Happy SMART Day Everyone!
Several years ago a book entitled, “A Complaint Free World” became an overnight sensation. To date, nearly ten million people have read the book and obtained purple rubber bracelets to help them recognize how much they complain on a regular basis. The practice was designed so that once people recognized their complaints they could put an end to them and gradually transform their world. This last week I came across my little purple bracelet and immediately realized that the bad habit of complaining was worming its way back into my life. Right then I admitted I could use another dose of “complaint-free living” in my life and in my world.
What is a complaint free life and how can we create one? According to the author of the book, Rev. William Bowen, the dictionary defines complaining as expressing grief, pain or discontent. Instead, Bowen redefines a complaint as an “energetic statement that focuses on the problem at hand rather than the resolution sought.” He then goes on to clarify, “complaining is not to be confused with informing someone of a mistake or deficiency so that it can be put right. And to refrain from complaining doesn’t necessarily mean putting up with bad quality or behavior. There is no ego in telling the waiter your soup is cold and needs to be heated up—if you stick to the facts, which are always neutral.” However, Bowen highlights the distinction when he compares, “How dare you serve me cold soup…?” That’s complaining.”
Bowen is good at reminding us that when we complain we are talking about what we don’t want rather than what we do want. And again, our focus tends to magnify and build more of what we habitually express. As Bowen says, “Complaining spreads negative energy and negative energy cannot create a positive outcome.” Unfortunately, Bowen believes that the average person complains about 15 to 30 times a day. That is a lot of time and energy creating what we don’t want to experience.
Not only does complaining magnify the things in our life that we don’t want, I think we also use complaining as a distraction from doing what needs to be done in order to live a happy life. As long as we use our tales of woe to justify or rationalize why we can’t be or do what we say we want—we never have to change ourselves or move forward. And the more dramatic we can make our complaint—the more likely we can get support from all our friends and relatives. Then instead of helping us to experience the best life has to offer, we settle and make do with the status quo.
Plus, in case you haven’t noticed—complaining is contagious. If you want to bring your spouse, best friend or every one you know down to a dismal way of thinking, just start complaining. Before you know it, everyone else will be sharing his or her tale of injustice and resentment and very quickly the atmosphere radiates palatable toxicity. Author and speaker Jon Gordon calls complaining “The complain train” because it is far too easy for us all to jump on board. In his book, “The No Complaining Rule: Positive Ways to Deal with Negativity At Work,” he believes the best antidote is cultivating gratitude. He rightly suggests that when we focus on what we do have and what is working we will turn the complain train completely around.
Where I find myself using complaints the most in my life is arguing with the “Is-ness” of life. I define Is-ness as the wholistic experience of Life happening around me, in contrast with the way I think it should be. (Notice I’m talking about Life with a capital ‘L’) Eckhart Tolle addresses this issue by saying, “complaining is one of the ego’s favorite strategies for strengthening itself.” He goes on to say that, “the ego loves to complain and feel resentful not only about people but also about situations…the implication is always: This should not be happening.” Ultimately Tolle believes that the major reason we complain is because the ego craves being right—and making others wrong strengthens our individual sense of superiority—all things that the ego adores. Tolle suggests that the best way to free us from this habitual thought pattern is to return to the now moment and stay conscious. He also recommends that when we find ourselves complaining or resisting what is, that we ask ourselves, “Do I want the present moment to be my friend or my enemy?” That question forces us to acknowledge that our ego is asserting righteousness and fighting the present moment. Anytime we choose complaining we are making the Now our enemy.
Back when his book first came out William Bowen came up with a very visual exercise to help each of us wake up and realize when we are complaining. That practice is to wear a purple rubber bracelet on one wrist and then when you catch yourself complaining about anything—you switch the bracelet to the other arm. The goal or intention is to manage to keep the bracelet on one wrist for the entire span of 21 days. Bowen believes that in 21 days anyone can form the new habit of non-complaining and the purple bracelet is an excellent tool to help you do just that. In addition, the book website also has a free computer widget that will help monitor and track your progress.
The truth is I only complain when I forget who I really am and how blessed my life is every single day. Still, I’m reminded that out of habit I sometimes fall back into wanting to be right and forgetting my true nature. Whether I wear a purple bracket, use a computer widget or just do my best to remember, working to create a complaint free life is very SMART indeed.
“To complain is always nonacceptance of what is. It invariably carries an unconscious negative charge. When you complain, you make yourself a victim. Leave the situation or accept it. All else is madness.”~ Eckhart Tolle
“The tendency to whining and complaining may be taken as the surest symptom of little souls and inferior intellects.” ~Lord Jeffrey