Real Mind Control: The 21-Day No-Complaint Experiment


The thought-awareness bracelet and the latest straw that broke the camel’s back.

“This $@#&ing Mac will be the death of me. Intuitive, my ass.”

It just slipped out, and I don’t think I can be blamed. I was ready to leave the PC behind and take my mac overseas for the first time when I couldn’t figure out how to resize photos. On a friggin’ mac? I felt swindled. I also now had to move the bracelet.

For the last four months, I’ve been experimenting with a few types of thought experiments. The two most notable are Radical Honesty, which is 100% guaranteed to get you slapped or worse, and anti-complaining, which I’ll explain here. The latter started in my book agent’s office, where I spotted a pile of purple bracelets on his desk…

“What are these?” I grabbed one and it was inscribed with ‘’

“Another author of mine. Interesting story, actually.”

And it was. The author was Will Bowen, a Kansas City minister who had recognized — as I have in a previous post — that word choice determines thought choice, which determines emotions and actions. It’s not enough to just decide you’ll stop using certain words, though. It requires conditioning.

Will designed a solution in the form of a simple purple bracelet, which he offered to his congregation with a challenge: go 21 days without complaining. Each time one of them complained, they had to switch the bracelet to their other wrist and start again from day 0. It was simple but effective metacognitive awareness training.

The effects were immediate and life-changing.

The bracelets spread like wildfire as others observed these transformations, and, to date, more than 5,900,000 people have requested the little devices.

“Can I have one?” I asked my agent.

It all made perfect sense. Fix the words and you fix the thoughts. I’m not a negative person, but I wanted to cut out the commiserating most of us use for 30-40% of all conversation (if you don’t believe me, keep track of how many people start conversations with you in the next 24 hours that center on a complaint or criticism).

I made it 11 days on the first attempt, then I slipped. Back to zero. Then it was two or three days at a time for about a month. Once I cleared 21 days at around month 3, I no longer needed the bracelet. I’m using the bracelet again now because I’m preparing for some large projects I expect to be challenging enough for Cornholio-style meltdowns.

But what is a complaint?

This is where I disagree with some of the rules set by Will. He asks you to switch wrists whenever you gossip, criticize, or complain, and the definitions can be a bit vague. He also requires you to switch wrists if you inform someone else they are complaining. I think this is counterproductive, as I’m big on constructive criticism.

I defined “complaining” for myself as follows: describing an event or person negatively without indicating next steps to fix the problem. I later added the usual 4-letter words and other common profanity as complaint qualifiers, which forced me to reword, thus forcing awareness and more precise thinking.

Following the above definition, both of the following would require a wrist switch:

“Man, I went into the post office and had to stand behind this rude jerk for 30 minutes. What a waste of time.”


“John can be such an a**hole. Totally uncalled for.”

The following variations would not:

“Man, I went into the post office and had to stand behind this rude guy for 30 minutes. It was a waste of time. From now on, I’ll go in the mornings before 10am to avoid the crowd.”

“John was a bit of muppet in there, wasn’t he? I suppose I’ll just send the e-mails directly to Mary in engineering for the next two weeks to get buy-in, then he’ll have to agree.”

Here are a few of the changes I noticed then and am noticing again now:

1) My lazier thinking evolved from counterproductive commiserating to reflexive systems thinking. Each description of a problem forced me to ask and answer: What policy can I create to avoid this in the future?

2) I was able to turn off negative events because the tentative solution had be offered instead of giving them indefinite mental shelf-life (and “open loop” in GTD parlance), resulting in better sleep and more pleasant conversations with both friends and business partners.

3) People want to be around action-oriented problem solvers. Training yourself to offer solutions on-the-spot attracts people and resources.


For those interested in the more sophisticated applications and results of the the no-complaint thought experiment, I recommend you order a copy of A Complaint-Free World. I received an advanced copy and finished it in one afternoon, ending up with two pages of notes.

Want to take the 21-day no-complaint challenge for a test drive now?

Last a friend checked, the bracelets had a 3-5-month waiting period, but a rubber band or other bracelet will suffice. If you want the real deal, I have four bracelets that I will mail (might take a bit, as I’m leaving the country Friday) to the best four commenters below who answer the question:

What other behavior, besides complaining, do you think people should stop? How could train themselves to stop?

Posted on: September 18, 2007.

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Comment Rules: Remember what Fonzie was like? Cool. That’s how we’re gonna be — cool. Critical is fine, but if you’re rude, we’ll delete your stuff. Please do not put your URL in the comment text and please use your PERSONAL name or initials and not your business name, as the latter comes off like spam. Have fun and thanks for adding to the conversation! (Thanks to Brian Oberkirch for the inspiration)

444 comments on “Real Mind Control: The 21-Day No-Complaint Experiment

  1. People should stop the negative self talk about themselves first and foremost as so you think so you will be. We project out to the outer world our inner
    world of thoughts which then determine our behavior.
    To train yourself to stop you could start with a large glass jar and fill it with a $1 when you find yourself going down the negative path. At the end of each month donate the money to a charity of your choice.


  2. El no quejarse no es un acto de “imponerse la voluntad de no quejarse” (que de todas maneras sirve). El no quejarse, to do not complain and be able to have the peace, the space… the mind space to pause and use the correct thoughts and the correct words come from an irreversibly decision to love everything (or don’t be attach to the image of oneself).
    —–Es que podemos amar, respetar a todos antes que nuestros deseos y nuestras necesidades? Esto es la base. El cual sobrepasa el sistema de creencias mundano en el cual estamos entrenados a vivir.

    We can develope the good habit to do not complain, but we may lose it very easily if we do not develop this overwhelming love for everything we touch. WE can achieve the 21 days and maybe a year, but this habit won’t have the real foundation for the rest of our lives ó ….
    para la eternidad.


  3. hi Tim, being a middle-aged Australian, we have this big drinking culture. Most events are centred around drinking alcohol, and every social event is. To the point where people wouldn’t turn up to an event where alcohol wasn’t served. I’m not talking what you would call ‘rednecks’ – I’m talking successful, professional people leading otherwise productive lives. Parents with families – your average middle class. Almost everyone I know drinks at least a few every day, and always at social events. Almost everyone I know would like to cut down – maybe just drink on weekends? But it’s really hard having the willpower to do that. Would this be a behaviour that needs changing?


  4. Despair is interesting. Complaint is interesting. Going to the bottom of the complaining is rather important. When you realize that something doesnt feel good, it is important to NOTICE that, and QUESTION why this is, what it really means to you, and why it is so bad. We all have an inner compass of what feels good and what feels bad. We know we prefer what feels good of course, yet Suppression hurts us in the long run, and some of us can be very good at “putting things away in a drawer and loose the key” until it comes back to us one way or another. So next time you catch yourself complaining about Anything, ask yourself what this situation means to you and why it is so bad, and go all the the way down to your core belief if you can. ( to practice this check out Teal Scott’s video on “Finding Core Beliefs” at , she explains it very well). Complaining means you have overgrown a state of being and you are about ready to move onto a new way, whether you have already identified or not what that next thing is. It is important to dare go to the “breakdown” to get to the “breakthrough”, to go to the bottom of it, to be self-aware, self-responsible, and avoid walking thru life like sleepwalkers !)


  5. It’s nice to stop interpreting every statement of someone in one’s own context instead of first considering the background and situation of the speaker. It gets you so much further… The training is easy: before you answer to ANYONE, first take one deep breath. That gives you enough time to reconsider.


  6. Great post

    I quit swearing for one year.

    same principals as above, if I swore out loud I would have to start again from day zero.

    took me 6 attempts.

    The way i kept myself in check was by recording the start/restart date in my phone and making a note of it above my desk.

    The leverage for me was the burden of having to start again and being accountable to one trusted friend.

    The Results;

    Reduced the amount of arguments I got into to almost zero
    and it was very hard to offend anyone as I found it very hard to hurt anyone’s feelings without swear words.

    Once you became self aware enough to catch yourself, before you swore out loud, the moment/event/incident that had triggered the swear word would usually have passed, resulting in a less emotive and more thought out response.


  7. Haha.
    1) picking nose in public
    2) hawking up a lougie in public – spitting fine, lougie…. Eh.
    3) talking loudly on the phone
    4) stopping on the middle of the aisles at Costco
    5) people being on the phone when it’s supposed to be a social event – gtfo, talk to ppl in front you!

    And I just switched it lol


  8. Instead of something to stop, try getting someone to laugh 21 days in a row? Think about ways to give good humor, not the insulting kind.


  9. Thinking you have a better solution and realizing that you only need to receive the view point in a positive manner. THE most positive manner with “no bias attached.”
    I realized I could save time mailing things from home or understand the environment whole mindedly when a gentlemen also completing an errand at the post office made me understand i am grateful for knowing when I focus on the positive or am neutral in the situation more often I receive more positive results.

    I realized in your example that I too can become a more popular me, just by following through in movements or sharing my thoughts more frequently. After the input I received from a Ball last evening I know I am already helping people. Scaling my work up is how I’ll help more people and drive more people to my website that are looking for value that I provide.


  10. What’s your take on Think and Grow Rich

    By Napoleon Hill

    Or his follow up

    Outwitting the Devil

    These two classics nail it.

    He spent a lifetime working on the formula using

    similar practices – lots of research and oberservation.

    d his follow up Out


    • Hello Jeremiah, I absolutely agree with you. He has really helped me to turn things around, both personally and professionally. Outwitting was an amazing read that made me wonder if I would have shelved it like he did – that may have been a bit too much given the time period. If you don’t mind sharing, I’d love to hear what you liked most about each or any particular thoughts.

      Thanks – Mike


  11. I believe people should stop being outraged about things. Its okay to believe in a cause (usually). It’s not okay to be loud and misinformed all over the internet with it. If instead of just sharing every link with a provacative title, they read the article and then at least one other article from a diferent view point then everyone who have more clarity and there would be less misuse of hyperbole.


  12. Silva mind control was the kind of summer entertainment I had growing up. I remember using mental white boards to effectively replace a bad habit with a good one. Also for sleeping problems. A good bad habit to get rid off could be: making assumptions as they stop us from trying out and getting to know. I like the wristband idea.


  13. Negative thinking should be stopped. Two similar methodes can be applied: 1st Emett Fox: Mental Diet; 2nd Earl Nightinghale: The Strangest Secret in the World


  14. HI Chris,
    I am going to try this starting…

    Also, I am an Apple Distinguished Educator. I don’t have all of the answers, but if you have questions while you adapt to your new computer, feel free to send them my way. I will see if my network or I can help you out.

    Oops, I see that you wrote this in 2007. The offer still stands :)
    Have a great day. Thanks for all of the high-quality interviews that you have done with some of my favorite podcasters through the years. 2014 started for me with a mountain hike before sunrise listening to you via ‘School of Greatness’

    Enjoy the rest of your weekend,


  15. I have done the Complaint Free World Program and teach it to co-workers in a Culture of Ownership workshop. I have not made it to 21 days, but I am more aware of negativity by using the bracelet. We also discovered that the bracelet may not be appropriate for some areas (we are in a hospital setting). So a good alternative is a coin or a stone that you switch in your pocket.

    We use the premise that it is not a complaint if you are discussing with the person that can remedy the problem. Not to someone who cannot. If you are able to remedy it yourself, there is no need to say it to someone else. Remember- if you think it, but do not say it… does not count. :)


  16. I’m taking the challenge for 21 days(how ever long that takes). To stop complaining. And I’m excited to send of a thank you note every day. It will help me remember how many nice things people say and do. And help me to be more greatful for everything. Thank you


  17. Well, there maybe a world things to complain about but it only takes you out of position to be a winner. like I can t do that because its to hard, I am to small or if I only was big enough, or had more money, in the right place. If you fail or fall short its because you complain to much.


  18. Basically my understanding of this whole concept comes from spiritual writings. Why? The basic tenet is rarely fully explained in most teachings but it is always there: in the Bible-turn the other cheek, forgive, in taoism( nurturing a positive mental outlook) in Bhuddism, show gratitude, etc —every spiritual teaching i have ever read. Many law of Attraction teachings talk all around it but rarely understand the principle themselves. The two books that gave me the most clarity are “Conversations with God” by Walsh and “Ask and It is Given”and even better a kid’s book called “Sara”( see youtube for audiobook for free) both by Hicks. The basic principle is your mind creates( see double slit experiment in quantum physics for some scientific comfirmation). Positive feelings and thoughts create an energy that brings these creations to manifestation: negative ones hold them outside of manifestation. The lower worlds of experience are a balance of positive and negative yet we love to focus on the negative. The higher worlds are pure positive energy. We are here trying to EXPERIENCE in the positive and negative worlds what we KNOW in the higher positive worlds. LOVE is our highest expression and Unconditional Love is being loving in all conditions( see Jesus -crucifixion)
    In a nutshaell, we are in the Matrix of the lower worlds and every thought you have creates! Life is hard–it will be hard. I can’t lose weight- you won’t. Life is easy-it will be easy for you but it is not so simple as a superficial thought or statement. You can’t just say life is easy but then act or speak like it is hard. There lies the rub with affirmations and all these other law of attraction tools. As their belief and so it was unto them.


