We all know it’s not fun to listen to people complain—whether they’re coworkers, friends, or even, or perhaps especially, your own children. But did you know that neuroscience now says their negative complaining energy can actually impair your brain function?
According to Inc., you should take steps to defend your brain from excessive complaining. The article profiles entrepreneur Trevor Blake’s book Three Simple Steps: A Map to Success in Business and Life, which examines data from neuroscientific studies. The research subjects were exposed to negativity in various forms — everything from long gripe sessions to 30-minute-plus negative television broadcasts — while the researchers measured their brain activity.
It turns out that the more you listen to negative people, the more negative you’ll act yourself. In addition, he claims that listening to 30 minutes or more of negative talk (such as a whiney child demanding something) can damage parts of the brain used in problem solving. Your children are actually costing you IQ points.
But what can you do if your children just won’t stop complaining at you even after you explain neuroscience to them? Here are three basic techniques:
1. Get some distance
“My father was a chain smoker,” Blake relates. “I tried to change his habit, but it’s not easy to do that.” Blake knew secondhand smoke could damage his own lungs as well. “My only recourse was to distance myself.”
You should look at complaining children the same way, he says. “The approach I’ve always taken with complaining is to think of it as the same as passive smoking.” Your brain will thank you if you get yourself away from the complaining child, if at all possible.
Try locking them in their room, or remove yourself to a hotel or a café. One trick that gives you around an hour of peace is to send them to school even if school isn’t open — it will be a while before they figure it out. Sending children to live with a relative is also a time proven longer term solution.
2. Tell the complaining child to fix the problem him- or herself
Sometimes getting distance isn’t an option. If you can’t easily walk away, a second strategy is to tell the complaining child to fix the problem him- or herself. This is the information age, after all — the child has access to the sum of human knowledge through their phone, and YouTube almost certainly has a tutorial ready for the occasion.
“I typically respond to a complaint with, ‘What are you going to do about it?’” says Blake. Many complainers walk away huffily at that point, because he hasn’t given them what they wanted. But some actually try to solve the problem.
3. Shields up!
When you’re trapped listening to a complaint, you can use mental techniques to block out the griping and save your neurons. Blake favors one used by the late Spanish golfer Seve Ballesteros during a match against Jack Nicklaus – a match the crowd wanted Ballesteros to lose. “He was having difficulty handling the hostility of the crowd,” Blake says. “So he imagined a bell jar that no one could see descending from the sky to protect him.”
Major League Baseball pitchers can sometimes be seen mouthing “Shields on!” as they stride to the mound, he says, while adding that his own imaginary defense is “more like a Harry Potter invisibility cloak.” Ear plugs and experience with meditation can greatly aid this technique.
Exhausted moms who feel that they can’t muster enough mental energy can try simply running away and hiding in a comfortable private space — a closet say, or under a bed or a pile of laundry. This variation of the technique adds the we were just playing hide and seek plausible deniability should you ever be questioned in any way.
Do these tactics work for you, or are there any other tactics that help you? Let us know in the comments. It could save your brain!