What's so wrong with venting to your friends?
Researchers have estimated that the average person complains around once per minute. This may sound like a shocking figure, but it makes sense—complaining can be very tempting. It feels good, it's a way to instantly connect with anyone and—when it comes to our brain—it's often the neural pathway of least resistance.
Well, a recent Stanford study has shown that complaining for just thirty minutes a day can shrink areas of your brain, so you might want to use what parts you have left, and do better.
As a species we humans have developed a 'negativity bias'—a tendency to focus on negative or threatening things, like the possibility of predators lurking in the shadows or newly-foraged foods being poisonous. It was a biological means of survival in the wilderness.
These days, however, most of us are no longer trying to avoid cougar attacks or questioning whether or not to eat a sketchy-looking mushroom. Nevertheless, we've managed to maintain this cynical streak from our ancestors—in the form of complaining.
Of course, it's not all bad; a good venting session can provide a temporary sense of catharsis. But as with all things that feel good in the moment—smoking, drinking or eating all the ice cream at once—consistent complaining isn't good for us in the long term.
The study found that participants who were instructed to complain for 30 minutes each day displayed a 'significant' decrease in the size of their hippocampus—the part of the brain responsible for the formation of memories, learning and emotional processing.
The good news, however, is that these neural pathways can be rewritten. Here are five simple ways to avoid complaining, stay positive and rewire your brain for the better.
1) Watch the Company You Keep
Ever noticed how you seem to 'catch' the mood of those around you? Well scientists have studied and named this phenomenon. Referred to as 'emotional contagion', studies show that individuals swiftly adopt the mood of the group that they are in, often unconsciously.
So start to pay attention to how you feel before, during, and after the interactions you have throughout the day. Do the people you spend the most time with leave you feeling better or worse than when how they found you?
2) Swap Your 'Buts' for 'Ands'
Nothing derails a group discussion faster than the word "but".
When one person floats an idea and another jumps in with "ya, but…" what comes next is always negative. And it invariably leads to disappointment. To improve every relationship, from conflict with a partner to difficult conversations at work, start replacing "but" with "and": "That's an interesting idea, and you might also consider…"
3) Use This Empathy Hack
We're all human, and we all have blind spots. A great way to diffuse frustration that can lead to complaining is through recognition of our shared imperfections. So the next time you find yourself frustrated at someone, pose these questions to yourself:
Am I capable of something like this?
Have I done something like this?
What were my intentions?
What would I want others to understand about my actions in that moment?