Real Mind Control: The 21-Day No-Complaint Experiment

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The thought-awareness bracelet and the latest straw that broke the camel’s back.

“This $@#&ing Mac will be the death of me. Intuitive, my ass.”

It just slipped out, and I don’t think I can be blamed. I was ready to leave the PC behind and take my mac overseas for the first time when I couldn’t figure out how to resize photos. On a friggin’ mac? I felt swindled. I also now had to move the bracelet.

For the last four months, I’ve been experimenting with a few types of thought experiments. The two most notable are Radical Honesty, which is 100% guaranteed to get you slapped or worse, and anti-complaining, which I’ll explain here. The latter started in my book agent’s office, where I spotted a pile of purple bracelets on his desk…

“What are these?” I grabbed one and it was inscribed with ‘acomplaintfreeworld.org.’

“Another author of mine. Interesting story, actually.”

And it was. The author was Will Bowen, a Kansas City minister who had recognized — as I have in a previous post — that word choice determines thought choice, which determines emotions and actions. It’s not enough to just decide you’ll stop using certain words, though. It requires conditioning.

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.

The effects were immediate and life-changing.

The bracelets spread like wildfire as others observed these transformations, and, to date, more than 5,900,000 people have requested the little devices.

“Can I have one?” I asked my agent.

It all made perfect sense. Fix the words and you fix the thoughts. I’m not a negative person, but I wanted to cut out the commiserating most of us use for 30-40% of all conversation (if you don’t believe me, keep track of how many people start conversations with you in the next 24 hours that center on a complaint or criticism).

I made it 11 days on the first attempt, then I slipped. Back to zero. Then it was two or three days at a time for about a month. Once I cleared 21 days at around month 3, I no longer needed the bracelet. I’m using the bracelet again now because I’m preparing for some large projects I expect to be challenging enough for Cornholio-style meltdowns.

But what is a complaint?

This is where I disagree with some of the rules set by Will. He asks you to switch wrists whenever you gossip, criticize, or complain, and the definitions can be a bit vague. He also requires you to switch wrists if you inform someone else they are complaining. I think this is counterproductive, as I’m big on constructive criticism.

I defined “complaining” for myself as follows: describing an event or person negatively without indicating next steps to fix the problem. I later added the usual 4-letter words and other common profanity as complaint qualifiers, which forced me to reword, thus forcing awareness and more precise thinking.

Following the above definition, both of the following would require a wrist switch:

“Man, I went into the post office and had to stand behind this rude jerk for 30 minutes. What a waste of time.”

or

“John can be such an a**hole. Totally uncalled for.”

The following variations would not:

“Man, I went into the post office and had to stand behind this rude guy for 30 minutes. It was a waste of time. From now on, I’ll go in the mornings before 10am to avoid the crowd.”

“John was a bit of muppet in there, wasn’t he? I suppose I’ll just send the e-mails directly to Mary in engineering for the next two weeks to get buy-in, then he’ll have to agree.”

Here are a few of the changes I noticed then and am noticing again now:

1) My lazier thinking evolved from counterproductive commiserating to reflexive systems thinking. Each description of a problem forced me to ask and answer: What policy can I create to avoid this in the future?

2) I was able to turn off negative events because the tentative solution had been offered instead of giving them indefinite mental shelf-life (and “open loop” in GTD parlance), resulting in better sleep and more pleasant conversations with both friends and business partners.

3) People want to be around action-oriented problem solvers. Training yourself to offer solutions on-the-spot attracts people and resources.

###

For those interested in the more sophisticated applications and results of the the no-complaint thought experiment, I recommend you order a copy of A Complaint-Free World. I received an advanced copy and finished it in one afternoon, ending up with two pages of notes.

Want to take the 21-day no-complaint challenge for a test drive now?

Last a friend checked, the bracelets had a 3-5-month waiting period, but a rubber band or other bracelet will suffice. If you want the real deal, I have four bracelets that I will mail (might take a bit, as I’m leaving the country Friday) to the best four commenters below who answer the question:

What other behavior, besides complaining, do you think people should stop? How could train themselves to stop?

The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 600 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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732 Replies to “Real Mind Control: The 21-Day No-Complaint Experiment”

  1. I’m all about creating myself a positive environment. You can actually go a step further to make the your statements more positive. First, start sentences that contain negative comments with the posotive solution, and speak of the negative event as you in your environment instead of targeting an individual at fault. For example take the quote “Man, I went into the post office and had to stand behind this rude guy for 30 minutes. It was a waste of time. From now on, I’ll go in the mornings before 10am to avoid the crowd.” You can restate this as “I found out the other day that if you go into the post office after 10am, you are very likely to run into delays with the crowds.” As an owner of a restaurant, I try to use positive reinforcement when criticizing my employees’ work by first telling them the best and most positive thing they are doing in their work, then following it with “but you need to work on …..” The more I use this tecnique in the everyday, the better I feel and the better my environment becomes.

  2. What other behavior, besides complaining, do you think people should stop? How could train themselves to stop?

    Dirty Looks – the passive aggressive’s criticism. I know because I have both delivered and received such looks that they can ruin a day, even if you think the person they’re aimed at hasn’t noticed. So now, when I feel one coming on, I just stop and think: why? Is it because I’m jealous? Is it because I think this a serious issue which I think the person should be called up on? Or is just me being mean? And I act accordingly. I generally find it’s because of an issue I have with myself so just checking up on myself prevents me from ruining someone else’s day aswell as making me consider myself. So, we all win!

