Poor Poor Pitiful Me

If I could go back in time to any one moment, I would kill Hitler because that is the time travel rule. But if I could go back to any two moments, after I killed Hitler I would visit myself last Sunday morning, just as Past Me’s head was getting stuck in a sweatshirt.

I would step quickly and quietly up behind myself and press my ray gun into Past Me’s side.

A typical imaginary raygun

I’m a time traveler in this scenario. Obviously I have a ray gun.

“Don’t say a word, Stephanie,” I would say coldly. “This is the ray gun that killed Hitler and it’s here to stop another atrocity before it begins.” Past Me would probably gulp, head still in the sweatshirt. “Now that I have your attention,” I would say, “I need you to calmly push your head through this hole right here. No, that’s an arm hole. This hole. Good. I’m going back to the future now, but you must swear to me that you will not complain about this sweatshirt situation. Do you hear me? Do not say anything about it.” Then I would disappear with a woosh.

Alas, time travel has not been invented and since I wasn’t there to stop myself, a bad thing happened: I was forced to move a rubber band from my right wrist to my left.

Maybe I should back up.

Last Friday, I read (skimmed) an article (blog post) about the 21-day No-Complaint Experiment.

The Rules

1. Stick a bracelet on your wrist.

2. Now go 21 days without complaining. Not even once. Because as soon as you do, you have to switch the bracelet to your other wrist and start the 21 days all over again.

3. Recognize that a statement of displeasure is not a complaint. The blog writer defines complaining as “describing an event or person negatively without indicating next steps to fix the problem.” So you can still acknowledge something is unpleasant, as long as you have a plan for it. For example, “Man, my Future Self keeps time-traveling from next week to threaten me with a ray gun.” is not ok, but a statement with a solution (“Man, Winston keeps biting my face in the night. I’ll have to invent a complex booby trap that startles him away every time he goes in for the kill.”) is alright.

Apparently there’s a whole book based on this challenge, but you know me. Always jumping into radical life experiments after half-reading one thing once. This one was attractive to me for a couple reasons.

Things that Are Wrong with Me

1) I’d noticed myself complaining kind of a lot recently. Even in a whiny voice. Even to complete strangers.

2) One of the reasons I’m so anxious all the time is that my brain is really good at Automatic Negative Thinking, which means it comes up with horrible, mean little thoughts about everything all the time forever. Stopping those thoughts helps me feel brave enough to leave the house without trying to viciously bite everyone who approaches me.

It's possible that I have confused anxiety with rabies.

It’s possible that I have confused anxiety with rabies.

I couldn’t wait to start. I guess the book comes with a fancy bracelet, but I didn’t have time to wait for that. I dug around in a drawer until I scrounged up a green rubber band. Then I left for dinner, feeling optimistic about the new leaf I was about to turn.

Within the hour, I had switched wrists four times. Before bed, I switched it three more times.

By Saturday afternoon, I was doing better. My brain was hyper aware of complaints and fixated on winning this challenge. I was on a roll right up until Sunday morning. “My heeeeaaaaaddd is stuuuuuuuuuuuck in this sweeeaaaatshiiiiiiirt,” I whined through the fabric, then realized what I’d done. “Nooooooooo!” I screamed, and moved the bracelet to my left wrist.

Where, I’m happy to report, it still is. Day three feels pretty freakin’ great. I’ve already learned a few things about myself.

Observations

1) I use complaints as a conversational crutch when I run out of small talk.

2) I complain more around some people than others, and there’s a chance I’m going to need to re-evaluate these relationships to make sure they’re not completely rooted in negativity.

3) Everything I complain about is super dumb. There are a lot of people with legitimate things to complain about (ebola, living in North Korea, math class) and I’m upset because for three weeks I don’t get to whine about getting my head stuck in a pretty basic article of clothing.

Complaints about North Korea are the most glorious complaints in the entire world.

Complaints about North Korea: the most glorious complaints in the entire world.

4) Avoiding complaints doesn’t turn you into some creepy, boring Pollyanna. You’re still allowed to have a personality. It does make you more fun to be around.

