I tried to stop complaining for 21 days, here’s what happened…

When I started self-improvement there was a sense of awe at the outlook leaders in the field possesed.

Some had terrible backgrounds, yet didn’t complain.  It made me wonder – how did they maintain such a positive mindset?

Are they like that 24/7 or is it a front for their ‘brand’?  Is it possible for anyone to maintain such a positive frame?

During the years I worked on myself to display these positive values, so when Gordon Torks threw down the challenge to not complain for 21 days, I was up for the task.


21 days of no complaining?  That must be easy?

If something was to annoy me, I figured it was just a case of stop bitching and burn the tension off at the gym.

A good plan in theory, but in practice not so much.

In reality, when I started, it became apparent how many thoughts and actions were carried out by the sub-conscience.

Sub-conscience complaining

Seven days passed without a complaint departing my lips.  Enjoying a leisurely drive, a car sped past me and cut me up.

Slammed breaks and swearing at the top of my lungs followed.  I bitched to myself the impatience and ignorance of some drivers, wondering where the justice of the law was when you need them.

It reached the end of another day and as I began a process of self-congratulation making it through another day when I remembered the earlier incident on the road.


My sub-conscience is programmed to complain.  I needed to change this.

Identifying complaining problems

This made me think if there were other instances of complaining where I had not realised – there was no chance I was breezing through those 21 days.

To address the problem I made note of all situations recently encountered and whether the outcome was complaining?

When I diagnosed these situations, I asked myself:

  • What happened?
  • Why did I complain?
  • Who did I complain to?
  • What can I do better next time?
  • How can I reduce / eliminate the source of the complaint?

The benefit of this exercise meant identifying common causes of complaints and identifying the people who shouldered the noise.

The support network

My complaining audience was limited to a few people.  What felt worse was realising my whole relationship with one person was as a ‘complaining buddy’ – a toxic relationship where we took turns to sharing complaints..

Therefore my goals during this exercise became:

  1. Foster positive relationships so they become more than someone who listens to complaints
  2. Not engaging with my ‘complaining buddy’

The assertiveness problem

A symptom of the trigger that resulted in complaining stemmed down to my long term issue with my assertiveness.

When I felt obliged to do something I didn’t want to, I had not once but up any resistance.

Instead of registering objection, I would willingly taken on additional tasks and then bitch about it to someone else who wasn’t in the position to do anything about it.

It felt like not complaining was a simple thing, but deep down its more complex than that – I had to make positive changes to who I was as a person.

By working on my assertiveness, I can make positive changes to how I handle and deal with problems.

Getting it off your chest

The experience made me start looking closely how people functioned with complaining and when someone complained to me, how did I feel?

There were moments I felt uncomfortable, moments I just thought “everything is a negative for you” and times I genuinely emphasised with an individual.

The latter made me think should complaining be totally polarised as a bad thing?

“James do you mind if I talk to you?”

A colleague caught me off guard in the kitchen. She looked over her shoulder for prying ears, and began to vented her recent frustrations

I noticed she didn’t really want my answers, infact she come up with solutions as she talked.

After five minutes she closed the conversation with:

“Thanks for listening, I just needed to get that off my chest, I feel much better.”

A key lesson was to know the difference between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ complaining.  The bad complainer being the ‘half-empty’ person – someone who is never happy.

If the need to complain rises, it can be controlled by doing the following:

  • don’t dwell on the issue too long
  • try make it productive to vocalise and solve problems
  • clear your head and move on
  • don’t make complaining a habit

Finding a better approach

Another source of complaints was my resilience to managing situations.  Identifying the source of the problem was a good start, but what could I apply to mitigate the need to complain?

Some approaches I took were:

Calm myself when something bad happens

The breath, calibrate, deliver method was effective calming my head for impulsive complaints.

Put the problem in perspective.

A resilience tactic is to ask ‘will it matter in a year?’ Not surprisingly most of my recent issues did not meet this criteria, I controlled my dwelling on certain issues and reduced my need to complain.

A life without complaining?

It’s been positive realising how much I took people for granted when I complained.

My mind constantly thinks about the infectious nature of complaining, I don’t want to be ‘that guy’ someone you walk away from feeling worse not better.

Work has begun on building better relationship, often I will lead with questions so I can learn more about a person whether it is their ambitions, family or interests and no complaining.

Not complaining is more than having a positive outlook, it’s a shift in mentality and a continuous work in progress.  Years ago, things like my neighbour parking their car on the road used to bother me.

Putting it in perspective I was able to realise these issues don’t matter, but there are still small things that grate.  I have much growing to do.

It’s over 21 days since I tried not to complain, blissfully aware of the caveat  – if you complain, start again.

Of course I failed, I will fail again, I will keep trying.

And not complain about it.

I hope that you enjoyed this post, how do you you calm yourself to avoid complaining?

Please feel free to comment below (I respond to all your comments!)

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One thought on “I tried to stop complaining for 21 days, here’s what happened…

  1. Love your article! Thoughtful and well written! I’m so glad I discovered your Blog through Bella’s party! Looking forward to reading more!
    I try to share the lessons I learned in my journey to heal from my past, to overcome a lifetime of anxiety and depression, so one thing I learned was to focus on the positive. Is this just an outward veneer to my brand? I try to keep my writing real and not to ignore the negative things in life, but I do try to keep the focus on the positive, for as I write and share I in turn help reinforce the positive within my inner being!
    Thanks for sharing!


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