  3. Grüezi from Switzerland.

    To re-size a photo on a Mac running Leopard (fastest way): click on the photo. Up comes the Preview program. Click on “Tools” in the menu bar. Go down to “adjust size”.

    Great post on learning a non-complaining, ie: “positive” lifestyle. Ties into the law of attraction philosophy – whatever you focus on, eventually comes around. Try to find a positive way of saying something (as ZKOT’s post states).

    Don’t say “I’ve got to lose weight”. The word “lose” is hard-wired in our brains as negative. Say “I’m going to get fit.” Even better, “I am getting fit.”

  4. Have a formal dance party on the golden gate bridge.Send out “secret invitations” of some sort like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. You can’t beat the scenery and there is quite a lot of room.

  5. Lazy indifference – my wise nan once said ‘do not put off until tomorrow what you can acomplish today’

    NEVER put off anything however tedious and you will be amazed how much better you feel by clearing the decks/mind and completing what you set out to do each day.

    Party in the Park: Post a blog, ask bands to come along for free and get everyone who wants to attend to bring one drink and one of their own favourite recipes. (Could always ask Gordon Ramsay to attend and judge!)

    Have fun people…J

  6. little late on this one, but….

    it’s a good topic: behavior:::

    1) arriving late (or too early) all the time

    2) make eye contact when speaking -every time.

    3) constant mental criticism of self!!!

  7. I already got a bracelet (after reading your post, thanks), so I’m not going to answer the two questions, la la la. But I do want to speak to this complaint-free thing

    For about 12 years now I’ve been following a discipline to be GRATEFUL for everything. It’s a faith-based deal: We all have negative karma (let’s face it, over countless lifetimes odds are we boiled SOMEONE in oil), and painful events help us to cleanse it and learn to do better, so in fact they’re good. Which feeds into the overarching idea that God by definition has things handled, and because of this everything will, in the end, be all right. So why wouldn’t we be grateful?

    We wouldn’t because we’re essentially no different from those slugs in Biology 101 who demonstrated negative and positive taxis by moving away from the vinegar and toward the celery juice. It’s counter-intuitive to say “thank you” for something that makes you want to taxis right the hell out of here. In fact the idea is ripe for comedy: I remember when our teacher told us: “If your children give you a hard time you should say, ‘Thank you very much for training my soul.'” I asked: “Then can we say, ‘and if you don’t stop right now I’ll give you something to thank ME for’?” Explosions from the other learners: “Don’t MAKE me give you something to THANK me for!” “You don’t WANT me to give you something to THANK me for!” Arf, arf, arf….

    Anyway, so this wrist band gave me a new way to approach the challenge. There are so many cool things about it. First, I’m not like you — I’m changing it constantly, and I’ve had it for 2 months now. Any querulous tone of voice (“Where did I PUT that thing?”), and over it goes. Even verbalizing the negative event that led to the positive solution isn’t allowed. For example, I can’t mention the rude guy in the lineup, only the fact that I’ll go before 10am to avoid the crowd. This is really forcing me to watch myself being negative — to see what’s my “payoff.” It’s also sensitizing me to the effects of negativity, both on myself and others. And you know what? The effects are quite negative. Yes. In fact, so far I think the only negative verbalization I’ve heard that will almost certainly have positive effect is “I’m sorry.”

    You may disagree with that last statement. For example, I know what you said about constructive criticism. I’m not yet certain I’m against it. I myself love good criticism from people who respect me. But unless I know the other person feels the same way, I’d hesitate to mention any insufficiency on their part. Competency is relatively easy to achieve. Harmony is much harder.

    Anyway, thanks for the post. It introduced me to the wrist band, and gave me the best challenge I’ve met in the past year.

  8. Hello Tim,

    My name is Braden Loader. I’m currently a commerce student at the University of Manitoba, and to be frank, I’m tired of being 21 and not sailing my own boat off the coast of Costa Rica!

    I have a prospective business idea in the form of a self-guided adventure travel company, yet feel my business plan and concept are loose and undeveloped. I believe some serious strategic aid is to be sought if I’m not to be one of the several thousand internet sites that bite the dirt immediately. Realizing this may be an atypical request, I can only hope you’d humour me, as a newcomer such as myself could learn a lot from your business savvy. Where and when may we meet?

    As urgency is a matter of opinion, I’ll leave it up to you!

    Regards (I just can’t do the “cheers” thing),

    Braden Loader

    P.S. Apologies to those with intellectually stimulating comments, all I can do is try!

  9. Use/Application: Negative Self Talk

    People are so hard on themselves, often unconsciously, sabotaging their own potential. I would use the bracelet to reinforce positive self-esteem, self-worth & inner-peace. I believe if more people developed authentic self-esteem the world would transform. Drugs & alcohol abuse, crime, violence, procrastination, fear, ego, etc would decline while cooperation, respect, collaboration, productivity, goodwill, generosity & inspiration, etc would prevail.

    The answer to world peace? maybe.

  10. Behavior to change #1:

    Using the phrase “I didn’t have time for that.” Try replacing this with “I didn’t make that a priority.” More here: http://frugalize.blogspot.com/2008/01/time-is-all-we-have.html

    Behavior to change #2:

    Externalizing blame when things go wrong.

