photo: Joselito Tagarao on flickr

photo: Joselito Tagarao on flickr

How often do you complain?

Once an hour? Once a day? Once a year?

If you’d asked me that question six months ago, I would have put myself in the once-a-day category.

I rarely complain! After all, I’m a serious spiritual goofball. I see the good in everything. Complaining is contrary to all I believe in!

Then I was introduced to the book A Complaint Free World. The book describes a movement started by a man named Will Bowen. He challenges us to go twenty-one days without complaining, criticizing, or gossiping.

And not just twenty-one random days.

Twenty-one days in a row.

That means the sun has to go up and down in the sky twenty-one times, and never once do you utter a word of complaint. No complaining about the sun bobbing around in the sky. No complaining about my use of the word bobbing.

No. Complaining. About. Anything.

In order to commit to the challenge, you get a purple Complaint-Free World bracelet and put it on your wrist. (Really, any bracelet will do, but if you want to be snazzy, you get a purple bracelet.)

Every time you catch yourself complaining, criticizing, or gossiping, you switch the bracelet to the other wrist. The goal is to go twenty-one days in a row without having to switch your bracelet.

more bracelets done

When Melissa and I heard about this challenge, we said: Give us some bracelets! We can’t wait!

As it turned out, we couldn’t wait to change our bracelets to the other wrist.

We complained all the time! We had no idea!

It was so bad, the first time we tried the challenge, we didn’t make it. We gave up. We threw our purple bracelets in a drawer and said:

This is too hard! And, yes, that was a complaint. But I don’t have to move my bracelet, because I’m not wearing it anymore. Ha ha ha ha ha ha!

photo: z egloff

photo: z egloff

Then the sun went up and down in the sky many times, and an interesting thing happened.

Every time I turned my head, someone was talking about the power of not complaining.

Okay, not every time I turned my head. That would be weird.

But it felt like every time I turned my head, I was hearing about how we can change our lives for the better by giving up complaining.

I talked to Melissa, and we decided to give the No Complaining Challenge another try.

Like the time before, I immediately noticed how often I complained. But this time, I decided to come up with some strategies to help me make it to twenty-one days.

The first thing I realized was I needed to think before speaking.
photo: Eduardo Otubo on flickr

photo: Eduardo Otubo on flickr

One of the rules of the challenge is that thinking a complaint isn’t enough to make you change your bracelet. You have to actually say it.

And that’s where the importance of thinking before speaking came in.

It was like having a little committee inside my head. But instead of constantly telling me what I was doing wrong, as the Committees-Inside-My-Head of the past often did, this committee would calmly and carefully review what I was planning to say before I said it.

About half the time, they would recommend I not share my thought with the world.

This was a sobering realization, but one that greatly cut down the number of my complaints.

The second thing I realized was I needed to think before speaking even when I was by myself. 
photo: Eirik Newth on flickr

photo: Eirik Newth on flickr

Until this challenge, I had no idea how often I talk to myself. As it turns out, when it’s just me and me, I’m a chatty little thing.

So I needed to apply the think before I speak rule even when there was no one else around.

Especially in the car.

Like, suggesting to the driver behind me that she stay off my ass.

A bracelet-changing opportunity!

The third strategy I employed was the realization that I could still talk about many of the same things I did before I started the challenge. I just needed to say them differently.  
photo: Susan Sermoneta on flickr

photo: Susan Sermoneta on flickr

In describing a difficult interaction with someone else, for example, I needed to focus on my feelings and reactions, as opposed to the level of buttheadedness that the other person was displaying. With the spatially-challenged driver behind me, for example, I could have said:

I’m just going to pull over and allow you to go in front of me. Fly and be free, spatially-challenged driver!

Which brings me to a fourth strategy: I realized that whenever possible, I needed to do something instead of complaining about it.
photo: Jhong Dizon on flickr

photo: Jhong Dizon on flickr

Granted, this wasn’t always possible, but it often was. It meant I had to give up being a victim and become the superhero of my own life.

A superhero with a helpful committee inside her head and a tendency to talk to herself.

Go me!

Finally, the fifth strategy I discovered was to give up Complaining Codependence.
photo: David Weekly on flickr

photo: David Weekly on flickr

At one point in the challenge, I had gone eleven days in a row. This was my longest stretch yet, and I was feeling hopeful and accomplished.

Then I walked out the door.

In this case, Melissa and I went to a Lyle Lovett concert.

The concert was great! No complaint there!

Then, after the concert, we ran into some friends of Melissa’s. I was having a conversation with one of the women, someone I had just met, and she started complaining about the sound at the concert. I had also noticed what she was describing, but it hadn’t particularly bothered me.

I was aware of my energy contracting as she was speaking. We’d been having a nice conversation prior to her busting out the complaining card. Was she feeling my contraction? Would she think I didn’t like her? Maybe I could agree with her without complaining.

Turns out I couldn’t.

I watched as the words came out of my mouth, the first words of complaint in eleven days.


photo: Lourdes S. on flickr

photo: Lourdes S. on flickr

It was so painful, it made me want to complain.

But I didn’t.

Instead, that moment became a turning point. I gathered up all my strategies and employed them whenever possible:

1. I paused and reviewed my thoughts before I spoke.
2. Even when I was by myself.
3. I chose to speak differently about things I used to complain about.
4. When I could, I took action instead of complaining.
5. I gave up Complaining Codependence.

And, before long, I made it twenty-one days in a row without complaining!

photo: melissa phillippe

photo: melissa phillippe

Now that it’s over, I can see that the best part of the challenge is that it aligned me more powerfully with the Divine.

The Divine isn’t going around complaining, criticizing or gossiping. At least, not the Divine of my understanding. (The God of the Old Testament is another thing. But I’ll stop there, because I don’t want to change my bracelet.)

When I commit to refraining from complaint, critique and gossip, I get to experience my Divinity more directly.

And that’s just groovy! 

kids with bracelets done

What’s your experience with complaining, criticizing and gossiping? Share your comments below!

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