Listening to too much complaining is bad for your brain in multiple ways. According to Trevor Blake, an author and entrepreneur, “The brain works like a muscle,” Blake said. “So if you’re pinned in a corner for too long listening to someone being negative, you’re more likely to behave that way as well.” Even worse, being exposed to too much complaining can actually make you dumb. Research shows that exposure to 30 minutes or more of negativity actually peels away neurons in the brain’s hippocampus.
Blake recommends the following tactics to defend yourself and your brain from all the negativity.
1. Get some distance
Blake said. “The approach I’ve always taken with complaining is to think of it as the same as passive smoking.” You should look at complaining the same way. 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. You can typically respond to a complaint with, “What are you going to do about it?” Many complainers walk away huffily at that point, because he/she hasn’t given them what they wanted. 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 said. “So he imagined a bell jar that no one could see descending from the sky to protect him.” Sometimes, major league baseball pitchers can also be seen mouthing “Shields on!” as they stride to the mound.
A related strategy is to mentally retreat to your imagined favorite spot, someplace you’d go if you could wave a magic wand while people were ranting and raving. You could smile at them and nod in all the right places and meanwhile take yourself for a walk on your private retreat.