    How to change: When bad things happen, ask “What role did my actions play in bringing this about” and/or “what could I have done differently to prevent this?”

  11. Hmm, where would you stand on complaining about having to wait so long for one of the bracelts !!

    Only joking. Now to re-phrase that in line with this whole concept I would have to say “Wow, that’s a pain, having to wait so many months for one of these but that’s ok because I don’t need a bit of plastic to remind me and besides at my age, wearing a strip of purple on my wrist is bound to confirm my friends in their opinion that I am just slightly eccentric, so I will have to use the old brain cells to come up with something that serves the same purpose but slightly more elegantly. “

  12. Hey Kay Meester–

    I’m SO glad you said “I believe if more people developed authentic self-esteem the world would transform.” AUTHENTIC is definitely the key word.

    Have you ever heard of Donald Gallinger? He’s a novelist who also teaches high school English. He writes hilarious blogs about kids. One is titled “My Self of Steam.” Your comment made me think of it. Have a look:

    http://www.donaldgallinger.com/dons-blog/7-dons-blog/12-my-self-of-steam.html

    Ha! Anyway, I agree with your comment.

  13. Excuse Making: Traininig people to look within for the solution vs. outside sources as excuses is the only way to make long term changes within oneself.

    Training: Make a purple and blue wrist band. Purple for complaing and blue for excuse making. As in your post anytime you complain or make and excuse you switch wrists. Also purple and blue are two of the colors in bruises which represent the bruising to your psyche that happens anytime you complain or make excuses.

    Bonus:

    A. Post on a blog looking for ideas…

    B. Do a scavanger hunt based off of living like a local (i.e. NYC: find the engine manufacturer of the Staten Island Ferry, very cheap around $3 and they have to take a ferry ride and enjoy some wonderful views of NYC; find out how many rivits are in the Statue of Liberty, mentioned on the tour…). Forces you to live like a local while your setting up the event, something you like to do, and it gives the VIP’s access to something they have never done before.

    Enjoy and I love your book and blog.

    Thanks,

    Kyle

  14. What other behavior, besides complaining, do you think people should stop?

    – To talk in negative ways about someone to another person without trying to clear the situation with the related person (=> do what you fear => effectiveness). Most of the problems with people in the world occur because people fear to talk to each other honestly (to tell the necessary things the other person what is involved in any way in your life should know).

    How could train themselves to stop?

    – The easiest way to stop complaining is to stop complaining about yourself (please really think about that!!!!)

    If you were holding a party for 100 VIPs in SF or NYC and had no budget (or no more than $1,000, whichever you prefer), what would you do to make the event memorable and fun?

    – Invite all the VIPs in front of a very good location (e.g. nightclub, restaurant, whatever you prefer) and tell them that this is a big fake because you had no money to organize such an event (it is tru but they will think you are kidding will all laugh). Of course you got in contact with the managemnt or PR department of the club and tell them that many VIPs will come to THEIR location (they will like it because it is good PR for free) and what they can offer you to bring them the stars. Then you ask them how much they spend for PR and give the money to you, I am sure you will have enough to have a great party then! If you really organize a party with no money and the VIPs come, it will definitely be memorable. 😉

  15. The day after this post, I read the book in one sitting at Border’s. I snapped on a rubber band from an asparagus bundle that evening.

    I have been aware that I complain a lot for a while but this is a great tool for change that I was missing. I haven’t even made it a day without complaint yet, but I am doing it less. I absolutely feel better for it.

    Thanks, Tim!

  16. What other behavior, besides complaining, do you think people should stop? How could train themselves to stop?

    Living in the past. learn presence of mind and self awareness by getting small. If you are reading, devote 100% of your energy to reading. If you are

    eating, do nothing but eat. When you find your mind wandering, refocus.

    Bonus: If you were holding a party for 100 VIPs in SF or NYC and had no budget (or no more than $1,000, whichever you prefer), what would you do to make the event memorable and fun?

    Begin with 30 minutes of meditation. Many would appreciate amoment of peace.

  17. What other behavior, besides complaining, do you think people should stop? How could train themselves to stop?

    Talking about the weather and other unispired responses. I have noticed when you ask people what’s up or whats going on they often talk about he weather, work and ailments. This is actually just another form of complaining but i feel it revolves around people having no Passion.

    My idea is the Personal Passion Project.

    I believe everyone should have a personal passion they are invested in. I will be launching classes and such in the near future to help with this project.

    Bonus: If you were holding a party for 100 VIPs in SF or NYC and had no budget (or no more than $1,000, whichever you prefer), what would you do to make the event memorable and fun?

    I would work with the local animal shelters and provide them pictures of my guests. I would ask them to bring an animal that most resembles each of my guests.

    During the event you goal would be to find your VIP animal twin. Each VIP would have the option to adopt their animal twin or find it a home.

    This would be good PR for the VIP’s and a good time.

  18. I cannot say that I have ever stayed away from a negative thought or a complaint for 21 days straight. My theory is that both wholesome and unwholesome thoughts seem to cycle in my life – at some point wholesome thoughts hold sway and at others unwholesome ones. The interesting thing I have noted is that the transitions from completely positive territory to negative territory occurs less and less frequently. Also once I reach a certain threshold of “complaints” in my day to day life – it feels like a slippery slope. Then, I have to go through the whole process of feeling the impact, then trying to get back up and start on a very small success to help me move along…..

    my 2 pesos.

