Could you go for even 1 day without complaining? How about 5 consecutive days? No whining, moaning, nit picking or griping. I’ve made it 6 so far, but there is a challenge to go 21 consecutive days without complaining! Twenty one!
You hear it all around, every day, every hour. Negative statements, statements of disappointment, disgust, or criticism – that’s complaining. There is a negative quality to it, an emotional zing, and it is solely focused on the problem or what’s “wrong”. There’s a tone of, “how dare this happen”, or “poor me”.
A a few months ago I came across a book entitled, A No Complaint World written by Will Bowen. He began to research this common occurrence, the complaint, and he wondered if it was possible to eliminate complaining. So he did some research and came up with a challenge to refrain from complaining for 21 consecutive days. The 21 days is based on the amount of time the brain needs to change a habit.
Bowen went further than counting negative statements, to include sarcasm and gossip as part of complaining. Sarcasm can be funny, but in my experience, it is a way to make a complaint pretend to be humour. It masks the real message of the sender so the receiver has to figure it out. And gossip, well there is usually a negative tinge to gossip especially if you say something about an absent person you would NOT say if they were there.
Bowen came up with a bracelet to wear so when you hear yourself complain you switch it to the other wrist. (no snapping). So on “Day 1” you could switch that bracelet back and forth a LOT as you become aware of your complaints. But the idea is to have it on the same wrist for 21 consecutive days.
Could I Do It?
“So what next?” I wondered. I came across a blog written by Tim Ferris, who tried the 21 day challenge and he was able to do it! Tim said that he expanded on the definition of a complaint and said that a statement is a complaint only if it remains in the problem and does not focus on a possible solution.
Ferris wrote that this 21 day challenge made him think on his feet when he needed to disagree with someone or state his disapproval of something. He said by adding the word, “unless” he had the opportunity offer a possible solution to the problem, and it made him much more solution-focused and creative in his work. So if someone offered an idea at a meeting that he disagreed with, he would comment, “Well that won’t work, UNLESS…
The word “Therefore” or “So” works too. Here’s an example.
Oh darn I forgot my lunch. (sometimes followed by, “How could I be so stupid, I hate buying my lunch”…. you get the idea)
Oh darn I forgot my lunch. Well… I’ll go buy my lunch and (therefore) (so) tonight I will make it ahead of time. Same problem (no lunch) but the problem doesn’t “hang there” unresolved. I have to admit that sometimes I secretly hope someone else will come to my rescue when I complain.
I decided not only to try the challenge, but to share the campaign with my Toastmasters’ group and persuade them to try the challenge with me.
So back to my original question. What kind of complainer are you?
Do you use a less than favourable comment about the weather or politics to start a conversation with a stranger? Researchers say that we often use complaining to connect to strangers. Sometimes the conversation continues and we make a more meaningful connection about work, family or our surroundings.
See how many of these are true for you.
Do you use your tone of voice to portray disapproval, disgust or contempt?
Do you notice that sharing the thing that went wrong, brings the conversation around to you? (And you hope it does.)
Do you “one-up” others when the complaining makes its round in the group to stay included?
Do you use complaining to give up because the task is ‘too hard’ ‘can’t be done’, ‘it’s only for experts’? (because you are feeling quite overwhelmed and hopeless?)
Do you use complaining to get others on board as a form of support in addressing a perceived wrong. (to get people on your side?)
Do you ever use complaints about external forces to excuse your poor performance or explain why you failed (known as blame)?
Fits Like A Glove
You are not alone. We all fall into the complaining trap almost everyday. But this challenge will make you more aware of what you say. And from that awareness you can begin to change.
Bowen states early in his book “Complaining is so much a part of who we are, it’s difficult to recognize what is and is not a complaint.” pg 53
As I write this I am reflecting on a conversation with a friend I hadn’t seen in a while. I was more aware of what I was saying, even 5 minutes later. A few times, I realized 10 minutes after a conversation, I had complained and had to switch my bracelet.) So my next challenge is to be aware of what I am thinking before I say it. Something as simple as uttering, “Oh No” plaintively when I heard it was going to rain sent me back to “day 1”. An example of speaking before thinking.
What Good Is It?
What might the benefits be of taking on this challenge?
For me, I gained and continue to gain more empathy for others. (It’s called a challenge because it is not easy). I listen more, notice and wait to speak when I can make a contribution that is not a complaint.
I’m realizing some of my “go to” reasons for complaining are: wanting to be part of a conversation, needing to be listened to, and sometimes trying to get sympathy for something that didn’t go quite the way I wanted it to, a need for reassurance. Are you intrigued? I shared this challenge with a group of friends the other day and one woman asked me to bring her a bracelet Friday, because she decided she wants to try the challenge. Today as I write this, after 10 weeks, 70 days, I am on Day 2. (The the longest I have made it – 6 days.)
Are You Ready to Try?
How about you? Are you willing you take the challenge? No complaining, sarcasm or gossiping for 21 days?
I encourage you to keep track of each day marking the day you are on. If you have to return to Day 1, jot down how that happened, what you’re aware of, and what you’re learning about yourself.
Will Bowen tried the challenge after the book came out. It took him 6 months to make it the full 21 consecutive days! (I’m encouraged at being at a little more than the 2 month mark. This challenge is not for the faint of heart, or the easily discouraged. Check out Will Bowen’s 3 minute video that showed what happened to him day by day during his 6 months. Scroll down the page to find the video clip. http://www.willbowen.com/complaintfree/
Watching it gives me encouragement to keep going.
And here is the link to Tim Ferris’ account. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/tim-ferriss/no-complaint-experiment_b_5610433.html
In a week or so I will have an update. You don’t know it, but YOU are helping me keep on track and not quit. Thanks for that.
Pam Van Nest
Pamela Van Nest M.Ed., CPCC,ACC,GCC