The Surprising Way Complaining Affects Your Intelligence
Let’s talk about a subject that most accountants have experience in – complaining. But before we dive in, let me ask you some questions to think about:
Have you ever noticed how often you catch yourself complaining throughout the day? Maybe it’s about the traffic during your morning commute, the mountain of paperwork on your desk, or perhaps even the occasional issue with the weather.
We all complain about various things, but have you ever stopped to think about the impact of all that complaining on your life or your career?
Or maybe you were intrigued to participate in one of those challenges to help you stop from complaining, like John Gordon’s 7-Day Challenge. How long did you last before something or someone triggered a complaint?
It’s surprising how difficult it can be to break this sneaky habit. But unfortunately, the hard truth is that complaining is actually making us dumber and I’ll be explaining how in a minute.
While we all complain, you might be interested to know that the average person complains anywhere between 15 and 30 times a day.
Here’s another question: Are you aware that your brain is wired to find faults, to identify potential threats, and to, in a way, complain? It’s a natural survival mechanism, but what happens when this tendency seeps into your daily conversations, especially at work?
Now, think about this: how often do you find yourself surrounded by constant complainers, be it coworkers, friends, or family members? Do you ever feel drained by their negativity?
Have you ever noticed how you end up discussing their bad attitudes with others, as if you can’t help but complain about the complainers?
And here’s the ultimate question: Did you know that complaining is affecting your intelligence, and in turn, your accounting career? It’s not just a matter of your mood; it’s about the very asset that fuels your professional success—your brain.
In today’s episode, I’m going to explain the science behind complaining, why it’s more problematic than you might think, and most importantly, how you can stop or at least become more purposeful in your complaints.
If you’re ready to delve into this intriguing topic, stay tuned because by the end of this episode, you’ll have valuable insights and practical strategies to make your complaints work for you rather than against you.
Why we complain
So let’s start with why we complain. It’s a behavior so ingrained in our daily lives that we often do it without even realizing. So, why do we complain so much?
As I mentioned earlier, challenges like John Gordon’s 7-Day Challenge can shed some light. The goal of the challenge is to go a whole week without complaining. Sounds simple, right? Well, not quite.
Most people who take this challenge can’t make it past the 10-minute mark without finding something or someone to complain about. But why is it so tough to stop complaining?
The answer lies in the sneaky nature of this habit. Most of the time, we believe we’re just stating the facts, much like a news reporter delivering the daily headlines.
We think we’re merely observing our world and expressing what’s true for us. For example, we say things like, “There’s a ton of work to do” or “The weather is pretty crappy.”
However, here’s the catch – our brains are wired to be natural complainers. They constantly scan our environment, seeking out what’s wrong or potentially threatening to keep us safe.
Complaining is a survival mechanism deeply rooted in our biology. In fact, research has shown that during typical conversations, especially at work, most people complain approximately once a minute.
The truth is that our negative-biased brains tend to interpret more things as wrong than right, and they want to share these observations as a sort of “public service.”
Now, here’s why it becomes even more prevalent in work environments and why it’s so tricky to break this complaining habit – it can become a form of bonding. Complaining and gossip often go hand in hand, sometimes forming the basis of relationships, especially in challenging work situations.
As I’ve shared on the podcast before, because our primitive brains are motivated to avoid pain, seek pleasure, and be efficient, the practice of complaining can easily become hardwired into our habits. It becomes our unconscious default.
In other words, until we rewire our brains, they will continue to do what they do best – complain.
Let’s go over some examples by starting with a scenario that most of us deal with – daily commuting. Let’s say you find yourself inching along in traffic, late for work yet again. Again, it’s a situation many of us can relate to.
As your frustration mounts, you might express your aggravation by saying something like, “This traffic is unbearable every day! It’s a complete nightmare.” It seems harmless, right? You’re just venting your frustration about the situation.
But here’s the catch – this seemingly innocent complaint reflects a natural inclination of our brains to focus on what’s going wrong, in this case, the traffic. Our brains are wired to spot potential threats and inconveniences, even in the mundane, as a survival mechanism..
Or here’s another example for those of us in public accounting – tax season. Let’s say you’re knee-deep in spreadsheets, drowning in tax forms, and your coffee consumption has hit an all-time high. It’s a situation that many of us can relate to.
As the stress mounts, you might express your frustration by saying something like, “This workload during tax season is unbearable every year! It’s a complete nightmare.”
It might feel like you’re just venting your frustration about the situation, but there’s more to it. This complaint reflects the natural tendency of our brains, as humans, to focus on what’s going wrong – in this case, the overwhelming workload.
Again, our brains are wired to spot potential problems and inconveniences, even in the intricacies of accounting. When this default part of our brain goes unchecked, it can become a bigger problem than you realize.
So, just know that when complaining becomes your unconscious default, it can hurt your intelligence and, as I’ll explore in a minute, become a problem for you and your accounting career.
