My 21-Day-No-Complaint Challenge

Alex Chen
6 min readSep 10, 2018

In a past blog post, I mentioned the 21-Day-No-Complaint Challenge. I’ve never been much of a complainer in my life, but I thought it would be a good experience to actually try the challenge myself and see how I do.

So I did a 21-Day-No-Complaint Challenge to test my patience and discipline in focusing on things within my control. For context, I officially began the challenge on the first day of a 12-day summer camp where I traveled across various sites in China with kids as a Summer Camp Teacher.

In my case, I defined a complaint as a thought of annoyance or anger. This is an extremely high standard because such thoughts happen so instantaneously, but I wanted to practice cultivating my default mindset so that thoughts of annoyance and anger don’t arise at all. But to be practical, I forgave myself if I had a thought of annoyance or anger that was quickly noticed and then replaced with identifying what I learned and how I will prevent the same situation from happening again.

Long story short, this challenge helped me experience less emotional lows and feelings of frustration because I trained my mind to be patient with others and to focus on things within my control rather than obsessing over things that have happened or that are outside my control.

Below are the daily journal logs I kept.

Day 1: Aug 9

I went to a supermarket to buy an umbrella. The front guard wouldn’t let me in with my suitcase. That allowed me to notice a small shop right beside the entrance with umbrellas. I promptly got an umbrella from that shop. If I had tried to get into the shop and even worse, was successful, I would have spent way more time trying to buy an umbrella.

Day 2: Aug 10

I almost complained when the watermelon juice I got was warm and tasted bad. But instead I said it’s better than not having anything to drink at all. And the kid who also got watermelon juice agreed with me, so I taught someone else to have an appreciative attitude.

Day 3: Aug 11

My light beige shorts became red because I was carrying a plastic bag with red print on it. And under the sun, the red print rubbed off onto my pants. Even though I liked those shorts, I didn’t get annoyed and instead found it as an opportunity to practice detachment to material possessions.

Day 4: Aug 12

Originally, we were supposed to go to a monastery, but the plan got cancelled because it was raining. Instead, we went to a museum. It was boring, but I saw it as an opportunity for the kids to enjoy my lesson more because they would be dying for something different from the museum tour.

Day 5: Aug 13

I spilled sunscreen over my beige pants. But I didn’t complain and just focused on the tasks to clean it. Later, it turned out to be barely noticeable after it dried.

Day 6: Aug 14

I wasn’t feeling well today, but I didn’t want to give off any negative energy to the kids, so I remained positive to give the kids a good time during the camp.

Day 7: Aug 15

It was raining and crowded at a tourist site. People stepped on my shoes and flipped my umbrella over with their umbrellas. When I started feeling annoyed, I told myself “Of course it would be like this when it’s raining at a crowded tourist site. I should just focus on looking at where I step and where my umbrella is placed.” After that, I made it to the bus with no casualties.

Day 8: Aug 16

I had some students over in my room to watch a movie on my laptop. One of the naughty students closed all my files, and I got annoyed at her, but then I told myself I should have expected it from her, and next time I will be more careful.

Day 9: Aug 17

I had to ride the bus for 5 hours, but I treated it as an opportunity to listen to podcasts and learn new things.

Day 10: Aug 18

It was very hot and sunny in the desert. In the past, I used an umbrella to protect myself from the sun. Today, the wind was too strong for me to use an umbrella, so I had no way of protecting myself. Instead of complaining, I just took the heat and kept looking for an opportunity to buy a hat. I finally found a hat at the end of the day. Even though I didn’t get to use it today, I did get a hat that I liked, which is a rare accomplishment.

Day 11: Aug 19

I thought I would have multiple teachers perform a song with me at the closing ceremony talent show, but I found out no one would do it with me. Instead of getting annoyed, I told myself that the worst-case scenario of me soloing is fine because my goal is to make the kids happy, and I know they would enjoy the song. Then right before my performance, Johnathan decided to join me, and we had a blast, and the kids loved it.

Day 12: Aug 20

The person behind me couldn’t stop coughing. Rather than getting annoyed at the noise, I remembered I had some cough medicine, so I gave it to him. It helped him.

Day 13: Aug 21

The price of groceries went up by 30% in some cases. Rather than complain, I asked why and found out it was because there’s been typhoons in the area. I decided to be grateful that I have the financial ability to absorb the increased grocery costs.

Day 14: Aug 22

Today, I started working out again as a way to practice discipline and willpower. I kind of regretted not buying a workout bench, but instead of complaining, I just made a makeshift one using two chairs. It worked alright.

Day 15: Aug 23

Today, I was extremely sore from my workout yesterday. I could barely move and had a headache from the pain. Rather than be annoyed that I can’t be productive today, I took this as a lesson to be sustainable in my efforts in the future.

Day 16: Aug 24

Today, some people on scooters cut across me as I was about to cross the street, even though I had a green light. It just reinforced the importance of looking before you cross because you can’t control what others do, only what you do.

Day 17: Aug 25

Today, I found out my griddle pan was shedding a lot of black iron onto the food I was grilling. Rather than be annoyed and throw the food away, I washed the grilled food under water to get rid of the iron. Then I did a thorough wash of the griddle pan. If it’s like this the next time, I’ll just throw the pan away.

Day 18: Aug 26

Today, two people told me they would do something but didn’t, which resulted in me staying up later than I prefer. Rather than be annoyed, I know they had good intentions, and I’ve certainly been unable to keep my word in the past too. So I just let it go and went to sleep.

Day 19: Aug 27

The phone case I bought didn’t turn out to be as I expected. Fortunately, it didn’t cost much money. I was choosing between two at the time of purchase, so I just bought the other one immediately after finding out the one I got is not what I expected.

Day 20: Aug 28

Today, I was in a rush and unlocked an Ofo bike (Ofo is a bike sharing app) only to find out the bike was broken. My app still charged me 3 yuan as if I rode the bike. This is not the first time this has happened. Rather than be annoyed with myself, I let this experience serve as a reminder to not rush when trying to unlock an Ofo bike and to always check carefully if the bike is broken or not.

Day 21: Aug 29

Today, I had an avocado in my shopping basket that didn’t have a price sticker on it. So the cashier told me I can’t buy it. But it was a key ingredient for a meal I wanted to cook. So I went back into the store, got another avocado and got a price sticker for it, and then re-lined up to buy it. There was no point in being angry about it. You just got to focus on what you can do given the circumstances.

Unfortunately, I failed the challenge today, the very last day, because I got very frustrated when I was almost late for my inter-city high-speed train, and then I lost my ticket while running from the ticket office to the station entrance. This guaranteed I would miss the train because I’d have to go back to the ticket office and line up again to buy another ticket.

All the events that happened to me in the past 20 days were of small to medium impact, and I was able to stay calm. But today’s impact was a high, and I was unable to stay calm. Looks like I still have work to do.



Alex Chen

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