The Complaint-Free Challenge
Written by Debbie Pennington
They say it takes 21 consecutive days to create a new habit. It’s the consecutive part that can be a real challenge, but I’m determined.
The book: A Complaint Free World by Will Bowen. The challenge: Go 21 straight days without complaining, criticizing or gossiping.
As one individual put it: “A year ago, if someone had asked me, ‘Are you someone who often complains?’ I would have immediately responded, ‘Oh, no, not me. I rarely complain.’ However, the more appropriate response would have been to say, ‘Yes, I am someone who complains, but I am completely unaware just how much and how often I do it’” (ibid., p. 143).
Well said. I echo those sentiments. So halfway through reading Will Bowen’s book, my sticky notes placed in memorable passages now flooding out of the pages, I realized the need to take on this challenge for myself.
You might be wondering, “Is complaining really that big a deal? Why would she blog about this?” Reading through Numbers 14 on the repercussions of complaining might provide fresh perspective. Recall also the apostle Paul’s directive against complaining in 1 Corinthians 10:10 and Jude’s warning against such an attitude in Jude 1:16.
After all, what is complaining or—as it’s frequently rendered in the Bible—murmuring? Consider that when the word murmur is used in the New Testament, it’s never in a positive context. In fact, the Greek word (gonguzo) means “to mutter, murmur, grumble, say anything in a low tone” and is used of people who discontentedly complain (Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, 1985, New Testament Section, p. 422).
It’s a tall order, but with practice, we can avoid complaints in every situation, as Paul admonishes: “Do all things without complaining and disputing” (Philippians 2:14).
While remaining complaint-free may prove extra difficult in certain circumstances, the testimonials at the end of Bowen’s book avow that it can be done for at least 21 days in a row, even through some horrendous trials.
Jog your memory
Bowen suggests using a mnemonic device of some sort (he and his church group opted for purple silicone bracelets). When you sense yourself complaining, criticizing or gossiping, you must switch the bracelet to the other wrist (or coin to the other pocket, ring to another finger, etc., depending on which mnemonic device you choose).
It’s common when first beginning the challenge to switch the bracelet multiple times in one day. And of course, each time you catch yourself, you must start your day count over again. (Remember, the goal is to achieve 21 consecutive days.)
Actually putting on the bracelet was the eye-opener for me; it became a regular, visible reminder of weighing my words even more carefully before speaking. I strive for this approach anyway, but with the constant reminder, I realized how entrenched in the bad habit of complaining I had allowed myself to become. At this point, prior to speaking, I took extra effort to reframe my thoughts and words to ensure that what was coming out of my mouth was constructive and not destructive.
Another realization came to me after a trip in the car. By this point, I was doing relatively well with everyday conversation, but after an individual accelerated early through a four-way stop, without thinking I blurted out a complaint. I realized that my deep-seated critical perspective on poor driving skills was going to be especially difficult to overcome.
By now, my conversation is largely more positive and cheerful, and I’m even controlling my tongue when it comes to other drivers! But realization No. 3 came when I discovered how easily a conversation can be started with a complaint, especially when conversing with an acquaintance or someone I’m meeting for the first time. As a method of communication, that might be effective, but to make the 21-day challenge, it’s also a habit I need to avoid.
Though I’m roughly only two weeks into the challenge (with a consecutive record of three days), I’ve already begun to notice how much happier I feel. I also feel a sense of calm and peace, gratefulness and decreased stress.
While I don’t agree with everything in Bowen’s book, the concept of avoiding complaints, criticism and gossip is highly sound. Will you join me in becoming complaint-free “that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:15)?
Debbie lives with her husband, Guye, in northern Illinois. She has been wearing a bracelet for 1½ weeks and will continue to wear one as long as it takes!