Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A Complaint-Free World: Take the 21-Day Challenge

A Complaint-Free World: Take the 21-day Challenge, by Will Bowen

As I wrote about on Every Day Is a Miracle, I read this book as an encouragement to give up complaining during Lent (easier said than done!). It's a quick little read, and it gave me the structure and impetus I needed to give it a try.

Will Bowen is a minister at Christ Church Unity in Kansas City, Missouri. He started the complaint-free movement in his church by giving away purple bracelets (shown wrapped around the globe, on the book cover) and developing a technique to reduce or eliminate complaining. The idea is that you wear the bracelet on one wrist, and when you complain, criticize, or gossip, you switch the bracelet to the other wrist. The goal is to try to go 21 consecutive days without complaining, criticizing, or gossipping out loud. (It doesn't count if it happens only in your head.) Bowen says that most people have to move their bracelet 15 to 20 times in the first few days, and soon it gets easier and easier. If you complain after 10 complaint-free days, you start all over again to aim for the 21 consecutive days.

The book is quick and easy to read, and gives plenty of testimonials from others who have gone complaint free. When people have challenged Bowen by saying, "But every great thing in our country began with people complaining...think about Thomas Jefferson and Martin Luther King!" he points out that actually, those leaders have inspired millions because they had a positive vision for the future.

"On August 8, 1963, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., did not stand on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and say, 'Isn't it terrible how we're being treated?' No. He spoke words that struck a chord with our nation and still bring tears to the eyes of those hearing them nearly a half-century later. He did not focus on the problem; he focused beyond the problem...In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson did clearly state the challenges the colonies were having under the governance of the British Empires. However, his document, signed July 4, 1775, was not a litany of gripes."
Thomas Jefferson, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Rosa Parks were all dreamers and visionaries, not complainers, although they certainly recognized and fought against the injustices in their times. But they focused beyond the problems, onto the solutions.

I do agree, in part, with Bowen that when you think things will go your way, they are more likely to do so. As he writes, "Our words are powerful. And when we change what we say, we begin to change our lives." I'm as much of a rose-colored glasses person as the next optimist, but I do have a small skeptical side in me that also believes that no matter how much positive thinking (or lack of complaining) you do, it does not exempt you from experiencing sadness or tragedy at times in your life. I remember reading Dr. Christiane Northrup's Women's Bodies Women's Wisdom, in which she theorizes that women's infertility or miscarriage could be caused by ambivalence about being pregnant or negative thinking. This concept upset me greatly as I experienced miscarriage after miscarriage. Although I do believe in a mind-body connection, I do not believe that it's absolute. If that were the case, our friends who have lost babies or children far too early would still have their children with them. So yes, avoiding complaining, worrying, and negative thinking can definitely contribute to a healthier, happier life. But sometimes...shit happens. And it's perfectly appropriate and healthy to complain about it, to a certain extent.

On the other hand, Bowen differentiates complaining from expressing one's feelings. Yesterday, I switched my bracelet to my other wrist after expressing that I was disappointed in someone not returning my calls at work. From what I understand, this is not a was an expression of my feelings. So if shit happens, yes you should talk about how it makes you feel. But wallowing in self-pity only hurts you in the long run.

Bowen also indicates that no complaining does not mean accepting things that are wrong. But it means asking for what you need in lieu of complaining or being critical. Understanding the difference is helpful. He suggests these alternate words and ways of thinking:

Instead of...                                       Try...
Problem                                            Opportunity
Have to                                             Get to
Setback                                            Challenge
Enemy                                               Friend
Tormentor                                         Teacher
Pain                                                   Signal
I demand                                           I would appreciate
Complaint                                         Request
Struggle                                            Journey
You did this                                      I created this

As a wise teacher (and my high school speech team coach) once told me, "you don't get to complain unless you're prepared to do something about it," when I complained about another high school's overly loud music across the university center (where we were camped out for the day). I've never forgotten her advice. Now it's time to apply it.

I did better than I thought yesterday (I moved my bracelet three times, including when I was trying to help Kieran choose a birthday present for a friend and he didn't like any of my suggestions...and I finally threw up my hands and said "I give up!"). Today I haven't had to move my bracelet at all. But just wait until something crummy happens (or the kids aggravate me)...that will be the real test!

So far, even thinking about not complaining has improved my mood overall!

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