom from Viktor E. Frankl, “Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation.”

The effects of the challenge where immediate. Not only I became more productive, I had more meaningful conversations with people around me and improved my overall mood greatly.

Even if you are not a big complainer, I highly recommend giving this challenge a try.

Once you accept, that you are fully in control of how you respond to whatever happens in life, instead of complaining, shifting your attention to something you are grateful for is a game changer.