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Why Entrepreneurs Who Complain Are Setting Themselves Up to Fail Did you know that complaining destroys neurons in your brain's problem-solving hippocampus?

By Isaiah Hankel Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Your problems are proportional to the amount of time you spend complaining about your problems: The less you complain, the fewer problems you will have. This is because complaining about your problems keeps your attention on your problems. And attention generates force.

Related: 4 Tips for Mentally Preparing for Overwhelming Challenges

Complaining also negatively affects your brain functioning and overall health. A study in the journal Developmental Psychology reported by the American Psychological Association found that people who vent to one other about their problems for long periods of time are more likely to develop depression and anxiety. Other studies reported by Stanford University News have shown that exposure to complaints lasting 30 minutes or more peels away neurons in your hippocampus, the part of your brain responsible for problem-solving.

Complaining lowers self-esteem.

The squeaky wheel doesn't get the grease. The squeaky wheel breaks down and gets replaced.

If you want to attract failure, talk about your problems. If you want to attract success, talk about what makes you happy. A study published in the journal Psychological Science and reported in Science Daily examined how people responded to positive versus negative social media-status updates. The researchers ranked random survey subjects as having high or low self-esteem and collected a set of 10 status updates from each person. The researchers then asked strangers to read the updates and rate how much they liked the person who wrote each set.

An example of a positive status update was, "[I am] looking forward to a great day tomorrow." An example of a negative update was, "[I am] upset b/c my phone got stolen."

The study found that people with high self-esteem were more likely to post positive status updates than those with low self-esteem. The study also found that strangers liked people who posted positive status updates more than people posting negative ones.

People with low self-esteem complain, which makes them less desirable to others and lowers their self-esteem further. It's a vicious cycle. The only way to stay out of this cycle is to actively build up your self-esteem by practicing habits that prevent you from complaining in the first place. Here are those habits:

1. Focus on results, not yourself.

Separate yourself from your problems. When you fail, see your mistakes as results-oriented setbacks, not personal shortcomings.

An experiment published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology tested 313 participants for self-esteem and had them play a fixed computer game forcing each one to win or lose. Both the winners and losers received either praise for their efforts, praise for themselves or no praise (the control group).

Related: Being an Entrepreneur Is Stressful But Don't Worry About It

In the group where participants were praised for their personal qualities, the webmaster wrote, "Wow, you're great!" The participants who were praised for their efforts were told, "Wow, you did a great job!"

After either winning or losing the game, the participants were told to complete a survey about their feelings of shame. Compared to all of the other groups, people who lost the game experienced significantly higher levels of shame if they had been praised for their personal qualities. The researchers concluded that focusing on results over personal qualities keeps people from associating their self-worth with failure or success.

2. Create a sense of certainty.

Complaining is a side effect of uncertainty. People with low self-esteem are uncertain about who they are and what they are capable of achieving. The secret to high self-esteem is to increase your certainty.

But it's hard to create certainty in yourself or your abilities when you're getting negative results. Most people getting negative feedback stop believing in themselves and displace their shortcomings by complaining about their problems. A better strategy is to learn from any negative feedback you get and immediately take action in a new direction.

Never stop believing in yourself. When things go wrong, don't waste your energy complaining about external circumstances. Instead, focus inward and rebuild your sense of certainty. See yourself succeeding next time, then execute.

3. Adjust the situation to your advantage.

Entrepreneurs should use negative events to their benefit. The two most common ways for people to regulate their emotions are reappraisal (changing the way they think about an emotional event) and suppression (changing the way they respond behaviorally to an emotional event).

Studies show that reappraisal has more short-term and long-term benefits than does suppression. A review in the Journal of Personality discusses a variety of experiments demonstrating how people who reappraise emotional situations function better socially, have a better sense of their overall well-being and make better decisions moving forward. They also have better emotional profiles later in life.

The best way to reappraise a negative situation, then, is to see yourself as the master of your problems rather than the victim. Your problems are at your disposal. You can think about them, learn from them and respond to them in any way you choose.

So, when something bad happens to you, change the way you interpret it. Instead of complaining or feeling sorry for yourself, focus on the result, not yourself, and find a way to learn from it as quickly as possible. When it comes to negative results, avoid permanent and personal thinking.

In this way you will own your mistakes without owning them forever. Instead of complaining and possibly causing harm to your brain, you will turn obstacles into advantages. You will develop a greater sense of certainty over your life and business while also maintaining higher levels of self-esteem.

Related: Should Complaining About Work on Social Media Be a Fireable Offense?

Isaiah Hankel

Founder and CEO, Cheeky Scientist

Isaiah Hankel is founder and CEO of Cheeky Scientist; he helps people with Ph.D.s transition into meaningful, high-paying industry careers. He is also a STEM Ph.D. and a Fortune 500 consultant.


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