  19. A little late to the game, but no matter – I’d like to share my idea even though the bracelets are likely gone.

    I believe people should avoid habitual behaviors such as, watching TV every night, scanning Facebook before bed, playing video games, etc.

    Training yourself to stop would be done by setting personal goals (weekly or daily) of trying something new in place of the habitual behavior. Subsequently, the behavior would stop as people learn they enjoy new experiences over the habitual, mindless ones.


  20. Talk to your food to eat better. Before you eat anything say out loud directly to the food, no matter who is within earshot “I’m eating this apple (or whatever it is) because I want to be healthy” or “I’m eating this double chocolate super fudgie brownie because I want to be fat as **** ” trust me. It works.


  21. Use this as an excuse to go meet some women… or men if that’s your fancy. It doesn’t say no sex, just no masturbation. The point is to quit wasting time with things that just make you feel good for a few minutes. Use this as an excuse to get away from a computer screen and find something better. You could meet someone that could potentially be your partner for life. Take note of how you feel without booze providing your courage, ask yourself why you feel that way and in turn learn yourself and better yourself. It’s an experiment but the end result could be life changing.


  22. I just LOVE this idea. I hope that it will prevent some road rage…which I am often vocal about with kids in the car. (Definite no-no…they see driving as negative.) And I may actually find some substitute and hand them out to my mommy group. The complaining never ends during a playdate, Seriously…you HATE Starbucks? Their coffee sucks, you say?! One location every other block says it doesn’t, my fellow mom. I purposely did not respond to this mom, it’s as if she was ready to pick a fight about the beverage king. So that’s my idea for the bracelet habit to break. Don’t engage with anyone who clearly WANTS to complain or fight or argue about a subject. It just brings you down. So much easier to reply “that’s interesting,” and turn to the other gal next to you instead. Soooooo here’s my other suggestion: if I (or anyone else here) am not the winner of said bracelet, I’m going to have my 8 year old daughter make purple Rainbow Loom bracelets for the whole family (AND the moms group!) as an alternative. This is definitely a move toward the positive, Tim. You always bring good things to the table and I love your style! Keep it up! :-)


  23. We’ll, I need this, and I am also a little confused about what constitutes complaining. Earlier today, I read a short editorial — then I applied critical thinking to identify holes in the author’s logic. Was I complaining? I think critical thinking is a good thing, but perhaps it can devolve into complaining easily.


  24. As a way to help people be more peaceful, I created a one day event on Facebook called the No Complaints Day Challenge! on 12-August. Everyone can do at least one day! It will be a good way to test and experience what is possible. I created this in honor of my mother’s memory.I hope you’ll join me.

    You can find the information on FB searching No Complaints Day Challenge!

    Working for a better world

    Joe Kirin


  25. one of my favourite experiments was in not using a capital letter for ‘i’. it de-emphasised the self at a time when i was working on zen meditation and wanted to destroy the ego. my argument was that caps gave ‘i’ more weight that was necessary. it’s sort of stuck since, and i’ve ended up with a very fluid definition of self as a result, and behavioural changes don’t take as much effort as there’s very little ego blocking the change, and plenty of experience of overriding it.

    the band thing isn’t new, by the way. it’s a less painful version of something that aleister crowley used to do (albeit his involved slashing himself with a knife every time he used ‘i’ instead of ‘one’) that became a popular thing among chaos magicians who replaced the knife with a rubber band, and snapped it against the wrist. iirc, it was phil hine who popularised this technique.

    what you’re talking about is a less painful variant on that technique being used to change the way that you think – or more accurately, to change the way that you model your behaviour internally and thereby lead to a change in the external expression of that behaviour. as a technique, you can apply it to any behaviour you can think of: dieting, workouts, swearing, cooking proper meals, neglecting housework/work/family – pretty much any and every behaviour that you consider negative. personally, i’ve found it worked best at changing the language i used, and that the language you use is intrinsically linked to the world you perceive. change your perceptions (via changing the language you use to describe them), and you change the world around you.

    that’s why ‘wizard, know thyself’ is sometimes proclaimed the first rule of magick.