Accelerated Learning and Life Skills

The 21-Day No-Complaint Experiment

I normally consider myself to be an upbeat, positive, and action-oriented person. However, this academic year has been very challenging for me and I found myself complaining – a lot! Even though I am well aware of the damaging physical and emotional effects that complaining can have, I still fell into an unhealthy pattern of complaining on a daily basis. Since I wasn’t actually doing anything to resolve the issues I was complaining about, the end result was that I was making myself unhappy by focusing all of my energy on the problems and not the solutions.

Luckily, about two weeks ago, I came across a blog by Tim Ferriss called: “Real Mind Control: The 21-Day No-Complaint Experiment”. In his blog, Tim writes about the results of his experiment to go 21 straight days without complaining about anything. After reading Tim’s blog, I decided that this was an experiment that I needed to do for myself. Before I describe the experiment, let me first give you a little background.

The experiment is the brain-child of Will Bowen, a Kansas City minister who recognized the power behind the words that we use. To help his congregation become more aware of their complaining, Will created purple Complaint Free bracelets as a tool to monitor how often you complain. The bracelets work by wearing one on either wrist and then switching wrists any time that you complain. The goal is to go 21 straight days without complaining or switching wrists. 

The bracelets spread like wild fire and Will eventually created a non-profit organization, A Complaint Free World, whose mission is to inspire 60 million people to “leave the toxic communication of complaining behind and experience an internal shift toward being more positive, hopeful and optimistic.”

i have no complaints

I decided to do the experiment myself using a rubber band instead of the purple bracelet. (I ordered bracelets but they have not yet arrived.) I started the experiment a little more than a week ago and it has turned out to be much more challenging than I thought it would be. Part of the challenge has been deciding exactly what constitutes a complaint. Is it complaining to mumble out loud to yourself after your cell phone butt-dials someone? What about stating how mentally deranged someone must be to plant explosives at the Boston Marathon? Or how about using a four-letter word to express exasperation?

I finally decided to define complaining the same way that Tim does in his blog: “describing an event or person negatively without indicating next steps to fix the problem.” Using this working definition, it is acceptable to describe a problem as long as I indicate steps to resolve it. For example, it is acceptable to say “Traffic was awful this morning so tomorrow I am going to leave 20 minutes earlier.” However, “Traffic sucked this morning!” would definitely count as a complaint. As with Tim, I also decided to include as a complaint the use of 4-letter words (and other common profanities) to express exasperation.

As of now, I have yet to make it longer than one and a half days without complaining. I have been thwarted by traffic (twice), a slow internet connection, the world’s smelliest diaper, my dog, and several work-related issues. Usually, the complaint was out of my mouth before I even realized I was saying it. One of the benefits that I have already gotten from this experiment is the awareness of how often we complain without realizing it. It has been said the average person complains between 15 and 30 times a day. I believe it.

It takes most people between 4 and 8 months to complete their experiment and go 21 straight days without a single complaint. I am hoping to complete mine by the end of the summer, which will be a little more than 4 months total. I will continue to wear my bracelet everyday and switch wrists whenever I complain until I can go 21 consecutive days without complaining.

I would love it if you would join me on this great adventure. I will give the first ten people to post a comment below and join me in this experiment a free purple Complaint Free bracelet.


I will post updates on my progress in future posts so stay tuned. Until then, here is a quote that nicely summarizes one of the reasons I am doing the 21-day no-complaint experiment:

 “If you took one-tenth the energy you put into complaining and applied it to solving the problem, you’d be surprised by how well things can work out … Complaining does not work as a strategy. We all have finite time and energy. Any time we spend whining is unlikely to help us achieve our goals. And it won’t make us happier.”  ― Randy Pausch (from The Last Lecture)

Comments & Responses

29 Responses so far.

  1. Lexi Pennebaker says:

    I’m totally trying to get my co-workers in on this! Super difficult in a restaurant when your job pretty much consists of dealing with other people’s complaints. It was great to get your “complaint” definition – we were stuck on that as well. Keep it up Joe! I’m going to commit to it too. Lex

    • Awesome to hear that Lexi!

      Congratulations – you get the first bracelet! I’ll be in touch next week when they arrive in the mail.

