The No Complaining Challenge: A Quest to Let Go of Negativity

I’m still cleaning, organizing, and working through my clutter project. Since I want to do this the right way and have some time to report the results, I’ve decided to push my monthly wrap-up back a few weeks and start my October challenge early. 


Have you ever read one of those ‘how to be happy’ articles that have become so popular on social media? You know, the ones titled 10 Things Happy People Do, or 10 Things Happy People Never Do, or 14 Things You Need to Stop Doing to Be Happy?

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They all say a variation of the same thing. Practice gratitude, live in the moment, stop complaining, don’t be envious, stop judging, and so on.

It’s all solid advice, but hard to internalize, because it’s our nature to worry, ruminate, and complain about things when they don’t go our way. It’s an addicting pattern of negative thinking that becomes increasingly difficult to escape.

I certainly struggle with it, in spite of all the time I invest practicing mindfulness and other healthy habits.

For example, I’ll take 30 minutes to journal or meditate, only to hop in the car to grab my daughter from kindergarten and silently curse everyone in the pickup line who doesn’t understand the basic concept of common sense as it applies to driving their cars.

All of a sudden I’m tense and grumpy (and sometimes downright furious) and all of that mindfulness work has gone out the window.

Things like this happen on an almost daily basis. Luckily I’m quick to acknowledge the unhealthy emotions, but it doesn’t always stop me from whining about it.

The No Complaining Challenge

This month, I’ve decided to focus on mindfulness once again, and am committing to the following:

  • No complaining
  • No gossiping
  • No swearing

I’m defining no complaining as describing an event or person negatively without indicating next steps to fix the problem, a definition I stole from Tim Ferriss who did a no complaining challenge of his own several years ago, inspired by the book A Complaint Free World, by Will Bowen.

Bowen (and Ferriss) suggest attempting to go 21 days without complaining while wearing a little bracelet that, when you complain, you switch the wrist it’s on. I won’t be doing that, but I will be keeping a tally of my progress.

To add to the fun, I should probably tell you that I’m almost 9 months pregnant. With baby #3.

The final month of pregnancy, as many women can attest to, is pretty miserable. Back pain, poor sleep, contractions, cramps, swelling, and all sorts of funny aches and pains. Suffice to say that I’ve turned into one grumpy little princess – and I’m totally taking advantage of it.

But just because I can get away with it doesn’t mean that I should or want to be that person. I want to be positive, cheerful and healthy as I ready myself to bring another life into the world, and right now, I’m anxious and short tempered.

Change Your Words, Change Your Thoughts

Words have a subtle but powerful way of influencing our thoughts. We think in words, so the words that we say affect the words that we think.

That’s why affirmations are a popular way to infuse positive thoughts into our subconscious minds.

There’s a great story about Scott Adams the creator of the popular Dilbert comic strip (and self proclaimed skeptic) who tried affirmations to appease a friend. He proceeded to write down his goals 15 times per day to “manifest” a variety of things in his life, which, much to his surprise, came into existence. He has been using affirmations ever since to reach his goals – from becoming a successful cartoonist to making money in the stock market.

It seems hokey, and they certainly aren’t for everyone, but words and mantras and positive thinking aren’t about making magic. They’re about reprogramming how our brain filters and interprets information. A 2012 study actually showed that positive affirmations and mantras can decrease stress, improve decision making and performance on challenging tasks (this study showed similar results).

Similarly, by being conscious of the way I talk about other people or events, I’m training myself to select my words carefully, recognize the things that I’m being negative about, and focus on solutions and more positive alternatives.

So, instead of thinking “All you people need to learn how to drive your damn cars,” I’m saying to myself “This is the nature of school pickup lines, so I’d better download a couple of great audiobooks to keep me company while I wait.” 

And instead of my usual “being pregnant sucks and I hate everyone”, I’ll say “My back really hurts and I need to put my feet up for 20 minutes.” 

I’ll probably be thinking the former in both situations, but I’m not expecting an overnight change. In fact, I don’t expect to make it more than a day without screwing up (at first, at least).

What I am hoping for is to bring more awareness to my words and thoughts which will improve my ability to stay calm, positive and action oriented in stressful situations.

It will certainly help me get through this final month of pregnancy, labor, delivery and my new life as a mom of three.

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