Can You Go 21 Days Without Complaining? Six Strategies to Help You Succeed

by Diane Berenbaum

There is certainly plenty for anyone to complain about these days. According to a new study by MetLife, more than nine in ten individuals (93%) believe that Americans have to work as hard as or harder than ever just to get by. So, we may find ourselves whining about the economy, declining home prices and the rising the price of gas. Even in the best of times, we can usually find something to complain about our job, the neighbors, family members, and of course, the weather.

It doesn't take much to get people complaining. Let's face it. We love to complain. There are even websites that encourage us to vent and share our most annoying experiences with others, such as My Biggest Complaint and The Consumerist.

For those of us who can't wait to complain but don't know how, there's a website with an automatic complaint letter generator, http://www.pakin.org/complaint/, to make complaining more convenient and efficient.

 

The Challenge:  Stop Complaining for 21 Straight Days

In the midst of all this bellyaching, a minister in Kansas City, Missouri decided to do something about it. (Yes, even church members complain.) Reverend Will Bowen of the Christ Church Unity challenged his congregation to go 21 days straight without complaining. The minister then gave each member a purple bracelet as a reminder. If a member complained, he needed to switch it to the other wrist and start over. 

According to Will Bowen, “Your thoughts create your world and your words indicate your thoughts. When you eliminate complaining from your life, you will enjoy happier relationships, better health and greater prosperity.” This simple idea from a local church has turned into a national movement striving for a “complaint-free world” (www.AComplaintFreeWorld.org). Others were inspired by this belief and bought a bracelet to change their behavior. In fact, the Church has sent out over 5 million bracelets to date (with a little help from Oprah).

It seems that there are a lot of people fed up with the griping they hear around them. Or, perhaps some people have finally realized that they may complain a little too much and it's not really getting them anywhere.
 

The Difference between Destructive and Constructive Complaining

I would guess that there have been times in my life that others wished I complained a bit less. Clear evidence can be found in my third grade autograph book. My older sister took the liberty of filling in a motto for me—“Crabby is as crabby does.” I have never forgotten it, but considering the source, I never did much about it either.

I have also been falsely accused of complaining on many occasions. Stating a fact should not be confused with complaining. For example, if I say, “My new raincoat is too long.”  That's not really a complaint— I am merely remarking on a dimension of the product.  I could easily have said, “This raincoat is incredibly annoying. It's too long, and I always trip on it. What were they thinking? After all, I'm 5'4” and that's an average height for a woman….” (I could go on, since I am quite capable of complaining, but I'll refrain.)

There is certainly a place, an important place, for sharing observations or what you might call “constructive complaining.” Products can't be improved, relationships won't grow and individuals will not develop without this important kind of feedback. I'd like to think that most of my complaining has fallen into this category, but I must confess a penchant for “destructive” complaining.
 

How to Stop Destructive Complaining

So how do you stop your destructive complaining for 21 straight days? It may sound difficult, maybe even impossible for some of us who have grown accustomed to it. I must admit that my first response to the idea could easily have resembled a complaint. Good thing I kept it to myself.


Where to start? Try the purple bracelet (just go to www.AComplaintFreeWorld.org) and enlist your co-workers and friends to join the challenge. Then, use the following six strategies to help you succeed in your quest for a complaint-free zone:

  1. Recognize that it is a process. This may take some time. Two months after Reverend Bowen handed out the bracelets, only one person managed to stop complaining for 21 straight days. The Reverend himself! Forgive yourself for slips and try, try again.
  2. Think constructive and informative. Stick with the facts, which are always neutral (e.g., “The report is longer than the stated page limit” vs. “I told you not to write more than five pages! Don't you ever listen?”) You'll avoid the complaining that chips away at relationships, demotivates and creates bad feelings.
  3. Write down what's bothering you. Whenever you have the urge to moan or vent, put it on paper. Start a list with “I'm upset about…” Just the process of writing it down will help you see things more objectively—and feel better too.
  4. Consider what you can do to change the situation. Step back and brainstorm ways to manage the issue that is driving you crazy. Think of what you can do to make the situation more bearable. Write them down and decide what you will do first.
  5. Channel your complaining into a more productive response. Take action—recommend a new policy, conduct research, ask for help or make a move. Do something positive with all that negative energy.
  6. Find a bright side. Identify something positive about a seemingly negative scenario. If you're given a new project that will be time-consuming, consider the knowledge and incredible experience you'll gain. If you're griping about your hair loss, remember that you need less time for washing and styling.

Maya Angelou, once said “If you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it, change your attitude; Don't complain.”

Sounds simple. But...it is not easy to do. I know—I haven't achieved the 21 day mark yet.  But, I'm not complaining.
 
Diane Berenbaum is a long-time contributor and former editor of the MAGIC Service Newsletter. She has more than twenty-five years of experience as a consultant, coach, and facilitator. Diane is the co-author of How to Talk to Customers: Create a Great Impression Every Time with MAGIC® .
 
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