A Complaint Free World

Summary Written by Carol-Ann Hamilton
"If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. Don’t complain."

- Maya Angelou, as quoted in Complaint Free World, page 1

The Big Idea

The 4 Stages to Mastery

"It is a waste of time to be angry about my disability. One has to get on with life and I haven’t done badly. People won’t have time for you if you are always angry or complaining."- Stephen Hawking, as quoted in Complaint-Free World, page 53

Let’s define a complaint. Simply put, it’s talking about things you do not want rather than what you do want. It’s a complaint if you want the person or situation changed. Directing a comment to someone who can improve your situation is not complaining. Berating others or lamenting your circumstances is.

According to The Merriam-Webster Dictionary, to complain is to express grief, pain or discontent. For the author, this means we ought to develop a very high threshold of what would ever cause us to gripe – as opposed to the daily habit in which most engage.

Just as it takes 21 days for a hen’s egg to hatch, the idea is to go 21 consecutive days without complaining, criticizing, or gossiping. The four steps to form this new positive practice are:

  1. Unconscious Incompetence. You don’t realize (unconscious) how often you complain (incompetent).
  2. Conscious Incompetence. You’re uncomfortably aware (conscious) of your complaining (incompetent). Misery loves company and thus derives validation.
  3. Conscious Competence. In this hyper-sensitive stage, you begin awareness of everything you say. You’re careful with the words you utter.
  4. Unconscious Competence. It has now become unconscious (you don’t notice) for you to be competent (not complain).

Insight #1

Using the Purple Bracelet

"A mind stretched by a new idea never shrinks back to its original dimensions."- Oliver Wendell Holmes, as quoted in A Complaint-Free World, page 140

When – not if – you catch yourself, you’ll start to see just how epidemic this negative behavior is in our world. Here’s how to slowly disentangle and release yourself from the trap:

  1. Begin to wear a purple bracelet on either wrist.
  2. When you catch yourself complaining, gossiping, or criticizing, move the bracelet to the other wrist and begin again.
  3. If you hear someone who is wearing a purple bracelet complain, it’s okay to point out their need to switch the bracelet to the other arm. BUT if you’re going to do this, you must move your bracelet first. You’re complaining about their complaining!
  4. Stay with it. It takes on average 4 to 8 months to reach 21 consecutive days.

Mind, you don’t have to wait for your purple bracelet to arrive. Slip a rubber band on your wrist, put a coin or small stone in your pocket, move a paper weight to one side of your desk or find your own distinctive way of self-monitoring today.

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Insight #2

Say “Of Course”

"If you want to clean up the entire world, begin with sweeping your own doorstep."- Russian proverb quoted in A Complaint Free World, page 65

Bowen further responds to those who question: “But isn’t complaining (venting) healthy?” For certain, he’s not advocating silence when something needs to be corrected.

Rather, we focus on holding a vision for our lives that attracts upbeat people. The non-healthy move on. Our default shifts to gratitude and appreciation. What a simple idea that good things happen in abundance when we leave our grumbling behind!

Using old phrases in positive new ways is essential to living a Complaint Free Life. When something good happens (i.e., finding a parking space in front of a store on a rainy day or no windshield ticket after your meter runs out), say to yourself “Just my luck!” and “This always happens to me.”

Be like Hal – with stage IV lung cancer, given six months to live – going on to survive another two years. He proved in the midst of challenging terminal illness, one can find happiness. Avoid Jane, who would not be persuaded from death’s doorstep even after doctors corrected her diagnosis. She showed 67% of illnesses are a result of sick thinking.

Both demonstrate the change we seek is never “out there”; it is within ourselves. Less pain, improved health, satisfying relationships, a better job, being more serene and joyous are probable – not just possible. Consciously striving to reformat our mental hard drive is not easy, but we can start now by using the steps Bowen presents here.

As our collective minds begin to grasp that our lives, our health, our society, our political situation, and indeed the state of our planet are an out-picturing of the thoughts we hold, I’m inspired. The power of our individual thought to transform the world is a big enough. Why to go 21 days without whining – and well beyond!

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Will Bowen

Will Bowen is an author and speaker who has been featured on/in “Oprah,” NBC’s “Today Show,” ABC’s “World News Tonight,” CBS “Sunday Morning,” “Fox News,” “The Wall Street Journal,” “Newsweek,” “People,” “O,” “Self,” “Chicken Soup for the Soul” and in hundreds of media stories around the world.

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