Sometime last year I was browsing the self-help section of my favorite used bookstore, McKay, when I stumbled across a book called A Complaint Free World by Unity Minister Will Bowen. I brought it home where it languished silently (because a book on being complaint free cannot complain) on my shelf until two weeks ago when I picked it up, dusted it off, and finally decided to give it a read.
The premise of the book revolves around the 21-Day Complaint Free Challenge whereby Will Bowen challenges himself and his congregation to go for three full weeks without complaining. The author recommends wearing a silicone bracelet (which they will provide you for free on their website) and each time you complain you switch the bracelet to the other wrist and start over again at Day 1. That’s right folks. One complaint on Day 20 and you are right back to the beginning. Will Bowen took 8 months before he made it 21 days straight without complaining. After a quick read through of the book I thought, “Challenge accepted!”
What is a complaint?
For the sake of the challenge, a complaint is defined as any voicing of dissatisfaction that is not purely factual, gossiping, or criticizing someone else. For example, you can say it’s raining outside because that is an observation. A complaint would be, “It’s raining outside and I’m so sick of having muddy dog paw prints on my kitchen floor.” (Yes, this is one of my actual complaints!) Gossip is considered anything you wouldn’t say to someone’s face.
You are allowed negative thoughts in your head, but if you say them out loud the bracelet must be switched to the other wrist and then “Hello, Day 1!” I found it interesting that you could still complain in your head, but the author notes that all thoughts in your brain are generated for a possible outlet. Once those negative thoughts consistently do not find an outlet they slowly start to be replaced by more positive thoughts that your brain believes will find a channel of outward expression.
Health Risks of Complaining
Research has shown that complaining can actually be bad for your health! While some venting of emotions can be helpful, endless complaining increases your blood pressure and your stress levels and we all know that stress can play havoc on our bodies. The stress hormone, cortisol, when elevated has been shown to affect your immune system, bone density, blood pressure, and cholesterol and can lead to weight gain, obesity, heart disease and depression. Since my word for the year is HEALTH, this opportunity to quit complaining is a great way for me to incorporate better health into my routine, both mentally and physically.
While the health affects should be enough to warrant an attempt at this challenge, what really motivated me to give it a shot were the testimonials from Bowen and his congregation stating how they were just plain happier than they were before the challenge. Everyone said that at first it was very difficult to change the habit, but by moving their bracelet each and every time they complained those negative thoughts eventually started to disappear and it became easier and more natural to be positive. As someone who struggles with being positive, this seemed like a win-win for me.
How I’m Doing So Far
After about a week of the challenge, I have made it to Day 2 twice. I have realized I complain a lot more than I thought I did! When you are really mindful of all your complaining, not just the big outbursts of major grievances, but also all the small moanings and groanings, you realize how these thoughts are permeating your days. By cutting down on the small grumbles I can already tell a difference – I’m complaining less, my reactions to negative events are less severe, and my happiness levels do seem higher.
I’ve switched from moving the bracelet from wrist to wrist to using the app on my phone. The free app tracks your progress, offers inspiration, and checks in with you to see if you have complained. If you say yes, it resets your journey to Day 1. The paid version of the app ($.99) let’s you track when you complain, who you complain to, and what types of complaints you make most often. I like the mindfulness of the paid version, so I splurged.
I’m looking forward to posting my progress here and discussing how it has changed my life and the lives of those around me. Anyone up for trying a 21-Day Challenge with me? Any takers? Would love to hear from you in the comments below.