Real Mind Control: Trying The 21 Day No Complaint Experiment Endorsed by Tim Ferriss
I Tried To Stop Complaining For A Week, And Here's What Happened
I started the day off like a boss—by complaining about my boss. So maybe not exactly like a boss. I started the day off like an employee!
We were having a 6-hour training session on our new content management system, and I know from many decades of being me that I only retain the barest bones of presentations like this—learning, instead, on the job, when forced to use the darn thing. Fortunately, I had my laptop, and therefore Facebook, where I announced that I was bored to tears and frustrated that I was in a learning environment that doesn't support my learning style. (Don't be one of these 26 most annoying types of people on Facebook.)
After this was "liked" by my boss's boss's boss's boss, I changed my tune and posted a request for my friends to fact-check my attempt to name all of Daniel Day Lewis's films without Googling anything. This led the rest of the training to fly by, and the distraction enabled me to actually receive information about the training, because I was unguarded and therefore vulnerable. Plus, I entertained my friends with my ability to spend paragraphs trying to remember movie names based on small details from a single sub-plot.
So that doesn't count. I wasn't complaining so much as entertaining my friends. Which, according to a 2014 paper called "Humorous Complaining" from theJournal of Consumer Research, is totally a thing!
I was too busy to really get in a good bunch of complaining, since it was the last day before vacation. But I did excel in fretting over the dogs not having a dog-sitter. Which may sound like I was complaining, but since I'm the one responsible for finding the dog-sitter, really it was strategizing about how to find one.
Which is exactly how I found one! Who cost per day. And yes, I did complain about that, and I had no excuse, so I stopped and instead reflected on my gratitude that I found anyone at all.
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This was when we flew to the East Coast for a spring-break visit to my parents. So basically, I was supposed to deal with a 6-hour flight and being at my childhood home without complaining. This is "gotcha journalism" at its finest.
I did complain on the plane. But in my defense, I was complaining to the flight attendant about the fact that the in-flight on-demand movies were not working. So I was not so much complaining as sharing information with people who could fix the problem.
Then I complained—bitterly—when they couldn't get it working and I was reduced to speaking to my children.
We arrived at 11 PM, and the cab we'd ordered didn't show up for an hour. My husband sat next to me as I spoke to the dispatcher.
"Wow, that happened fast," he said. "We barely touched ground in New Jersey and I've already heard you say, 'You keep sayin' that,' 'HUH,' and 'ucccch.'"
Unfortunately, he was not the one who volunteered to not complain. And, you know, I'd like to see anyone attempt to wrangle two overtired little girls at midnight in Newark without losing a marble or two.
The important thing, of course, was that I complained for an appropriate amount of time and then stopped. Because much as we like to excuse our complaining by calling it "venting," that doesn't make it productive.
If venting really does get anger out of your system, then venting should decrease aggression because people are less angry, according to a 2002 research roundup from Iowa State called "Does Venting Anger Feed or Extinguish the Flame?" Instead, the results showed the opposite effect in study after study. Venting only gets the venter more frustrated.
This was the day I found out that I could not score a ticket toHamilton, even with the new credit card I had opened just to pay for it. I was devastated, but I didn't complain about it because nobody cares, and besides, one of the stars had laryngitis. So I reflected on how grateful I was that this star had laryngitis and then I felt like a terrible person, so I just stopped and stewed in my disappointment silently. It may not have made me feel better, but it made it possible for my loved ones to be around me without gritting their teeth. And that, friends, is a win.
It was also raining buckets—that cold, dank kind of New Jersey rain so different from California rain, which almost always leads to rainbows because it often happens while the sun's shining brightly.
I must admit right now: When I'm in California, I complain about how much I miss the East Coast—that Yankee toughness, those bagels, the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It felt stupid to complain, therefore, about the weather in my beloved homeland, so instead I enjoyed a day with friends and family and…tried to remind myself that I was enjoying this. It was a near-constant struggle, but it did remind me that I do actually like California, even if I miss bagels and the Temple of Dendur at the Met.
That night, though, it was impossible to get my daughters to fall asleep: They were homesick, they missed the dogs, they were wound up from being indoors all day. I put on soothing music and opened Facebook on my phone.
"Bedtime is horrible," I typed and posted, then waited for my affirming "likes" to pour in.
"Busted," my friend/editor piped up. "That's complaining."
I went back and edited. "Any advice for getting homesick, wound-up girls to sleep?"
Which turned out, actually, to be a great reframing, and a lot more helpful than empty venting, as I got some lovely advice and affirmation! So huh. There might be something to this no-complaining thing. Food for thought. (Here's what sleep experts do when they can't get to sleep.)
Which is to say that I spent upwards of an hour scolding someone in a private Facebook group about the use of a politically incorrect term, while private-messaging, concurrently, endless complaints to my husband about how irksome this was and how right I was.
"You should stop," he said, coming over to me rather than answering me via private message, like a normal person.
I submit that my scolding was not intended to be complaining, but rather making the world a better place while refining my political point of view, making it a bonus two-part useful and proactive complaint, but…even I have a hard time buying that.
Bloop!Up popped a text from the president of my daughters' school's PTA, to whom I am bound as vice-president. She wanted to complain about our mutual pet peeve. I had to remain strong. I tried being chirpily distracting, then helpful, and finally went dark, but she wasn't having it.
I owed her some good common grousing. She's done the same for me so often. So I complained along with her. But really, this was a bonding activity, and you know what I am amazing at? I am absolutely a gold-medal winner at rationalizing terrible behavior. (Yeah, that's not one of these 5 personality traits that are most linked to happiness.)
Look at the rest of my week:
Complaining about my husband's ex-wife = learning how Facebook filters work so that I don't upset my stepkids.
Whining about my lack of something = manipulating friends into doing things for me. (Oh my god, that's horrible. I am going to stop doing that.)
Complaining aboutFrozen= entirely justified. Don't take this from me.
So yes, I was up for a challenge, and the challenge, apparently, was to see how guilty I could feel about complaining just as much.
I'll say this, though: It may not be possible to stop complaining, at least for me. But it is possible to make myself notice my complaints and ask myself whether each whine was really worthy. Even if I managed to shoehorn a "yes" into the answer box, at least the exercise made me take a critical look at my own behavior.
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