June 5, 2017

Complaining is mostly unproductive, yet, we still do it all the time and some of us perform the art of complaining like an Oscar winning actor. Children are expert complainers and often learn how to perfect the complaint from their disgruntled parents. When they see parents complaining about fairness or how they were wronged, they identify with this method of stress management. It feels right to them to complain about their unjust experiences.

Interestingly, I don't know anyone that enjoys being with a complainer for any length of time. When people complain, others generally walk away. There is a passage in Tools for Titans regarding Stephen Hawking who said," When you complain, nobody wants to help you." He clearly needed the help as his body was failing him from ALS. What he discovered in his suffering was that positivity is the key to life and help.

When one complains, the internal feeling is negative and stress hormones like cortisol are released. Negativity then breeds more negativity and the effect of the stress response is compounded. If this occurs repeatedly over time, the stress hormones become dysfunctional.

In a Stanford University study from the Journal Science, Dr. Sapolsky found that the memory center of the brain called the hippocampus shrinks over time with chronic stress. It would not be hard to take the next jump to chronic complaining being a potential risk for brain shrinkage as it induces a chronic stress response. (No proof, just theory.) Thus it follows that the ability to set memory and retrieve information could be affected over time by complaining.

Complaining also causes people to close their hearts and subsequently their minds to change. Choosing to change is an active event which sets the mind on a course to control the outcome where possible. Complaining and not changing the narrative feeds our fears and closes us down to life, love and opportunity. As Stephen Hawking found out, being positive helps us move forward and grow as humans.

I choose to tell my children that life is yours to enjoy no matter what goes against you or differently than what you had planned. There will always be stress and things to complain about. Choosing to be positive in the face of this adversity or negativity is an expanding and growing belief in yourself. It is a message to your brain that you are stronger than the event. We also know that the brain responds to these messages by growing the appropriate neurons that are beneficial. Like a muscle, the brain likes positive thought and will grow to meet the desired outcome.

My kids now know after years of teaching and practice that they can reframe most scenarios with a little patience, reflection and desire to be happy. Let the emotion of the moment die down, step back and try again. They are learning how to expand when others contract. I think of Warren Buffet's investment advice, "We simply attempt to be fearful when others are greedy and to be greedy only when others are fearful."

They have felt the positive effects of their narrative shifts. People do come to your aid when you become vulnerable, positive and loving.

My antidote for a child's complaining is to use Love and Logic. "I love you too much to argue" "Go and take a moment to figure out this issue and lets talk about it after you are through thinking". Then we hug and move forward together. I think that this allows them to grow, destress and improve their hippocampal function.

Feed your positive side more than your dark side and you can't help but expand and grow,

Dr. M

Stress and Memory