    – srikanth

  19. Throwing a VIP party with no budget:

    Invite some of the hugest people in music, generally enjoyed by most and have some “kareoke with the stars”… that would be pretty memorable, fun, etc, who doesn’t like to see big wigs up on stage either making a fool out of themselves (after a few drinks) or rocking the place with some surprising talent!

    What people should stop doing:

    People who complain about needing to lose weight should stop eating cake/donuts or their daily venti caramel frappuccinos with extra whip. Every time they do they should go do some bad dancing in front of a full length mirror naked. Better yet…just video chubby self dancing naked and replay it every time you eat those carbs. Carb freaks should begin low-carbing through week and take Saturday off to have that Venti Frapp. 🙂

    Probably no more bracelets a year later! ha

  20. Tim,

    What is the best way to read a book? Read the whole book fast to get a bird’s-eye-view THEN go back and highlight?

    Also,

    What is your reasoning for reading only 1 Non-Fiction book at a time? Any one else have any specifics about this?

  21. Well… first of all it’s my first time writing in tim’s blog so i’ll start easy.

    i was ready about how something like 80% or so of guys toughts are about sex so i think that would be fun to play with. Not saying its a bad behaviour (inside plausible limits…) but anyway…

    My idea is similar to the wrist band. You should get a ring on your baby finger. The objective is to go by 30 days – without it going all the way trough the other fingers and ending on the oposite hand’s baby finger.

    So here’s how it goes: everytime you get yourself (guy or girl) thinkin bout sex, BUSTED, change the ring to the following finger and start over.

    this will give you 10 chances of starting over…

    Of course that when youre with your girlfriend or so doesnt count…… i mean when youre alone or with or friends or whatever…

    I think it would be fun and i’m not sure of what would be the personal consequences of this…ahahaha i guess that one would be like daammm this is hard! or something like metacognitive awareness training….

    Something like that…i guess it would be a hard experiment

    Would like to talk some things out with Tim if he gets to read this….

    Cheers

  22. Tim –

    I’ve tried this and it’s not working for me. Perhaps the book contains more thorough details on cultural factors in application. The problem is, I’m Jewish. The majority of my conversation – a great proportion of which is funny and engaging – is dependent on complaints of assorted varieties.

    I’ve found that without complaints, I’m short on entertaining stories, short on banter, and somewhat dry and soul-less.

    The nature of The Jew has done a great deal for our society, through entertainment in particular; and I would contend that many of the insights that The Jew is uniquely able to present to the world comes from a hard-wired eye for agitators (or that which could result in complaint).

    I would say that although the power of a positive frame is irrefutable, The Complaint is a valuable interpersonal tool.

    I’d be interested to discuss this with you in more detail, and to hear any thoughts that you have pertaining to the role of The Complaint in humour, in making emotional connections; and the intrapersonal effects of The Complaint across different cultures.

    Oye,

    Joe

    1. Joe,

      I agree there is a benefit to complaining and negativity. In fact it is necessary for change to occur. Positive and negative are a matter of perspective.

      For example, two people sitting different tubs of water, one cold, the other hot, leave their respective places and both enter a warm tub of water. The person coming from the hot tub will complain or state the water is cold and the person from the cold tub will most likely state/complain the water is hot. They are correct from their previous perspectives, but are both wrong in the fact the water is the same temperature even though they share a different experience.

      A complaint is an awakening to something needing change whether it comes from within or external, it is a part of the process. If we are content, then we stay stagnant, nothing changes…

      I’d be willing to bet the best marketing tactics rely on people being in a mode of complaint. Let’s face it products aren’t designed to curb our lifestyle and back track, they designed to make life more simple/easier than what it currently is.

      I am an optimist, but I am also a Devil’s advocate and realist. I look at things from more than one angle to cover the basis and form generalities. I use specifics if it fits my paradigm or need.

      Tim does the same thing and has brilliantly conveyed this in his book. The beauty is he doesn’t need to respond to this blog any further because people want to chime in. Which further reinforces the possibilities of automation.

  23. A behavior people should stop doing: lying. How can they stop. Immediately admitting that what they just said was not the truth. If you do have the balls to do that for a couple of times and go through that embarrassment not only the people involved will be lenient but the lair will learn.

  24. The one habit people should stop is thinking they are more important than they really are. Self-awareness is a much more important trait than self-importance. Every instance of using the word I should be followed by a self-correcting action. e.g. I am too fat should be rephrased to I should lose 5 pounds.

    The CEO/VIP party would have no budget to begin with but those in attendance would be required to come up with an idea to raise funds for the party a la Apprentice-style teams (maybe 5 members per team). The winning team’s fund-raising efforts will fund the party. Every other team’s winnings go to the winner’s charity of choice.

  25. People should stop appologizing for sending spams. If they know it’s a spam, and if they were sincerely sorry, why sending them? A better way would be “this IS a spam; I’m NOT sorry, because I believe I DO have a good reason for it, which is:…”

    Would that work? 😛

  26. People that talk over other people

    I notice in many conversations a lot of times, one person will be talking and then the other person will start talking not letting the first person finish their communication. Essentially cutting them off. It is so commonplace that it is not normally considered rude. But the person that gets cut off usually does not appreciate it.

    This is a tough one but here are some ideas on how to stop that behavior. Practice one day at a time not cutting off other people. When someone cuts you off say politely: “Will you let me finish?”