Why it’s a problem
As accountants, we need to be sharp and analytical in order to do the challenging work we do. Our accountant brain must operate at its highest level, especially when tackling complex financial challenges and navigating the intricacies of the financial world.
But here’s where the trouble starts – research has shown that complaining can literally shrink a critical area of your brain, the hippocampus. This small but mighty region is responsible for problem-solving, memory retention, and intelligent thought processes.
It’s essentially the vault where all those accounting facts, tips, and analytical strategies are securely stored. Unfortunately, complaining is killing your brain cells.
While it might sound like a humorous exaggeration, it’s true. Research conducted by Professor Robert Sapolsky at Stanford University has shown that chronic complaining can indeed have detrimental effects on the hippocampus.
It’s the constant stream of stress hormones, like cortisol, flooding your bloodstream that does the damage. If you’re not familiar with cortisol, it’s referred to as the stress hormone.
When you complain persistently, you’re essentially flooding your bloodstream with cortisol. This hormone, in excess, puts you at risk for increased blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and a host of other health concerns.
When you add juggling a demanding career with family responsibilities, the stress from both sides can be immense. You may find yourself complaining to your colleagues about it regularly.
Your complaint might sound like, “I don’t know how much more stress I can handle – between tax deadlines and family commitments, it’s too much!”
Unfortunately, this stress, compounded by chronic complaining, creates a toxic cocktail in your body, wreaking havoc on your health. And, let’s be honest, we could all use a little less stress in our lives.
Now, you might wonder, “Why does complaining feel so good if it’s causing all these problems?” The answer lies in how you feel before you complain.
Here’s the thing – just before you let out that complaint, there’s typically a strong negative feeling – frustration, judgment, or stress. Complaining seems like a welcomed relief from those negative emotions, especially when others join in.
For example, let’s say it’s another tough day at work, and your coworker joins you in a complaining session about the management’s decisions. You vent your frustrations together, feeling the relief of shared grievances.
In this moment, it feels like you’re releasing some of the pressure built up inside you. It’s as though you’re a dam about to burst, and complaining allows you to let off some steam.
The issue, however, is that your brain is like a sponge, absorbing everything you spill – including all that complaining.
The truth is that your brain absorbs the complaints and begins to wire itself to include them in your thought patterns. As you rinse and repeat this process, your brain strengthens these connections, making it easier and easier to complain.
Over time, complaining can become as natural as breathing but as damaging as smoking.
The interesting thing is that the damage isn’t limited to how you perceive the world; it extends to how others perceive you. It might be draining for you to be around constant complainers, but it’s equally draining for others to be around your complaining.
For example, let’s say you’re at a family gathering, and your cousin always brings up something to complain about. You might share an exasperated look with your sibling about your cousin’s attitude, creating a subtle alliance of complaint.
It’s a bonding experience, but it’s not exactly conducive to positive relationships.
While it might not seem like a big deal, the truth is that it’s not helpful to you, your intelligence, or your accounting career to let complaining go unaddressed.
How to stop or become more purposeful
So far I’ve uncovered why we complain and why it can be problematic. Now, it’s time to explore the practical steps to stop complaining or, at the very least, complain with purpose.
Since complaining is a habit deeply rooted in our brains, it’s not easy to break. The truth is that our brain processes approximately 60,000 thoughts a day, therefore, it’s impractical to try to stop negative thoughts from occurring altogether.
However, you do have control over what you choose to focus on.
Let me explain a simple yet effective process that I like to call the “Pass the Hors D’oeuvres” technique. Imagine yourself at a fancy cocktail party, with waiters and waitresses passing around silver platters filled with delicious hors d’oeuvres.
Now, here’s how this process works:
Imagine that each silver platter holds a thought your brain is offering you, just like an hors d’oeuvre. Understand that there’s nothing inherently wrong with any of the thoughts on those platters.
The key to this process is that you get to decide, purposefully, whether you want the thought on the platter or not. Before you pick up a thought, ask yourself a few questions:
“Is this thought helpful or useful?”
“Does this thought serve me?”
“Will it ‘taste’ good?”
You only need to spend a second or two to decide. If a thought is useful, pick it up and savor it. If it’s not, simply let the waiter pass by without judgment.
The power of this process lies in its elegant simplicity. Instead of resisting the negative, complaining thoughts that naturally pop up in your brain, you’re making conscious choices about which thoughts are worth your attention.
You’re essentially curating your mental menu.
What’s truly remarkable is that this process will reveal how optional your thoughts truly are. The thoughts about the circumstances in your life, much like the hors d’oeuvres on the silver platters, can be chosen or passed on – it’s always within your power.
So, whether you’re faced with a challenging accounting situation or dealing with someone else’s complaints, remember that you have the option to decide what you want to think about it all.
