Gripped by gripes? Winnipegger promotes 21-day challenge to end your complaining

Gripped by gripes? Winnipegger promotes 21-day challenge to end your complaining

From the little curses you utter under your breath in the privacy of your home to the more public grumbling that goes on in groups and workplaces, most of us would have a difficult time going a few hours, let alone three weeks without complaining out loud.

Brandon Stuebing is no different, and that's why he's on course to nip that bellyaching urge in the bud.

This week Stuebing took on a 21-day challenge that will see him try to go the entire period without complaining, and he is encouraging others to join him.

The idea was popularized by author and motivational speaker Will Bowen's book, A Complaint Free World: How to Stop Complaining and Start Enjoying the Life You Always Wanted. 

The original challenge came with a purple rubber wristband that acted as a symbolic incentive for sticking to your guns.

If you caught yourself complaining, or you told someone you were on the challenge and they heard you complain, Bowen suggested you snap the wristband and start the challenge all over. The literal sting of the snap was meant to leave a mark not only on your arm but to train your brain and keep yourself accountable, Stuebing says.

He has already completed the challenge twice, and decided to do it again after an inspiring first experience staying among the thousands of happy campers at the Winnipeg Folk Festival, which wrapped last weekend.

'Wrists were almost raw'

The Winnipeg biologist, 26, says both times the challenge has taught him lessons that have changed him and influenced how people interact with him.

The first go-round was last spring after Stuebing learned of the 21-challenge on a podcast. 

"It just struck a chord with me right away, it just so perfectly lined up with what I was trying to do," Stuebing told CBC Up to Speed host Caroline Barghout on Wednesday.

"I was doing a complete overhaul on my entire life, really, and how I viewed things, how I interacted with people, how I thought about things, and complaining and interacting with people has been a big pressure point for me throughout my life."

That first 21-day challenge took him three months to finish, Stuebing says, because of how frequently he complained, snapped the wrist band and started from scratch. 

"The first week my wrists were almost raw," he recalled. "It surprised me how much I complained throughout the day, even just to myself."

Desire for positive outlook

There was a time he says some in his life grew to dislike being around him due to his negative outlook.

"I could just feel it. Some people just kind of get fed up, it would come to this breaking point where they were just, 'Why do you gotta be so negative all the time, why do you gotta do this? Can't you just have fun and be light hearted and see the silver lining in things?' And I had a really hard time doing that."

After putting his complaints under a microscope, Stuebing says, patterns of nitpicking and negative thinking began to emerge. Everything from the undesirable temperature of a meal to an inattentive driver on the road or self-critical thoughts he would have were in plain view.

He remembered times growing up where people in his life told him he came off a bit pessimistic.

Anxiety, self-confidence

Stuebing came to realize the root of it all was anxiety and a lack of self-confidence that would cause him to complain socially as a way of relating to someone.

"I knew other people were put off by the way I would interact and bring things up, and then when I drew my attention toward it, I noticed how many conversations revolved around complaining, and it really kind of blew me away," he said. 

"Even just the power of language and what words you choose to use versus which words you don't can be really empowering in your interactions and conversations with people."

All those revelations stuck with him and translated into how he made all sorts of decisions and connected with people.

The compliments that started rolling in also helped reinforce the value of the challenge.

"People noticing something that you've worked really, really hard on and you feel a difference in yourself when other people notice it, it's pretty powerful," he said.

Attached to bracelet

It was a negative comment on Facebook from someone who attended the Winnipeg Folk Festival that spurred him to respond with a comment of his own inviting others to join him on the challenge.

This time, instead of a purple rubber band Stuebing is going to cling to his folk festival admission bracelet as a way of trying to last the entire three weeks. They don't slip off easily.

"You have to cut them off, and so it is very permanent, which to me raises the stakes because I have a little attachment going on for these bracelets, and I really, really, really don't want to cut them off," he said.

Stuebing said the magic of the folk festival — the music, the community camping experience, the friendly faces — exceeded all his expectations.

He wants to keep the good vibes going and challenges others to do the same. 

"The best way to put it is you're putting the power in your own hands, and having the power to control your own thoughts is very revitalizing. Noticing when a negative thought comes into the mind is life-changing, and you can really change," he said.

"Your ripple effects make waves eventually and they will positively impact other people."