  27. People should stop blaming. There is no better waste of life and space than someone who spends their time blaming others for their own failings. Accept it and move on! The future is waiting, I have seen too many lives wasted because people couldn’t accept what has gone before. What has happened is what brought you to where you are, if you don’t like it change directions!

  28. The other behavior besides complaining I think people should stop is using the phrase “I can’t.” When we are children, it seems like that phrase is not even in our vocabulary and the world is full of endless possibilities where we can grow up to be a doctor, a lawyer, or an astronaut. Somewhere between childhood and adulthood the phrase “I can’t” sets in and becomes an excuse for our mediocrity. The world doesn’t limit us, we limit ourselves.

    As far as the bonus question, I would throw a carnival. Working for a non-profit, I am used to throwing parties with little to no money. It is amazing how cheap it is to throw a carnival with all the extras…. games, food, prizes. It would be a good reminder for everyone to realize how fun it is to be a kid again.

  29. Bonus: If you were holding a party for 100 VIPs in SF or NYC and had no budget (or no more than $1,000, whichever you prefer), what would you do to make the event memorable and fun?

    I would show them how to use $1,000 to make the night memorable, and they would never forget it.

    What other behavior, besides complaining, do you think people should stop? How could train themselves to stop?

    Other behaviors besides complaining that people should stop is being so negative. Negativity has a deep effect on me especially in school. If someone is depressed I can’t be around them. So they should learn to turn the negativity into something positive or find a way to make it better.

    – Joseph

  30. what kind of rebel libertarian like Tim Ferriss uses a Mac?

    Just baffles me.

    I’d expect you to run Fedora or Ubuntu on something that’s not overpriced and incapable *cough cough* like a mac *cough*

  31. The rebel, the libertarian, the hacker, the genius that is Tim Ferriss uses an Apple overpriced, incapable computer, and then to top it off runs Mac OS X on it.

    🙁

    Wow, macs are for n00bz.

    And the people who posted before me act like Windows (which they call “PC” is the only other option)….

    umm Fedora, Ubuntu???

    I see you as the intello blogger who isn’t like all the others (i.e. voting for Obama, using a Mac, blah, blah, blah)

    You are against FISA!!! You do not fall into the two-party trap (GOP is to DEM as Windows is to Mac) The former being cheaper, more efficient, yet can get viruses (Let’s continue the analogy by calling the viruses Neo-cons grr) and Macs, overpriced, inefficient, incapable.

    Vote 3rd Party. Use Linux.

  32. “What other behavior, besides complaining, do you think people should stop?”

    My top pick in this category is running others down. This includes criticism in all its forms when defined as diminishing someone.

    “How could (they) train themselves to stop?”

    This takes an awareness on the part of the individual of their behavior and a desire to change. Putting this into action, the individual declares their intention to stop the behavior, and corrects themselves along the way.

    “Bonus: If you were holding a party for 100 VIPs in SF or NYC and had no budget (or no more than $1,000, whichever you prefer), what would you do to make the event memorable and fun?”

    The event is created around (insert good cause here, I’ll use “having food with our meals”). The invitees are challenged to create and prepare themselves a dinner that feeds four and costs no more than $15. The dishes are prepared in larger portions and sampled by judges (food critics?) and are rated for nutrition, ease of preparation and taste. All recipes are published and the winners have scholarships named after them for underprivileged kids. The event is “paid” for through donations of venue, services, and the media cover other costs for an up-and-close evening with these high-powered people.

    Cheers!

  33. Bad habits I (personally) would like to see stopped:

    Being verbally abusive to myself when I mess up – as in, “How could I be such a stupid @#$%%?”

    Bad habits I see all around me:

    Comparing yourself to others and always coming up short. The grass is always greener on the other side. Some people look like they have everything together and then you find out they’ve lost someone they love, or they are going through a divorce.

    Thinking other people are lucky and that’s why they’re where they’re at in life, or why they are in shape, or why they have a fun job. Not everything in life is about luck. Physically fit people are fit because they are at the gym, or on a bike, and they watch what they eat. Saying other people are lucky is a cop out, because it infers that you can’t accomplish these things yourself because you’re not lucky.

    Party idea – At least for the entertainment, we tried a small book called “If – Questions for the Game of Life”. Put people in small groups and ask each other questions, some whimsical, some thought-provoking. You will walk away really knowing the people you played the game with. I guarantee you the questions are not about what you do for a living.

  34. people should use the bracelet therapy to stop saying the word “like” every 10 seconds. It sounds innocent in conversation but really unprofessional and juvenile in an interview or business meeting. And the interview isn’t the place to think “oh crap, I just said ‘like’ again”.

  35. People need to immediately and violently halt all assumption making processes about other individuals. Assumptions made on people applies a standard that we have pre-concocted to a GROUP of people that may or may-not be true of an INDIVIDUAL. For example, a person wearing garments from another culture, or a different accent, is immediately categorized into our pre-conceived file for identifiying people. This is a huge limiter because it dismisses the ability to engage in learning from another human being. Grouping is natural because it is our brains making a move for greater efficiency. We cannot possibly process each person we meet as a distinct individual. Or can we? The next time we encounter someone who is unfamiliar to us, maybe we should turn off our brain filters, and engage in our common humanity. A world of understanding is a handshake away.

