We all know a Debby-downer who is perpetually negative and tends to bring everyone down with them. For these people, life is always against them and they can never seem to catch a break. They eventually find themselves alone since their negativity can be physically exhausting to be around.
Everybody complains once in awhile, especially in our overly negative society. And for the most part, Dr. Robin Kowalski, professor of psychology at Clemson University, insists that complaining is perfectly normal (1).
Archetypes Of Negativity
Not everyone with a negative state of mind experiences and expresses their worldview in the same way. Just like every other personality trait, pessimism has its variations.
Here are the three most common types of complainers:
Venters: Venters are people who just want to be listened to. They typically look for someone to listen to their complaints but are quick to shut down solutions, even when it’s good advice.
Sympathy Seekers: Everyone’s come across one of these before. These kinds of complainers always one-up your misery. They always, always have it worse than you and are quick to see the fault in situations and others.
Chronic Complainers: These kinds of complainers do something researchers call “ruminating”, which means to obsessively think and complain about a problem. Instead of feeling relaxed after complaining, they actually become worried and anxious from the act.
Negativity Rewires Your Brain
Negativity is a downward spiral, meaning that the more you focus on problems instead of solutions, you eventually start to see the negative side of everything in your life.
While bouts of negative thinking happen on and off, it’s important to let yourself vent, but quickly move on to solutions.
And it’s really worth doing : for one, negativity physically destroys your brain. ” …people who routinely experience chronic stress—particularly acute, even traumatic stress—release the hormone cortisol, which literally eats away, almost like an acid bath, at the hippocampus, which is a part of the brain that’s very engaged in visual-spatial memory as well as memory for context and setting,” explains Rick Hanson, Ph.D., a psychologist and Senior Fellow of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley (2).
Plus, negative thinking reinforces neuropathways associated with that emotion, eventually making it an automatic reaction (3). The same can be said of any repetitive thought or action.
However, this also allows you change your brain!
How To Stay Positive
You can train your brain to do anything, even when it comes to your outlook. The more you work hard to find the positivity in every situation, the more in becomes automatic (4).
Eventually, you’ll work hard to see the negative!
Here are a few steps to retrain your brain:
Be grateful: Find something to be grateful for everyday. If you keep a journal, write down 3 things you are grateful for every morning and every night.
If you start to feel anxious or pessimistic, pause a minute and write them down again. If it’s too hard, write down 5 or even 10 new things you’re grateful for. By the end of the exercise, you’ll feel much happier and fulfilled.
Catch yourself: Don’t wait for your friends or family to tell you you’re complaining, pay attention to your thoughts and words.
If you’re complaining, quickly shift your energy to find solutions and lessons to be learned. Afterwards, treat yourself will a nice cup of tea for the effort!
Change your mood: If you feel overwhelmed and negative, remove yourself from whatever you’re doing and shift your state of mind. If you’re home, sit down with your favorite book and cook up a tasty treat. If you’re at work, go to the washroom or break room for a few minutes and listen your favorite song.
Breathe deeply and close your eyes, paying attention to every word. Hold onto that relaxing feeling and carry it with you throughout the day.
Practice wise effort: Wise effort is the practice of letting go of anything that doesn’t serve you. If your worry won’t improve your situation or teach you a lesson, simply let it go and move on.
This is much easier said then done, of course, but if you write it out, ask friends for advice, and take some time to think it through constructively, it really can be done.
If you still feel stuck, here are 5 other practices worth trying: