A must-read if you feel as though you have missed out somehow!
Time to fess up – are you one of life’s unsatisfied customers?
Ouch! Yes I know, but be honest, are you disappointed with the hand you’ve been dealt? Feel like you’ve somehow missed out? Been left alone while your friends have hooked up? Haven’t got the job you believe you deserve? Not as rich as you feel you should be? Always seem to attract the wrong type of people into your life? Never seem to get the recognition you want while others seem to have the spotlight follow them?
Rest assured you are not alone, the dissatisfied club is a big one but – and yes this is a big ‘but’ – membership of the club may trap you in a way of being that is not self-serving. Now before you arc up and reply that it’s just a bit of healthy venting, let me share some research from the field of neuro-cognitive science. Spiritual teachers like the Buddha told us long ago that “We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think.” But now we can see what happens inside the brain when we complain. First, we shape ourselves through the process of neuro-plasticity because when synapses fire together a bridge is formed between them and they are brought closer together increasing the likelihood that they will fire together again. Put simply, this means that if you complain about something and nothing is done, you are more likely to complain again – negativity breeds more negativity and eventually traps you in a pessimistic view of life.
But wait, there’s more!
who you hang out with also affects your brain through the phenomenon of mirror neurones. Mirror neurones allow us to empathise with others because, when we see someone else experiencing joy or sorrow, our brains fire the same neurones, allowing us to mirror the feelings they are experiencing. Hence, if we see someone hurt themselves, for example, we literally feel the same pain. This process affects us by rewiring our own brains and influencing our behaviour without our being consciously aware of it. So, if we habitually spend time with people who complain, then guess what – our brains change to reflect this and our behaviour changes as well.
But does this mean that, to be happy, we must stop complaining altogether? The short answer is no. Happy people still complain about things. The difference is in what happens next. Habitually unhappy people complain about things and then wallow in self-pity and play the role of the victim. Mutually supportive unhappy people then reinforce this victim status and endorse the victim’s justification for unhealthy and sometimes unethical destructive action – for example, ‘Oh you poor thing. That’s so unfair. You deserve to take some action to self-harm (e.g., get drunk, take drugs, or other reckless behaviour) and/or to take retaliatory action (e.g., insert any ideas for revenge).’ The problem with this is that the results of such destructive action feed back into the person’s self-image and further reinforce the negative pattern – hence, yes, making it more likely to happen again.
Dissatisfaction can be constructive
In contrast, happy people feel the weight of dissatisfaction and then use it to move into constructive action. Note the key distinction here between being a victim and being a creator – blame gets you nowhere, it simply disempowers you. Robert Kennedy said, “There are those that look at things the way they are, and ask why? I dream of things that never were and ask why not?” See the difference? It doesn’t mean you won’t fail at what you do or have setbacks along the way, but shifting the context shifts the meaning of the events.
So, if you are in the club, how do you get out of it? Remember of course that people like to be right; so those in the club will not want you to leave and will most likely actively agitate to encourage you to stay or, if not, will be there to call out, ‘I told you so’, at the first sign of any setback along your new path.
“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. Don’t complain.” Maya Angelou
In his book, “A complaint free world – how to stop complaining and start enjoying the life you always wanted”, Will Bowen draws on change theory that says that in creating a change in our lives we progress through four stages: Unconscious Incompetence; Conscious Incompetence; Conscious Competence; Unconscious Competence. What this means is that at the beginning we don’t even realise how much we actually complain. The first challenge then is to become aware of our incompetence and Bowen proposes a rather challenging but fun experiment. The challenge is to be complaint free for 21 days and awareness is raised by wearing a wrist band which must be shifted to the other wrist any time you become aware of your complaining. Sounds simple – but before you make that judgement try it – and yes, if you shift the wrist band, then you start at day one again. Bowen himself says when he started he moved his bracelet so much he broke three of them before he made it to 21 days.
“A mind stretched to a new idea never shrinks back to its original dimensions.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes
And so here’s the kicker from playing this little game, if you re-read the neuro science stuff at the start of this article, you will realise that if you can make it to 21 days, then you will have rewired your brain and will naturally show up complaint free. And by doing so you will subconsciously influence those around you in a positive way.
Wlassoff, W. “Complaining and the brain – how bad karma is created”, Brain Blogger, July 28th 2016.
Bowen, W. “A complaint free world – How to stop complaining and enjoy the life you always wanted”, Doubleday, 2007.
Layard, R. “Happiness: Lessons from a new science”, Penguin UK, 2011.
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