    And if i were throwing a party with the above mentioned particulars, i would have a fleet of human powered drawn carriges out front of my high rise apartment. And in between the sesame chicken and the obscene dessert we would race to the capitol building here in Denver. Whoever got there first would receive a $100 mens warehouse gift-card, and a funky hat.

  36. Suggestion for an anti-complaint tool:

    When you hear a whine in progress, try asking “What would you like to do?” (or something as similar as you can). Avoid slipping (or letting them) slip into how they want things to magically “be” without doing something themselves to create their preferred outcome.

    I’ve observed that those who would rather be unhappy (presumably for the lack of anything better to do) often lapse into embarrassed silence a few seconds after their initial unempowered not-taking-personal-responsibility response. And occasionally, you get to witness a breakthrough (of the “I guess I could come half an hour earlier to avoid the queue” type).

  37. i have removed all vocabulary that admits to chance, fortune and luck, as i don’t believe that these are actual forces in life. So, no more, un/fortunately, un/lucky, hopefully, good luck etc….it is challenging to come up with other ways to say nice things to people, or to be compassionate without saying these types of things, that don’t mean much and aren’t comforting really…so i am going deeper and thinking more actively…it is amazing how often one uses these terms…

    best wishes…

  38. I just ordered the book. I wonder if there is a place here in Utah that would have the bracelets?

    J.R.

  39. Well, it’s an old blog post, but since an idea is never lost :

    For a cheap memorable party, I’ll go with the giant bubble recipe. I am not talking about that messy-fashion-bubble-bath parties where every body is covered with soap.

    I am talking about a recipe mixing water, fairy dreft and glycerin, allowing anyone with a string to create 3-4 m big bubbles. It’s magical, and fun.

    And for the ones that won’t be satisfied with a such the girly concept, you can use methane to blow the bubbles and make your own incredible pyrotechnical show, including special effects, with very little money.

    You may be sued as well. I did not, and it’s worth it. Especially by night on the beach… Watch you friends anyway, it smells like fried chicken, the party will be over.

  40. Hi there,

    I know I’m late in the game, but just wanted to add what I think may be another cognitive glitch that should be eradicated. It is really just two words, that often appear in any dialogue.

    “Yeah, but…”

    It slips out before we know it, and yet it does such damage to any attempt at generating or building ideas.

    “Yeah” corresponds to the non-acknowledgment of what was just said, the walking over it. It makes no attempt to bridge the two speakers. It is an override.

    “But” is an almost a conversational onomatopoeia, because it actually butts in with the second speaker’s preconceived or just-conceived ideas. It begins a new line of thought that negates whatever was just said.

    I propose that this little minion of unreflective thought be driven out of our dialogues, especially those that try to reach a deeper understanding of any given issue, or give rise to new ideas. Or even more so, when there is disagreement.

    In its stead I might suggest pauses, actual moments of silence or thought phrases (“Hmmm…” etc.), in order to actually take in and process what was said and meld it in some way with what is to come.

    More than that, it shifts the goals of dialogue from domination to an intersubjective sensitivity whereby the act of building ideas is more important.

    I know this is a small thing, but I feel it is one worth examining in daily life.

  41. People who say it can not be done should get out of the way of people who are doing it! Here I come

    Nice mantra.

  42. Well this question is from a while ago, but I thought I would post anyway.

    What other behavior, besides complaining, do you think people should stop?

    Well its not really a behavior to stop, but what about a behavior to start?

    I think if you train yourself to pick up 1 piece of garbage a day, the world would be alot better. Its amazing how much trash is out there, all around us. If each of us was to pick up 1 piece, everyday….well that would make a big difference, and a cleaner happier planet!

    Bonus: If you were holding a party for 100 VIPs in SF or NYC and had no budget (or no more than $1,000, whichever you prefer), what would you do to make the event memorable and fun?

    This ones a little tougher…..I’ld probably rent a couple of those giant blow up bouncers and slides. When ever you see those, they are only at kids parties, and adults don’t get to go on them. I think it would be a blast!

    Thanks

  43. Another behavior that people should stop is saying “uh… uh… , and-and-and” and the like while speaking. Doing so wastes time and decreases your credibility.

    A bracelet, necklace, or simple marking with a marker could be used to remind the user to calm down and speak without interrupting his or her self.

  44. “word choice determines thought choice”

    sort of. they influence each other… like a feedback loop.

    so what determines word choice? assuming speaker not reading from script.

    metaphor choice.

    symbols and interpreted meaning.

    do you think will bowen has a metpahor?

    of course. everyone does.

    some people take their metaphors literally. e.g. they may think that a symbolic event in history used to convey meaning(s) actually took place.

    this is how disagreements are made.

    all due respect, i wonder if will wants you to have the same metaphor as he does. can he tolerate other metaphors?

    only he knows.

  45. I’d add not accepting complements right up there with complaining about yourself.

    If someone says something nice about you, arguing with them is awkward and bad form. Smile, say “thanks,” and move on!

  46. Criticism & complaint are a few of our dark companions as entrepreneurs. By definition we are always looking for a better way than the status quo. This causes us to see the lack so that we can identify the opportunity to make it better. The more we develop the opportunity the more we realize how lacking the status quo really is. It is a vicious cycle….and once we put more energy into identifying the problems than we do in making the solutions we have failed. Avoiding this failure requires radical action like Tim described in the post.

