Everyone needs to vent occasionally. Maybe it's because your morning commute was a nightmare, you attended an unproductive meeting, or a team member missed a deadline. There will always be something to complain about.

However, compulsively complaining doesn't just get something off your chest: It actually damages your brain and overall health. In fact, some have even gone so far as to say that complaining can kill you.  

The good news is that you can train your brain to stop complaining. This goal is possible to accomplish in less than a month. Sound too good to be true? Here's how you can make it happen.

Define what a complaint really is.

Before you start complaining, take a step back to really think about what's bothering you. Is there a valid reason for the complaint? Are you complaining merely for the sake of complaining?

For example, if you claim that you can't stand living in your current city because it's too cold, that's an observation. What's more, that complaint serves no purpose than to fuss over the weather. If you were to say that the weather was affecting your health or work, you'd have a legitimate reason for your gripe.

Monitor and track your complaints.

After defining what a complaint really is, determine how often you complain. Also, keep tabs on the things that trigger these objections. You don't have to overthink this. Just jot down your complaints, and you'll quickly realize that your complaints flow a lot more regularly than you realize.

Besides writing down your actual complaints, note who you expressed these grievances to and how you felt after complaining. After a week or so, you should be able to identify your personal patterns. Finding how you operate in regards to grumbling will help you start thinking of ways to resolve the underlying problems.

For instance, when it comes to cold weather, if it's impacting your health or work, the obvious solution would be to relocate or wear warmer clothing. If you're having difficulty with an employee who's constantly missing deadlines, you need to address this issue with him and find out why he can't meet his deadlines. You may find out it's a simple fix, such as providing him with additional information or the right tools to get the job done more quickly. You may also find out that the workload is too much to expect of anyone -- and that's valuable information you can act on, not simply complain about.

Try the rubber band technique.

While becoming more self-aware of your complaining is a great start, you may have to actually change your behavior through conditioning. This is similar to the findings of Ivan Pavlov, the Russian physiologist who famously discovered that he could trigger a salivary response in his dogs with any activity. Pavlov would ring a bell, then feed his dogs; ring the bell, feed the dogs. Soon, he was able to merely ring the bell, and the dogs would begin to salivate, knowing they were going to be fed.

Instead of ringing a bell to stop complaining, you could try using a rubber band to change your behavior. Simply place a rubber band around your wrist. Whenever you complain, pull the rubber band back to let it snap onto your wrist. Eventually, this will serve as a physical and mental reminder that when you complain, there's a consequence.  

Remove yourself from negative situations and toxic people.

One of the easiest, and most effective, ways to stop complaining is by removing yourself from stressful situations and toxic people. If you've picked up on the patterns that cause you to complain, this shouldn't be difficult.

For instance, if you're leading a meeting that's going nowhere, call for a five-minute recess or end it earlier than planned. During this break, go outside for a walk. Research has found that walking can improve your mood and reduce stress. More importantly, reflect on why that meeting didn't go as planned so you can plan more productive meetings in the future.

If you can't leave a situation immediately, you should still schedule other times for a daily walk so that you can think and clear your head. Many studies have shown both the mental and physical benefits of daily exercise.

Furthermore, because misery loves company, evaluate the people you spend your time with. If you're hanging out with negative people who constantly whine or bring you down, you'll start mirroring those traits. Replace those relationships with ones that are more positive and supportive.

Turn complaints into action.   

Believe it or not, there are ways to complain constructively. This is where you actually do something about what's bothering you.

Alicia Clark, a PsyD based in Washington, D.C., says you can complain effectively by:

  • Focusing on your feelings, not facts.
    This "sets up a big difference in what you will receive from your listener that can, in turn, have a big impact on how you end up feeling. Facts invite your listener to think about them and agree or disagree, whereas feelings invite your listener to understand."

  • Talking through what's frustrating you.
    Let's say you're running late for a meeting. Instead of sharing a rundown of the events that led to your tardiness, discuss how this impacted you. This will help the listener relate and empathize with you. "And the more they can relate, the better able they will be to empathize with you and offer the support you're seeking," says Clark.

  • Sandwiching your complaint. This is where you place your negative complaint in between two positives. For example, if your daily commute stresses you out, you could ask to work from home occasionally by saying something like "I love my job and co-workers, but my commute is stressful and time-consuming. I feel I could be more productive if I could work from home twice a week."

  • Leading with how you feel. "People don't like to hear complaints, they want to hear your feelings," says Clark. By telling others how situations affect you, it helps them understand where you're coming from and how they may be able to help.

Find the positives.

The key to bringing your complaining to a screeching halt is by trying something positive to replace the negative.

There are several proven ways to become more positive, such as journaling. Write down the problem and how it makes you feel. Include possible solutions and the positives of the situation. Likewise, your support network can give you a forum for stating the problem and how it makes you feel -- a strong support system will then offer solutions and help you find the humor in the situation.

Practicing gratitude can also be helpful. Rather than focusing only on the negative, practicing gratitude helps you appreciate what you do have and recognize that things aren't as bad as you thought.

You can also engage in thought-stopping. Whenever you have a negative thought pop up in your head, visualize a stop sign, and then move on to a different thought. You can also shake your thoughts up by changing how you communicate them. One way to do so is by using the "but-positive" technique. For instance, you might say,  "My commute is brutal, but I'm grateful that I have a fulfilling job." Another way is to replace "have to" with "get to": "I get to meet with a new client."

Complaining is a sign that something needs to change. Instead of rambling on and on about what's bothering you, devote your energy to what you can do to change the problem. Instead of letting complaining get the best of you, start retraining yourself to stop complaining so you can become a more productive and successful person.

Published on: Jan 13, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.