In 2006, Will Bowen had a famous idea: stop complaining, gossiping, or criticizing, and encourage others to follow suit. His goal was to make it 21 full days—the scientifically-recommended time needed to create a new behavior—complaint-free. Any uttered complaint, gossip or criticism would reset the count to day one; negative thoughts would carry no such penalty.
Borrowing from the LIVESTRONG campaign, Bowen ordered purple bracelets for people to use to track their behavior. When the wearer complained, he or she would move the bracelet to the other wrist, a physical activity designed to increase one’s consciousness of the negative behavior.
It took Bowen about two weeks to make it more than six hours without a complaint, and nearly four months to make it a full 21 days. Consider this: Bowen is the lead minister of the One Community Spiritual Center in Kansas City, Missouri. He says that it takes the average person four to ten months to hit the 21-day mark.
What happens when we stop complaining? We find that the things we don’t want in our lives begin to fall away, and more of the things we do want show up and stick around.
It’s like that with people.
The more consistently you practice excellence, the more excellent people will show up in your life. You will foster the positive, symbiotic relationships where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. You will grow; you will get things done, because meaningful activity will replace the time you used to spend in complaint one-upmanship with others.
Before you complain that complaining is a necessary evil, make sure you don’t confuse griping or whining with speaking up against an injustice to effect change. Complaining is expressing discontent with the way something is with no intention of changing it, as illustrated by this quote from Maya Angelou in the introduction to Will Bowen’s book A Complaint Free World:
If you don’t like something, change it.
If you can’t change it, change your attitude.
Remember, you are choosing to wake up famous every day, but in fact, each moment is an opportunity to change course.
Whether or not you read the book or buy a bracelet, I challenge you to see how long you can go without complaining, gossiping, or criticizing and to share your experiences in the comments section. Yes, you may think snarky thoughts, but even those will begin to fall away as you focus on the positive.
Good luck! You’re going to need it. (Moving bracelet now.)
At the time of this writing, AComplaintFreeWorld.org reported having shipped 5,986,564 of the bracelets worldwide, and that was before I ordered five. For myself. Because I will probably break more than one on my way to the 21-day mark.