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Getting complaint-free: It's all in the wrist

The "Sassy Sisters," above perform during Senior Health and Fitness Day at the Southeast Area YMCA on May 27. The "Y" used the occasion to kick-off its "Complaint Free World" program that employs purple elastic wristbands to help curb complaining. Staff photo by Bob Eighmy1 / 2
A purple plastic wristband is a key tool used in the "Complaint Free World" program initiated at the Southeast Area YMCA in Woodbury on May 27. Staff photo by Neil West2 / 2

Would you like to be a person who complains very little?

Do you tend to gripe too much and wish you didn't?

When thinking about how much gossip you spread over the week, do you feel embarrassed?

If you answer "yes" to any or all of these questions, but think there's little you can do to improve your demeanor in these respects, the Southeast Area YMCA in Woodbury has a remedy designed for you.

The YMCA is now offering "A Complaint Free World," a program founded several years ago by Rev. Will Bowen, pastor of Christ Church Unity in Kansas City, Mo. Bowen wrote a book that shares the same title as that of the program, challenging people to stop complaining for 21 days straight.

Part of Bowen's anti-complaint mantra invokes the words of the American poet Maya Angelou: "If you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it, change your attitude. Don't complain."

Since its inception, Bowen's program has been featured in numerous media venues, thanks in part to publicity generated about it by Oprah Winfrey via her TV show.

"I learned about the program at the international conference on active aging this past December," said SE Area YMCA fitness director Roxy Kline. "It was all the rage in nursing homes and senior living establishments."

Kline returned from the conference, did some research on the program and found it to be a concept she wanted to bring to the "Y" in Woodbury.

She and other YMCA staffers thought it would be fitting to initiate the program at the same date the annual "Senior Health and Fitness Day" was held. This year's event took place Wednesday, May 27.

"Every year, there's a theme for the senior day. In 2009, the theme is 'An Attitude With Gratitude'," Kline explained. "(A Complaint Free World) seemed to fit right in with that theme."

The program relies on a decidedly low-tech device to help reduce, if not totally eliminate, verbal complaining or gossiping: a purple plastic wristband.

The suggested rules to combat complaining by using a wristband are simple:

n Begin to wear it on either wrist.

n When you catch yourself complaining, gossiping or criticizing, move the bracelet to the other arm and begin again.

n If you hear someone else who is wearing a bracelet complain, you may point out their need to switch the bracelet to the other arm. But if you're going to do this, you must move your own bracelet first.

n Stay with the program. It may take several months but when you reach 21 days you may find your life is more positive.

"I started with a wristband in January," Kline said. "I found it extremely difficult at first to play by the rules, but it was so eye-opening, too. I never realized how often I would complain."

The program allows for "internal complaining" -- inner thoughts. It primarily seeks to stem the unnoticed ease and regularity in which verbal complaints are launched.

Bowen suggests that cutting back on spoken complaints can reduce the frequency of "thinking complaints," since wristband use attempts to reshape behavior and thought-processes.

Kline admits this might be easier said than done.

"I went two months and the best I could do was five days in a row," she conceded. "And that was hard work."

One of the seniors wearing the distinctive purple bracelet was a husband who'd been "drafted" into the program.

"Oh, I'm sure I can do this. I hardly complain at all anyway," said the man, who preferred not to divulge his name in case his wife learned of his assertions.

"Of course, she probably thinks I might as well get two wristbands, one for each arm," he added, with a grin.

Other activities at the Senior Health and Fitness Day included a performance by the "Sassy Sisters" dance team of senior ladies, choreographed by Mari Kline, Roxy Kline's daughter.

Seniors could also experience "samplers" of other programs offered at the YMCA, such as line dancing, "SilverSneakers" and "YogaStretch." Also, senior physical fitness and fall risk assessments were available.

The Southeast Area YMCA is located at 2175 Radio Drive, Woodbury.

For more information, call (651) 731-9507.

To learn more about A Complaint Free World, visit