We all know that it’s not fun to listen to people complain—whether they’re your coworkers, friends, or even loved ones—but 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!