We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.
–Aristotle ​

Aimee recently wrote a kick-ya-in-your-pants, take-action post about why complaining is literally killing us. And in closing, she challenged us to be a more positive version of ourselves.

How is that working for you?

Was changing behavior a big challenge? If so, you’re probably using conventional wisdom’s “just use willpower” approach. Which doesn’t work.

Yes, willpower, that thing that you wish you had more of — is hogwash.

In his book The Happiness Hypothesis, University of Virginia psychologist Jonathan Haidt paints a helpful picture. Imagine the emotional part of your brain as an Elephant, and your rational side as its Rider. The Rider holds the reigns and looks in charge, but she’s so small compared to the 12,000 pound Elephant. If they disagree on which direction to go, the Elephant wins. You’ve seen this in action if you’ve ever hit snooze repeatedly, overeaten, procrastinated, or skipped a workout.

Another way of putting it: Willpower is a limited resource. The Rider may win in the beginning, but as soon as life happens (stress, lack of sleep…hunger) the Elephant wakes up and takes over.

So is behavior change hopeless? Heck no!

​To make lasting behavior change, ditch willpower and focus on habits.

Habits let us do more, with less effort.

Have you ever been in a car, and the driver automatically starts going their usual route, even though they know they want to go somewhere else? That’s the power of habit. After enough times, your brain goes, “hmm, you’ve done this behavior over and over again. Since I basically know what you want, I’m gonna put it on auto-pilot, so you can focus on other things.”

Depending on if you’re trying to build or break a habit, there’s different strategies.

For Aimee’s challenge to stop complaining, the best approach is to become mindful of when you complain.
What’s the best way to do this? Track it.

[Side note: There’s an interesting phenomenon in psychology, that when people track a behavior, the frequency of the behavior gradually diminishes. This partially explains why keeping a food journal (or better yet, a digital food photo journal, where you take a picture of your food BEFORE you eat) is associated with weight loss. Yep, just tracking food can help you lose weight, even without intentionally adjusting your intake. Take that Elephant!]

Are you with Aimee to change your life and stop complaining?! Then join me in taking the 21-Day No Complaint Challenge. It’s a proven habit-breaking tactic. You can read about the origins of the challenge here, but here’s the rules:

  1. Put a bracelet (rubber band or one of these cute hair-ties from the TrendSetters Store) on your wrist.
  2. If you catch yourself complaining without following-up with a solution to improve the situation, then you move the bracelet to the other wrist.
  3. Repeat until you reach 21 consecutive days without moving the bracelet.

Here’s a few examples:

  • “I’m so slow.” (Complaint)
  • “I’m so slow… I’m gonna go to Foundation and work on quickness.” (Non-complaint)

  • “I don’t get a lot of playing time.” (Complaint)
  • “I don’t get a lot of playing time…I’m going to ask coach for skills I can improve on, that’ll help the team succeed.” (Non-complaint)

  • “My knee hurts.” (Complaint)
  • “My knee hurts… I’m gonna go to Gwen Alden, PT and rehab it.” (Non-complaint)

  • “I’m bad at serve receive.” (Complaint)
  • “I’m bad at serve receive… I’m going to go to Sunday Open Gym for at least 30 minutes and practice.” (Non-complaint)
  • “I’m bad at serve receive… I’m going to do an Indoor PRO Series session and get extra coaching from Karolyn Kirby.” (Non-complaint)

Want to own this challenge?! Recruit friends and family to do it with you. There may be times you don’t realize you’re complaining, and they’re a good resource to keep you on-track.

When you complete your 21 days of no complaints, let me know how it went in the comments!
​Have other methods you’ve used to successfully break a habit? I’d love to hear those too.