One Week Challenge: Go a day without complaining

26 January 2017 - Interviews

Welcome to the TMC One Week Challenge. For each One Week Challenge, we and you (should you wish to participate!) have one week to complete the challenge, and we’ll document our experiences on Our Notebook at the end of the week.

This week’s challenge:

“Go a day without complaining. Go a week if you think you never complain.”

What’s a complaint? It’s describing an event or person negatively without indicating next steps on how to fix the problem. For example, “I can’t believe that line is so long!” is a complaint. “That line is so long! I’ll come an hour earlier tomorrow to avoid the crowd” is not a complaint because a solution is proposed. If it’s not clear whether a comment is a complaint or just a statement of fact, then the test is whether the comment was made negatively, and if so, was a solution proposed. If you’re answering yes to both, then it’s a complaint.

So, what did Team TMC learn this week?

1. We gave greater thought to our choice of words. We began to notice the effects our words had on our mood, actions, and the people around us. As we know, words become thoughts, and thoughts determine actions and emotions. Sometimes in that moment of complaining you may feel great (after all, it may be cathartic), but once that moment is over, do you feel “better” or have you talked yourself into a downward spiral?

2. We were more action-oriented. We focused our efforts on solutions rather than allowing ourselves to be negatively reactive. This meant we were better able to stop the negative loop that a complaint creates. Less dwelling on terrible situations, and more pro-active thoughts on how to overcome them.

3. We were more pleasant to hang out with. No one enjoys hanging out with a Negative Nancy or Debbie Downer. Incessant complaining ruins the time spent with others. It ruins both your mood and the mood of the person you're speaking to.

4. We became convinced that complaining is a time-waster. Complaining takes up time. You may prefer spending that time on the priorities that bring you joy. After all, you can’t reclaim those moments lost to complaining.

5. We tried to come up with positive reasons for complaining, but they just didn’t stick. Argument #1: Complaining helps you make friends. Like gossip, it helps you bond with fellow humans. Remember complaining to the stranger next to you in the ice cream line? Nothing breaks the ice like, “Isn’t this taking forever? Maybe it’s taking so long because they're still milking the cow.” Argument #2: How about the emotional relief you feel when you rant about your terrible boss. Surely it’s inhumane to suppress thoughts and emotions.

We’re not convinced by either argument. If the comment in the ice cream line was made in jest to break the ice, it’s not a complaint but a joke. If it’s a complaint, its more likely that you've caused the other person to feel uncomfortable and/or reinforced their existing frustration from being stuck in a line. And ranting about a terrible boss without proposing a solution doesn’t result in a better workplace. It's fine to rant and release emotional stress, but without a solution, you’ll likely get sucked into a downward spiral and drag your colleagues down with you. Food for thought we think? Let us know if you disagree. 

6. Writing down what we complained about gave us insights into what actually annoys us during the day. We surprisingly, and embarrassingly, discovered that we tend to complain about trivial matters - the public transport system, the weather, the noise created by the neighbours, being hungry, the traffic, computer and IT, the pigeons getting in our way, and so on.  

A few final words from a couple of Team TMC members:

“I went into the one week challenge rather upbeat thinking- 'I don't complain much!' What I realised quickly is that while I don't always verbalise a complaint, they do cross my mind which is essentially the same thing. So I decided to verbalise my thoughts and then complete the sentence with a solution. Something that can be done so I'm not aimlessly complaining. I’ve realised that when we complain, we're usually not the only ones feeling bad, angry, irritated or sad. We affect those around us, who may already be feeling bad. So by verbalising our thoughts with follow up solutions we can actually encourage those around us.”

“Taking on this challenge seemed easy in the beginning as I know I'm not one to complain much. The start of my downfall was when I became hungry. My friends can probably vouch for the numerous times I've complained about being hungry halfway through a meal. Complaining about my situation didn't resolve my "problem". If anything, complaining reinforced my negative thoughts. Perhaps the next time, I'll try to redirect my energy from venting to enjoying my meal (something more constructive).”

“Reviewing my complaint list for the week, I embarrassingly discovered that they mainly concerned trivial matters, such as why certain products were sold out, why a queue was so long, and the noise of the traffic. It was hard to come up with a solution for a trivial matter and to redeem the comment as a “non-complaint”. These matters are trivial because they really don't matter in the grand scheme of life!”

“I found myself complaining about the weather, such as “why is it raining?!” and realised that there isn't any point as there's no solution - you can’t ask the weather to change! It's better to focus our energies on solutions and those matters which can be changed.”

We hope to hear your experiences with this week’s challenge. If our thoughts resonated with you (or didn’t at all!) or you have a suggestion for the next One Week Challenge, do drop us an email at hello@mindful-company.com. We’d love to hear from you.

 - The Mindful Company Team