    Other good books on this subject include:

    QBQ – The Question behind the Question by John Miller

    How to win friends and influence people by Dale Carnegie

  47. If you have computer problems (or any basic questions) use twitter. I have tweeted when I was at a dead end or needed good recommendations and have almost always been pleasantly surprised with the helpful results.

    You could have asked how to resize images in iphoto and found this is done through:

    file > export > set the file type

  48. Several years ago, after I’d gone through a very rough patch, I found that no-one wanted to be around me and realized that just about everything that came out of my mouth was negative and victim-based. Blecch!

    I decided that I wasn’t going to let anything negative come out of my mouth for 30 days just to see how my world would change. It worked. The first couple of weeks, I didn’t contribute much to conversations, but eventually my mind started, without a lot of effort on my part, to come up with positive things to say. Now people think of me as an enormously positive person and I’m able to see opportunities everywhere. It’s probably the biggest life-changer I’ve done in the last ten years.

  49. Tim,

    Try this social experiment. Tiana and I call it: “No More Hand Holding”.

    Do you ever have friends who you need to nag, repeatedly, to get them to do things that are ultimately in their best interest? Like you have to ask them four times to go to a fun party with you. 75% of the time, these friends just like it that you hold their hand in order to get them to do things. And the other 25% of the time, they flat out refuse, and you feel even stupider for wasting your time.

    So the rule is: If someone declines to do something that you know is in their best interest, *after you have explained to them why they should do it*, then you stop. Can you make it for twenty-one days? Actually, this one is easy, because it’s so exhilarating to be discharged from the responsibility of helping ungrateful people.

  50. The most important behavior people should change is to stop complain when they get up in the morning. Start the day by smiling and jump off your bed to enjoy the first day of your future life.

  51. Tim,

    Thanks for recommending A Complaint-Free World. Your definition of a complaint provides me with a practical way to convert C.A.V.E. (Citizens Against Virtually Everything) dwellers into more positive contributors. As a change agent, this is an invaluable skill to acquire. I can even help improve my own self-talk with your tips.

  52. I randomly came across this article (I don’t even remember where), but I like the idea. I think I’ll try it, with or without the bracelet. It ought to be quite the challenge, but by the end of it, I should be further toward my current goal in life.

    As for my suggestion as to what people should quit, I think that the world would be in a lot better shape if people would slow down a bit. This would involve several factors, such as less procrastination to allow more time for tasks to get done, but I think that the overall effect of relaxation would relieve a good bit of societal tension. If people don’t feel so much like they have to be five places at once, maybe they’ll be more polite in the one place they are at that moment.

    For the 100 VIPs, I suggest a game: Give each VIP between $20 and $40 (depending on region and budget), take them out to a semi-rural area, and play golf. The rules, of course, being that they have to make their own golf clubs, out of whatever they can buy with their budget or scrounge up from a smallish town and/or a rural setting (we’ll be fair and hold it somewhere with trees, just so they have potential to use long sticks). Actual golf balls are provided as projectiles, and each hole is roughly… we’ll say 50 or 100 yards away from the tee.

    The winner is calculated not only on best actual score in the game, but also by factoring in how frugal they were with their individual budget, and how imaginative their clubs were, both in design and personalization.

  53. I like the first 2 things you found out but didn’t agree with “People want to be around action-oriented problem solvers.”

    Women often talk to sort out their ideas and emotions and hate it when blokes jump in and start telling them the solution. Listening is appreciated. We are not dumb, just talking.

  54. In my opinion almost any critique can be borderline complaint. In some way you are evaluating, comparing and even while you might be say “it’s good” behind the scene you may be thinking how it could be better, hence the complaint in the background. If you want to get rally radical just try a zero tolerance for anything critical at all for just one day and see what you can find out. If you can find a partner who can criticize you and point out whenever you are being critical but you can not say anything back that is all the better. believe me it’ll bring out the best (and maybe worst) in you. Good luck with the experiment.

    Bonus: I’d hire a live karaoke band for the event. That means the guests could sing popular songs with a professional band and make sure to send pics to all the guests of their performances.

  55. VInce Great resizing tip!

    Tim, If you’re really lazy you can let mail resize your images too. Just drop an image into a new message and use the image size option at the bottom right of the mail. Trade off is that you have to select from predefined sizes (usually one will suit most situations). Once you have resized just drag it from Mac Mail into a folder where you store your images. You can even drag it back into iPhoto if you want.

  56. hm, that is interesting, and it’s something that I try to do, without really having a word – let alone a wrist band switching system – for it.

    However, I feel I must be the devil’s advocate and point out that complaining must have it’s place– it is such a widespread behaviour that I find it doubtful that it serves no purpose. I’m not sure what it is, but I’m convinced that we don’t all engage in it so naturally and freely for no particular reason.

    doesn’t counselling/therapy basically consist of the patient ‘complaining’? I’m told studies suggest that talking to a friend can be just as helpful as talking to a therapist- it’s like complaining/venting is our debugging mode.

    Complaining about something is also a way of expressing a dislike for it, which can connect you to people who share your opinion, or start a (hopefully constructive and informative) debate with someone who disagrees with you.

    I’m not saying everyone should complain more, of course. Certainly, analysing what you’re saying and why is always helpful.

    But, a world /completely/ without complaints I would find unnatural and weird.

    or.. is that just me complaining?

