My 21 Day No Complaint Challenge

What’s uncool to do, a burden to hear, and common everywhere? (Hint: it’s in the title.)

Given the fact that no one likes a complainer, I figured I should try to be someone that I like, and that means I need to complain less! Although I don’t verbally complain very much, I still complain about people and things in my head. And guess who feels bad holding these negative emotions? (Hint: it’s not them).

Coincidentally, one of my friends was struggling with some workplace drama, and we discussed how to reframe negative situations positively. Rather than wanting people or circumstances to be different, why not ask ourselves to be stronger and more able to deal with any situation thrown at us? The former is outside our control, while the later is completely inside our control.

Hence, I proposed that we do the 21-Day No-Complaint Challenge, which I heard about from Tim Ferriss’s blog: Real Mind Control: The 21-Day No-Complaint Experiment.

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Basically, for 21 days, we must be extra vigilant towards our thoughts and speech. If we think or say a complaint, then we need to propose a solution immediately or reframe it in a positive light. This way, it is not a complaint, it is simply stating a problem and then attempting to find a solution.

Examples of complaints:

Examples of non-complaints:

You might be wondering, why 21 days? That’s because 21 days is a good amount of time to form or change a habit. Since I am sure I complain about similar things as most people, I’ll share my experience in hopes that you may benefit from them and maybe even do your own 21-Day No Complaint Challenge!

My Experience

Every day in my journal, I wrote down at least one incident that I reframed. At the end of each week, I reviewed my reframes and found patterns in them. I often complain in these situations:

  1. When I am in the middle of doing something and then get interrupted.
  2. When others misunderstand me and assume I am being stupid or unreasonable, but they never checked with me if their assumption is correct.
  3. When others behave illogically or unreasonably.

1: Getting Interrupted

This one happened the most frequently. Pretty much every day, I get interrupted by others. Maybe I am in the middle of studying, and then a family member comes to talk to me. Or a neighbor rings the doorbell. Or I am in the middle of talking, and then the other person cuts in and talks for a while. There was even once, I was in the middle of working and then the electricity went out! Sometimes, these interruptions only take a few minutes, other times they take up to an hour or more!

Before, I would think, “

But during the challenge, I reminded myself, “.”

At the beginning, I had to give myself this pep talk a lot, but after a few times, I got used to it. I viewed interruptions as a normal thing, and I was more easily able to respond with a calm and kind heart.

2: Being Misunderstood

This one happened a couple times, and it is a big deal for me. I’ve always hated being wrongfully accused of a crime I did not commit or at least did not intentionally commit.

For example, one day my mother came home from the grocery store, and it just happened to be the 15 minute break time during my online class. I saw her bring some groceries into the house, so I asked her if there were more things in the car. She said, “

I thought maybe she did not want me to bring it in because I was wearing work clothes and only had a short break. But I wanted to help out, so I still brought the stuff in. Later, she criticized me and said, “

My first thought was, “

But since I was being vigilant about my thoughts, I first shut my mouth to not say anything negative. Then I tried to reframe the situation. I reminded myself of a quote that Confucius said,

I want to be a superior person, not an inferior person, so I must not get upset right now.

Then I thought of another quote by Emperor Tang Taizong:

Hence, I calmed down and said, “” Later on in the day, my mother apologized and said she was feeling very rushed and flustered in the morning, so maybe that’s why she unfairly criticized me.

From that incident, I experienced first-hand how being humble and yielding leads to harmony very quickly, whereas arguing and trying to prove yourself right would surely lead to prolonged suffering for everyone.

3: Others Behaving Unreasonably

This one is also something that bothers me a lot, and it happens somewhat often. I am a teacher, and sometimes my students behave unreasonably.

For example, one student tends to rush his quizzes. I asked him, “” He said, “” Hence, I reminded him many times before the start of quizzes to not rush. What happens? He still rushes.

Another student has trouble submitting her homework on the school website. I told her, “” I also guided her to reflect on the importance of being respectful in our relationships and career success. What happens? She will remember the next day, but then the day after she forgets again.

Yet another student said she wanted to get a good grade in this course at the start of the semester, but then she stopped coming to class after a couple weeks, and then in the last week, she messages me to ask if she can make up all her missed work in the next week.

In the past, I would definitely complain about these people acting illogically and insincerely. But during the 21-Day Challenge, I reminded myself, “

I also reflected that everyone has their bad habits, and habits are very hard to break. They aren’t intentionally trying to annoy me, they are just unconscious slaves to their habits. If I get annoyed at them, then I am also being an unconscious slave to my bad habit of complaining. If I have a bad habit, I want others to treat me with kindness and patience. I would not want others to demand me to change in the snap of a finger. Hence, I should treat others the way I want to be treated. I am still working on this one, but I have certainly improved over the 21 days.


Getting upset and complaining hurts ourselves the most, and it also creates collateral damage to those around us. Although we all want to avoid hurting ourselves and others, complaining is usually a habit. If we want to change a habit, we need to go through a period of conscious training, and that’s why I recommend the 21-Day No-Complaint Challenge.

Personally, I know that my complaining habit is not completely fixed yet, so the training continues for me. However, it is an enjoyable training! As Socrates said,

I hope you took away something useful from my experience, and if you do this challenge too, I’d be happy to hear your learnings!



Passionate about self-cultivation, happiness, and sharing wisdom.

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Alex Chen

Passionate about self-cultivation, happiness, and sharing wisdom.