How complaining affects the brain

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The positive brain versus the negative brain

“Don't whine, don't complain, don't make excuses, just do the best you can do,” said UCLA coach John Wooden.

It turns out coach was on to something.

Recent studies show that complaining every day changes the structure of the brain.

Harmful behaviors such as complaining, if allowed to loop within the brain continually, will inevitably alter thought processes. Altered thoughts lead to altered beliefs which leads to a change in behavior.

Our brain possesses a something called the negativity bias. In simple terms, negativity bias is the brain’s tendency to focus more on negative circumstances than positive.

Dr. Rick Hanson, a neuroscientist and author of Buddha’s Brain, explains negativity bias:

“Negative stimuli produce more neural activity than do equally intensive positive ones. They are also perceived more easily and quickly.”

Fortunately, the brain is plastic, which means it can allow more positive emotions to work alongside more negative ones. Writes Alex Korb, author of The Upward Spiral: Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, One Small Change at a Time:

“In depression, there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with the brain. It’s simply that the particular tuning of neural circuits creates the tendency toward a pattern of depression. It has to do with the way the brain deals with stress, planning, habits, decision making and a dozen other things — the dynamic interaction of all those circuits. And once a pattern starts to form, it causes dozens of tiny changes throughout the brain that create a downward spiral.”

Your hopes and fears may be in your genes, but that doesn't spell doom. One of the most practical things we can do to counter negative thinking is practicing meditation. “Neurons that fire together, wire together,” said neuroplasticity pioneer Donald Hebb. 

If forcing positive thinking feels inauthentic, try watching your thoughts instead. Being a neutral observer will help you rise above the whole notion of emotional sidedness. As with any self-improvement mechanism, daily practice and momentum is the key to long-term success.


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