3 Ways to Defend Your Brain Against Complainers

We all know that it’s not fun to listen to people complainówhether they’re your coworkers, friends, or even loved onesóbut did you know that their negative words can actually impair brain function?

According to a new article from 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.

According to Blake, 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 can damage parts of the brain used in problem solving.

But what can you do if someone just won’t stop complaining at you? Well, here are three techniques that Blake recommends:

1. Get some distance

“My father was a chain smoker,” Blake confides. “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 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 complainer, if you can.

2. Ask the complainer to fix the problem

Sometimes getting distance isn’t an option. If you can’t easily walk away, a second strategy is to ask the complainer to fix the problem.

“Try to get the person who’s complaining to take responsibility for a solution,” Blake says. “I typically respond to a complaint with, ‘What are you going to do about it?’” Many complainers walk away huffily at that point, because he hasn’t given them what they wanted, Blake reports. But some may 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. He adds that his own imaginary defense is “more like a Harry Potter invisibility cloak.”

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!



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Kate S.
Kate S4 years ago


Jenevieve P.
Past Member 4 years ago

As I have heard it said in Landmark education,.. "When you come to terms with WHAT HAPPENED to cause the BLAME and COMPLAINING,
When you're able to see and FEEL THE STORY that you've been dragging around forever YOU ARE ABLE TO GET OFF IT!.. accept the person or situation for what it is and GET ON IT!

GGma Sheila D.
GGmaSAway D4 years ago

Freida V - don't think you've ever smoked because any and all hardcore smokers KNOW smoking is really, really...Really bad for your health. Need different analogy.

Agree with Christian R - complaining about the complainers - been there, done that. Had to remove myself from the complainer after finding myself picking up the habit - and chronic complainers do it from habit. I'm not too sure if they realize that they're always doing it??

Anne H.
Anne H4 years ago

Good article and good comments. I learn something all the time. There are people who always have something to complain about. I do try to avoid them. There are also people who gladly jump on the pity party bandwagon and I will quickly say something like, "what event made you feel that way?" or "I don't share that experience." If they are complaining about their work after a bit of venting I'll ask when they are planning to look for another job or point out the only good point I heard in their story...you're employed.

Marie W.
Marie W4 years ago


LMj Sunshine
James Merit4 years ago


LMj Sunshine
James Merit4 years ago


Christian R.
Land Lost4 years ago

Ah, complaining about complainers..

Winn Adams
Winn A4 years ago


Freida Vb
G Vb4 years ago

For some, complaining has become a habit. A habit that we can break away from if we make up our minds to do so... as smokers can... once they realize that smoking is REALLY not good for your health. So, chronic complainers, be like an avid smoker and realize that constant complaining is NOT good for your health. (P.S. this is not to say that complaining can relieve one of his/her stresses --- once in-a-while that is).