Does your partner leave the dishes to ‘soak,’ never to finish the job? Is the council deliberately turning a blind eye to those potholes? Is your Wifi spotty all the time, and especially when you need it most?
If you’re like the average person, a little grumbling is often all it takes to feel better and move on with your life. We complain at least three times a day, according to data, and it’s much healthier than bottling up our emotions.
But if that’s true, why do we think of it as a bad thing? Surely there are scientific downsides to complaining all the time, and isn’t it bad for our mental health?
In this article, I’ll reveal some of the facts that you probably didn’t know about how complaining impacts us, and show you how to craft a healthy balance in your life with some practical coaching tips. Read on!
Pros and Cons of Complaining
First, the good stuff. If you feel like you’ve ‘let off a little steam’ by moaning about the council or Wifi, that’s because a reasonable amount of complaining has its upsides.
Beyond giving you the chance to vent, it also:
- Signals to others that you might need some help
- Highlights the challenging aspects of a situation, which can motivate you to take action
- Gets others involved in the problem-solving, often by making you aware of things you’ve overlooked
- When it’s done diplomatically, complaining can facilitate action.
So, Should I Complain More?
If you’ve been around people who grumble all the time, you’ll know that it can be a downer. But did you know that too much complaining can have mental health disadvantages, too?
It comes down to how much we complain and striking that healthy balance. The more we pay attention to things that rub us the wrong way, the higher the chances that we fill our heads with negative thoughts.
Let’s take a look below the surface and see why complaining more probably isn’t the answer.
Too Much Complaining Is Linked To Stress
According to studies conducted at Stanford University, complaining reduces the size of our hippocampus.
Considering that this area is crucial for problem-solving and other important cognitive functions, it’s not unreasonable to conclude that too much moaning can impair our mental abilities–at least temporarily.
To put that into perspective, consider this: the hippocampus is among the key brain areas that are deteriorated in patients with Alzheimer’s. It’s worth keeping that whining in check!
Behaviorally, as we’ve seen, it’s simply not as fun to be around people who are constantly complaining. If every other sentence you offer is a whine, you might notice:
- Others are less inclined to spend time with you
- They’re not as quick to take your complaints seriously
- They’re frustrated that you don’t just “do something about it,” or
- They stop listening to you altogether.
In short, it’s the opposite of increasing your influence.
So, Should I Stop Complaining?
According to estimates from Dr. Guy Winch, 95% of people don’t make direct complaints when they are dissatisfied.
While we’re happy to whine about the potholes to our neighbor (and an average of 15 other people, according to the stats), we’re much less likely to turn up at the council office and put our foot down in person. Even though we think we will.
It’s an interesting paradox, but I’m sure you can relate to some of the reasons offered by respondents in the very same survey. Of the 95% who were dissatisfied and didn’t complain, a few reasons included: “It’s too tiresome,” “I won’t get the result I want,” and “The process is far too annoying.”
So how does complaining link to stress?
We’re most likely to complain when the world around us is unpredictable. Per Dr. Guy Winch, that’s when we perceive a considerable gap between what we expect and our reality.
Because we live in nothing short of an exceptionally unpredictable world, I created the Complaining Stress Coaching Card.
3 Ways To Complain Less
If you believe complaining less would be a good way to increase your influence and feel less stressed out, here are three coaching tips you can use.
1. Five Minute Rule
This technique works particularly well in situations that you’re already aware you can’t influence. Say the council has closed for a holiday you forgot about, and it looks like you’re going to need to wait for that pothole to be fixed.
Set an alarm (genuinely set an alarm), and let loose with your complaining for five minutes.
After you’ve vented for five, stop.
Inhale and exhale deeply, and tell yourself the following: “I can’t change this.”
This way, you can let off some pressure and deal with the problem when you can.
2. Gamify It!
A nice tip is to turn your complaining habit into a game of stopping.
Pick out a rubber band, wristband, or bracelet to wear and move it to the other wrist every time you catch yourself moaning.
Set a goal, say one day, and aim to keep it on the same wrist for the entire period.
3. Do Something About It
What about the situations where you can make a difference? This tip is about knowing what you can and can’t change, which is very useful knowledge to have. It’s based on the work of Stephen Covey, albeit adapted slightly to suit this context.
Start by drawing up a Circle of Influence, with a smaller one inside. Fill the outer circle with things you can’t impact, and the inner with things you can.
Select one item from your inner circle and take action to make a change.