      Keep in mind that the experiment can be very challenging at first so be kind to yourself as you acquire this new skill. Right now I am on day one – again :)

      Keep me posted and let me know how it goes.

  2. Kory says:

    I hear you on traffic, and the four letter words! I vent, which is a euphemism for complaining. Little stuff, big stuff, any size is a waste. I think it is a great experiment!

  3. carey says:

    I’m in. I love this idea! I actually think I do well at not complaining until it comes time to vent about the complainers making my environment toxic. I’m in though…100 %.

  4. carey says:

    Can anyone do this? Can I send this link to some friends? Where did u order the bracelets from?

  5. Mark Wiebe says:

    I am curious to find out how much of a whiner I actually am. I believe that I am a positive person, and tolerant of most people, places, and things, but I would love to live more solution based. I’m going to give it a shot.

  6. I would love to try this! The more life experience I have, the more I realize that we create our own reality in how we interpret and respond to our experiences. Despite knowing this intellectually, change is difficult! The bracelets seem like a great way to begin to shift behavior patterns with an in-the-moment reminder. Thanks for the inspiration Joe, I’m going to give this a try…

  7. Uriah Mrache says:

    I really do love this experiment. Ever since hearing about this, I have been much more aware of how much complaining goes on! Sometimes whole conversations are based around complaints and it brings an extreme negativity to everyone participating or listening. I think trying this out will greatly improve my levels of happiness and give me confidence in helping others find the path to being complaint free.

  8. Wes Watts says:

    I’m in Joe! Imagine the education potential if Cabrillo was a complaint free campus, then every school in the nation would follow; starting a revolution of positive students and teachers dedicated to learning ANYTHING (from new skateboarding tricks to physics) with accelerated learning techniques. Complaint free Cabrillo.

  9. Gail May says:

    Joe….normally don’t check Facebook that often but I was really interested to see how the experiment was going. Good for you. I realize Dave and I are too late for bracelets but may try with the rubber bands for awhile. Now the hard part. We gave up adult beverages for awhile and here is the question. If we say that we are sorry to have done that and would really like to have a cocktail, does adding “but look how healthy we are getting” make that a solution so it’s okay?

    Hope all is well with you and yours….ciao for now.


    • Hi Gail,

      I am glad to hear that you and Dave are trying out the experiment. I still have a couple of bracelets that I will send you if you want. If so, email me your address.

      I think that the definition of complaining is open to some interpretation. Personally, I think that if you feel like you are complaining about something, then you probably are – even if you add a “solution” to the end of it. If you are just stating a fact in a non-emotional way, then that is probably not complaining.

      Good luck! Please let me know how it goes.

  10. Renee says:

    I went to the “complaint free” website, Joe, and also really like their Certificate of Happiness. Great idea.

  11. The founder of the organization, Will Bowen, is a reverend from Kansas City, who leads success courses for his congregation and has always challenged participants to develop the habit of gratitude by not complaining for 21 days. As a symbol of the program participants would wear purple bracelets and move them from one wrist to the other if they complain before reaching the 21 day mark. So far nearly 6.4 M bracelets have been given out.

  12. As an update, as of the beginning of July, I have not made it past 5 days in a row without a single complaint. I am getting better at going for multiple days in a row, but so far getting past day 5 has been a hurdle.

    I am renewing my efforts and plan on making it past the one week mark before the end of July. Wish me luck!

  13. Lyman Bass says:

    Done. My campaign to go 21 consecutive days without complaining or gossiping is finally over, and what I discovered surprised me.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Highly descriptive article, I enjoyed that bit. Will there be a part 2? …

  15. So how does this work in marriage? We have decided to challenge each other. While complaining is specifically a personal thing, it spills over into marriage. We are also adding no marital complaints without suggestions of solutions. While we are each on the 21 day journey ourselves, we are experiencing it together. Encouraging each other, and bouncing questions off each other regarding what is or is not a complaint.

  16. Will designed a solution in the form of a simple purple bracelet, which he offered to his congregation with a challenge: go 21 days without complaining. Each time one of them complained, they had to switch the bracelet to their other wrist and start again from day 0. It was simple but effective metacognitive awareness training.

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