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What Would Wooden Do: The No Complaining Challenge

What Would Wooden Do: The No Complaining Challenge

While serving as the Director of Mental Training for the St. Louis Cardinals, Dr. Jason Selk helped the team win their first World Series in over 20 years, and in 2011 he assisted the Cardinals in the historic feat of winning their second World Championship in a six year period. Considered to be one of the nation’s premier performance coaches, Dr. Selk helps numerous well-known professional and Olympic athletes as well as Fortune 500 and Fortune 100 executives and organizations develop the mental toughness necessary for high-level success. In this recent article for, Dr. Selk looks at the positives of ignoring the negatives:

One of the most influential people in my life is the legendary Coach John Wooden. Before I had even met him, he inspired me to take accountability for my life and to stop making excuses for falling short of my expectations for myself.

The day I had the good fortune of meeting Coach Wooden is one I will never forget. Coach was in his 90′s, and I had the opportunity to accompany a mutual friend to his home. His home was filled with photos of him standing with the greatest of the greats, as well as photos of his own family and loved ones. It was evident from the photos that Coach Wooden had influenced countless others as he did me. This is a man who knew and lived by the secrets to success, and I wanted in on his secrets.

A lesson that I take from Coach Wooden is one that he actually learned from his father at a young age: the ‘two sets of three.’ Never lie, never cheat, never steal; don’t whine, don’t complain, don’t make excuses.

The second set of three (don’t whine, don’t complain, don’t make excuses) is one that I encourage my clients to evaluate themselves on daily. Many of us probably (actually, I would go so far as to say ‘definitely’) engage in whining, complaining, and excuse-making more than we would like to think. The propensity to engage in these behaviors is flat out the way we are wired. It is normal.

We will do anything to preserve our self-image, even if it means explaining away negative or lazy behavior with excuses, or placing the blame on someone or something else through whining and complaining. I push my clients to work toward becoming abnormal. To go against what their mind is pushing them to do and to take accountability for that creeping negative feeling associated with falling short. The extremely successful are not standing around the water cooler complaining about their problems because they have learned the inefficiency of doing so. Here’s why.

That Which you Focus On Expands

Statements as seemingly innocent as, “I’m so tired,” or “I am dreading going to this meeting,” or “I can’t believe my boss said that to me,” are affecting your productivity, energy, and focus more than you think. Expectancy theory states that whatever we focus on expands. Complaining about an issue can not help but cause the issue to magnify in your mind. Suddenly, you feel much more tired than you really are because you have been reminding yourself of it all day, or you begin to dread that afternoon meeting so much that you are unable to focus on your morning work. Many times, people will find that by simply not complaining about an issue and moving on from it, the issue seems to dissipate sooner than one might expect. And in the mean time, you haven’t ruined the rest of your day by devoting more attention to the negative.

Get to the Solution

There will be issues that do not just go away by not allowing yourself to complain about them. For these situations, not allowing yourself to complain about how bad you have it will force you to come up with a solution to the problem sooner. The same mechanism that makes it normal for us to want to engage in complaining will kick in to make us come up with another solution. Our brain will do everything in its power to get rid of those negative feelings. If complaining them away and putting the accountability on someone/something else is no longer an option, guess what… you become forced to actually do something about it.

The ‘No Complaining Challenge’

For 24 hours, do not allow yourself to complain. No matter how minor the complaint may seem, do not let your lips utter the words.

You might be surprised to discover the small ways throughout the day that you are complaining without it even registering. The first step is to recognize these patterns so you can begin to change them. I challenge you to commit to no complaining for the next 24 hours. Try these activities designed to help you stop complaining.

1. Replace all thoughts of whining/complaining with either a) a thought about something productive you should actually be placing your focus on or b) a potential solution to the problem you want to complain about.

2. Place a sticky-note or reminder with the words “No Complaining” somewhere in plain view to help you remember your challenge for the day.

3. Ask someone close to you (a spouse, co-worker, friend, or all three!) to help hold you accountable.

Remember, stopping yourself from complaining about an issue will bring about 1 of 2 options:

You will not allow yourself make the issue bigger than it really is.
You will force yourself to come up with a solution to the problem.

The highly successful know that their resources are limited. The time and energy spent on complaining about the negative is focus taken away from a potential solution or something that actually deserves your attention. Coach Wooden knew this and lived by this. That what you focus on expands. Choose wisely.

Dr. Jason Selk/Forbes/February, 2015