    .. in fact, in a way it’s complaining that people complain too much. Though, I think what you’re suggesting here is a way to make complains meaningful, and to think about what you’re saying, and I’m all for that ^.^

  57. This post so inspired me. But I “tweaked” it from a 21 day complaint fast to a month long empowerment “diet”. Basically wearing a bracelet on one arm to remind me in eliminating my turbo “you suck” moments and instead remaining conscious of my intrinsic and dynamic worth.

    First day I failed…but was a lesson in neutralization of negative thought and redirection towards positive.

    I am on day 15 🙂 it’s wonderful.

  58. My first thought when I read this was “this idea is terrible & won’t work” so when I receive my bracelet, I’ll immediately put it on my right wrist. I was gonna start on my left, so strike 1!

    Love the blog Tim, I’m still confused by last years April Fools Joke. Who am I talking to now…are you one of the voices in my head???

    Keep it up, you’re helping me change from the inside out!

  59. Tim, I like this concept, I think it is awesome to have a reminder system. I however think that your reframe still has a little negative side to it. If we look at this from a place of “It’s all about me” and knowing that we create everything around us, then we must look within when the a**hole or negative circumstance shows up. They dont just show up, we bring them forth. That circumstance is always a reminder of what is going on inside of us. When the rude guy shows up and delivers his message, rather than get annoyed and think he is a jerk, we can look at what his rude message was about. If we look past what it is that he doesnt want (his complaint) and ask what is it that this guy really wants. We can come up with a list of things such as:

    1-He wants to know that he is getting the service that he deserves from our great postal service.

    2-He wants to be respected and treated like more than a number.

    3-He really wants to hurry home to his family.

    4-He wants to whatever it is….

    Now that we have the “do want”, we can turn that into coaching for ourselves, because the negative that shows up is usually asking us to make a correction in our own lives, its a reflection of our own inner voice. If you ever notice in those public situations, the people who are happy and on track in their lives will almost never notice or get triggered by this and in fact may think, oh that poor guy must have a lot on his plate and feel sorry for him. The people that are off track or are in self conscious or “beat up” mode are the ones who get triggered and notice how rude he was.

    So to some this up, I think its ok to give people feedback but always in a positive way like, Wow, what you just said was kind of rude and didnt sound good, man you must have a lot going on in your world, are you ok? Or even feed back to them their positive message like, Wow, you must be in a hurry and it looks like you are feeling disrespected here… etc. Once we determine what the positive intent behind the negative that shows up, we can look and see where we are looking for that correction in our life and apply it accordingly. Once applied, notice how those negatives disappear until we get off track again 🙂

    I’m out

    Mo

  60. Pingback: Complain-Free «
  61. People should stop smoking. As an aid to those that quit smoking, the bracelet could be used as a way to stop thinking about smoking. I quit smoking by literally telling myself that I would never think about cigarettes again and I didn’t until I had the strength and self control to think about it. I would also use the bracelet to remind youself to stop thinking about defeat in any form when taking on a new project.

  62. Hey Tim,

    Live life to the fullest by being proactive, not reactive.

    Rather than complaining or coping, think of how you can improve your situation or solve the problem. Instead of giving excuses for why you can’t do something, think of how you can.

    This bracelet idea is an awesome external force to push you into no-complaint zone. A visual object constantly on your hand to remind you not to complain, but instead seek solutions. Diverting otherwise wasted energy into effective uses for it.

    Thanks for sharing the bracelet method and the book,

    Oleg

  63. I think people should stop blabbing to me about things I don’t care about. I’m not asking for mind readers, I am simply recommending guiding conversations with pointed questions rather than an itinerary of thoughts to find the most meaningful and efficient way to communicate.

    As for the VIP party, let’s adorn each guest with a toga for starters…

  64. Political Correctness should be completely eliminated from humanity. It’s like making it acceptable to be secretly irrationally unpleasant and condescending. It eats away at the fiber of a person until you are degraded into a spoon fed weakling unfit for raw honesty and general society. I believe that it is one of the three great enemies of America, along with fast food and shoes.

    I like the idea of the swear word; it gives a gravity or a sense of ridiculousness to a situation that you would otherwise not be able to elucidate as colorfully. However, in order to prevent yourself from becoming the kind of person that uses curses in everyday conversation and nullifies the value of them, try what Wes Anderson did in Fantastic Mr. Fox, and substitute the word “cuss.” It will, as a side effect, make life incredibly funny. I guarantee that the first time you say “clustercuss” you will laugh your cuss off.

    For a party, I suggest that you take everyone to a goodwill or salvation army, have them buy a ridiculous outfit, and then hold an impromptu rave/volleyball game at a public park or some such place and play “Let Her Dance” by Bobby Fuller Four.

  65. Whether you think so or not it definately IS still complaining whenever you point out someone else is doing so-It’s just complaining about the fact someone else complains,or gossips

    Here’s how I define complaining.I think of it as any comment about something negative.It’s the whole “If you don’t have anything nice to say,don’t say it all”philosophy but taken further,”If you don’t have anything good to say,say nothing at all….”

    To practice that,IS MUCH more challenging

  66. Great post. That minister is on to something. I think I will incorporate that into my life. Maybe I’ll just use my watch instead of the bracelet. It is almost like a self-imposed public shaming, but with a curative effect being applied to the one who is shamed, rather than a protective effect being given to society.

  67. This would be a great documentary to have a guy like Morgan Spurlock (of Supersize me fame) do.

    At what point in our lives do we turn into rags? Do 2nd graders stand around on the playground and complain to each other?