5) The trick is getting past the first day, especially when you have to start over. If you’ve just complained and you’re back at square one anyway, what’s to stop you from complaining again? You have to find a way to get past that anyway.

6) I used to have a boss who would say, “Don’t bring me a dead cat unless you bring me a shovel.” I thought he was perhaps running a pet cemetery as a side business, but now I see that this whole time he was telling us not to complain unless we have a solution. Now that I’m bringing solutions to the table, I feel like I’m actually making contributions to my conversations instead of just bumming everyone out. That’s a good feeling.

I’ll tell you what, though. In about 19 days, I’m going to have some things to say.

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19 comments

  1. W. R. Woolf

    This sounds like a really good idea :)
    I might even recommend it to someone. Not that they complain ALL the time, but sometimes I wish they would think twice before they shovel another complaint onto the molehill which is rapidly turning into a mountain.
    Best of luck to you!

  2. ohtogoawandering

    Love your way of writing, the ray gun part gave me a good chuckle! And I know what you mean about complaining as a conversational crutch… that or the weather, but then I am British…

  3. Miriam Joy

    I remember attempting that challenge several years ago. I think I got bored and didn’t get more than about a day into it. Good luck with it, though.

    (It’s hard when you’re British and your entire culture is rooted around complaining about the weather, the government, and everything else…)

  4. Pingback: Challenge numero dos | MaybeMiranda
  5. brokenbelladonna

    I might try this… after football season has finished… to not complain about the umpiring is un Australian. Unless “I’m going to fly up there and jam his whistle up his arse” is a shovel??

  6. Mr. Wapojif

    Da, as someone who’s (and whose) shy I go for Observationionion #1 all the time. Once the small talk runs out one is left stuttering, “Erm… I can’t believe I’m not a multi-billionaire … *mumble grumble*”. Or some such awkward nonsense I don’t really mean. The only way around this I can think of is, once the conversation runs day, yelp and then collapse on the floor. Thusly a new topic of debate is raised.

  7. lydiathewanderer

    I would love to try this. But. Allow me to reveal my problem: i feel unable to begin anything important without the right equipment. I can’t begin to not complain until I buy a perfect bracelet for switching from wrist to wrist. Any task that I begin (important task, not like washing dishes or dogs) starts with my immediate need for the “right thing” which will magically make the challenge work correctly. This explains why I have 3 planners on my desk, all unused (I thought each one would be the right one), 5 journal books (the cool kind you get at Barnes and Noble), each with one page written on (each one didn’t “feel” right), and two entirely different bicycles in my garage (attempt at exercise resulting in fear of falling off the ten speed and inability to ride up even a small hill on the beach cruiser). There’s the dead cat. Here’s the shovel: I will buy a cheap bracelet at Walmart and try your suggestion because I complain too much. Later on I’ll deal with the magical thinking problem.

  8. WeaverGrace

    Brava! for you, recognizing those ANTs! Now, I want to complain about others who make conversation using ANTs, but I will transform this ANT into an Action Plan: I will think up a solution.

    Instead of the dead cat, I had a boss who talked about monkeys. Any time that he talked with one of us, he had an opportunity to put monkeys on our backs. We had to solve the problem, or persuade someone else to take the monkey.

    Warning: I recall from the Men Are From Mars stuff, men don’t like to be given solutions; they want us to trust that they will solve their own problems. So when a friend complained about something eating his corn this morning, I bit my tongue after I gave him solutions.

  9. treyedgington

    Hilarious! Like everyone else, I’m going to give it a try. I have the perfect bracelet for this. It’s one of those rubber ones for charities, except this one says #poopSTRONG :)

  10. tlcombs

    I’ve been held hostage by a sweatshirt before, in a dressing room no less. I tried to free myself, but my nose ring got stuck. That’s how I had the rare opportunity of walking out of a dressing room half naked to ask a stranger to help me. A piece of my dignity died that day, but I am happy to report that strangers are still willing to help out in dire shirtless circumstances. Faith in humanity restored!

  11. Pingback: Have a Drink on Me | Listful Thinking

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