Instead of letting the default part of your brain keep thinking and complaining the way it’s always done, you also have the option to decide whether you want to complain with purpose. Complaining with purpose means having a specific goal in mind when you feel the urge to vent.
It’s about communicating without blame and aiming to find viable solutions.
For example, let’s say you have an issue with something you purchased, and you call customer service to complain. Instead of merely venting your frustration, you pause and evaluate whether your complaint will lead to a constructive conversation.
You might ask yourself, “Do I know what I want as a resolution? How might they be able to resolve the situation?” Complaining with purpose means that your complaint isn’t just a release; it’s a step toward finding a solution.
When you choose what’s worth complaining about with a clear goal of being part of the solution, you give your brain and intelligence a chance to switch into problem-solving mode instead of being depleted by complaining mode.
The best part is that complaining with a purpose not only benefits you but also makes it easier for others to join in the solution. It helps calm emotions and fosters better communication.
So remember, complaining is a habit, and like any habit, it can be transformed. By applying these techniques, you can break free from the complaining cycle, boost your intelligence, lower your stress, and enhance your communication skills.
The Smarter Accountant Way: How to not let complaining affect your intelligence
As accountants, our intelligence is our most valuable asset. It’s what enables us to tackle complex financial challenges, solve intricate problems, and provide essential financial guidance to our clients and organizations.
So now let’s go over some real-world examples of how you can break free from the complaining cycle and protect your intelligence.
If you’re in public accounting like me, you know that tax season is the time we tend to love to complain due to our workload. There was even an Accounting Today headline a few years ago that said something like, “Brace yourself for another horrible tax season.”
Thankfully, the Smarter Accountant way can help with the issue of complaining affecting your intelligence. So the question you probably now have is, “What’s the Smarter Accountant way?”
Well, instead of complaining about the never-ending stream of tax returns, consider this approach: view each tax return as a unique challenge, an opportunity to showcase your expertise and problem-solving skills. The reason I no longer have stressful tax seasons and have stopped complaining is because I learned how to manage my mind.
I learned how to recognize the natural tendency to complain and instead, pivot using my higher brain. By adopting a new mindset, you will not only transform your experience of tax season, but you will also preserve your intelligence.
Remember, your hippocampus is the part of your brain that is responsible for problem-solving, memory retention, and intelligent thought processes. You want to help maintain a healthy and agile brain that’s ready to tackle even the most intricate financial puzzles.
Another common source of complaint among accountants is workplace dynamics, especially when dealing with challenging colleagues or demanding bosses. Believe me, I’ve had colleagues that didn’t pull their weight and dealt with the difficult, micromanaging bosses.
I know first hand that it isn’t easy, but instead of dwelling on office frustrations and complaining about coworkers, try “The Smarter Accountant Way.” Shift your focus from complaining to problem-solving.
For instance, if you’re facing a conflict with a coworker, either approach the situation as an opportunity to enhance your communication skills or learn to pivot your focus to the less challenging coworkers.
Instead of venting your frustration, either initiate a constructive conversation or accept that the coworker is not your favorite and that life is 50/50; you may only like 50% of the people you’re surrounded by, saving your intelligence for what truly matters..
Another example is personal development. We are often pressed for time due to our busy schedules, but instead of complaining about the lack of time for self-improvement, embrace “The Smarter Accountant Way.”
Suppose you’ve been longing to improve your time management skills by learning a new, brain-based time management system like I teach in The Smarter Accountant Time Management Program. Instead of complaining that there’s never enough time, recognize that it is possible to make time for things that are important to you.
Since The Smarter Accountant Time Management Program is only six weeks, you can simply choose to dedicate this short amount of time to learning and application. In doing so, you not only acquire new knowledge but also keep your hippocampus active and engaged.
Hopefully, you can now see that by applying “The Smarter Accountant Way” in these scenarios and countless others, you can transform complaining into a powerful tool for personal and professional growth.
Remember, while complaining might feel natural, it’s also affecting your intelligence so it’s probably worth noticing and addressing as often as you can.
Well, that’s what I have for you. Thank you for joining me on this exploration of complaining and its impact on our intelligence and our lives. I hope you’ve gained valuable insights and practical tools to navigate this part of your human experience.
If you are struggling with any aspect of being an accountant, you can simply go to www.thesmarteraccountant.com/calendar and book a free session with me.
I’ll explain The Smarter Accountant 6-week Program and how you can apply it to whatever you’re struggling with.
That’s what I have for you, but make sure you check back each week as I help you go from being a stressed accountant to a Smarter Accountant.
Make sure you go to www.thesmarteraccountant.com and take The Smarter Accountant Quiz. You’re going to want to know if you’ve been underutilizing your accountant brain so that you have a starting point for becoming a Smarter Accountant..
Also, I would appreciate it if you could get the word out to other accountants about this podcast. The more accountants find out about it, the more we can begin to change the narrative in the accounting profession.
The truth is that you’re already smart, but this podcast will show you how to be smarter.