My Zen Month Experiment: A Flawed Attempt at a Month of Greater Positivity

Posted by Kelley Bren Burke on

I started floundering on my Zen Month Experiment about five minutes into it. I'm trying not to comment negatively on people or events for a whole month. This is hard, guys. And kind of funny. Here's the story about my flawed attempt at greater positivity.

Zen Month was challenging from the start. Well, the first few hours were easy. Since I work alone, all I had to do was not talk aloud to myself about anything negative. Friends, my performance was flawless. 

Then I got into my husband Chris’s car after work. We were going out to dinner. We exchanged the “How was your day?” pleasantries. Then it was quiet. I thought about telling him about the annoying thread on our neighborhood social media page, NextDoor Kenny. Nope. Oh, god. What if not saying anything negative rendered me mute? 

Instead I talked about my rules for this experiment. If I say something negative about a person or an event, I have to offer a solution. For example: “Reading those threads on NextDoor make me crazy. I’m going to limit my time on NextDoor to five minutes a day going forward.” Every time I say something negative or complaining without offering a solution, I take off my Zen bracelet and put in on the other wrist.

I made this Lapis Lazuli stretch bracelet for my Zen bracelet. I chose Lapis Lazuli because it’s one of my favorite stones. I love the deep cobalt blue stones. I made this one a stretch bracelet instead of a clasp bracelet, because I correctly anticipated that I’d be switching it from wrist to wrist. 

Genuine Lapis Lazuli bracelet, Sterling silver beaded jewelry


We were about one mile from our house when I succumbed to negativity. I took a deep breath, switched my bracelet, and I launched into some premeditated complaining. “OK. I’m going for it. This chick on NextDoor posted in the Crime & Safety section. She wants to compile a list on NextDoor of  ‘known aggressive dogs’ in the neighborhood. This was inspired by her hearing about an aggressive Boston Terrier, of all things. Thankfully no one thought it was a good idea, but the whole thread went to hell with people sounding off about her idea.” 

These threads on NextDoor drive Chris crazy, too. He chimed in with his thoughts about the whole thing. 

Chris and I debated about how negative this NextDoor conversation was, as far as defining the experiment went. I invented the “Back Seat Rule”. Would we say these things if the NextDoor poster was in the back seat of the car?” No, we would not. Therefore it was a bracelet flipping offense. 

We arrived at Pittsburgh Blue in Edina. We were going to check out their happy hour, and then buy some books at the nearby Barnes & Noble. Chris and I sat down in the bar, and we were browsing the menus. I overheard two women in the next booth talking about someone they knew. One of them loudly said, “Oh, she’s white trash!” I said quietly to Chris, “See, that’s so unattractive!”

Chris: “Flip your bracelet.” 

Me: “But I was trying to be instructive!”

Chris: “And you got schooled.”

I’ve decided to make a distinction between one piece of commentary and a complaint. I don’t mind saying something like, “This cocktail is bit sweet for me.” I’m regarding that as simple commentary, unless it goes into a spiral of negativity. 

I guess I could offer a solution like, “I should remember to ask the waiter if a cocktail is really sweet before ordering.” That might be helpful. It’s early days in the experiment as I’m writing this, so I’m still banging out some of the rules. And yes, my problems are tearjerking here. I should just be grateful that I have a cocktail and a waiter to commentate about, right? *

* Technically I don't HAVE a waiter, I just HAD a waiter for that moment in time. I realized you guys could be thinking, “Man, she’s a baller! I didn’t know making handmade jewelry and blogging paid so well. ” **

** That was my first Blog Asterisk EVER. It was fun and made me feel cool. Until I had to google “asterisk” to make sure I was using the right word and spelling it correctly. Look for more Blog Asterisks in the future. I know they should be at the bottom of the page. But I don’t trust that you’ll come all the way back up here and finish reading. I know how easy it is to get distracted on the Internet and not finish the blog you’re reading. One day I walked up to my desk to see that I had walked away from reading this blog on the topic of focus midsentence. True story. 

I’m also making a distinction between commentary and criticism when we watch TV. Chris and I were watching “Shark Tank” the other night, and I had lots to say. I was actually surprised. Not that I was talking during a TV show, that’s an old bad habit. But I was surprised by the negativity of my words. When you’re watching “Shark Tank”, though, you’re contemplating the merit of an entrepreneur’s ideas, so I think it’s okay to comment on that. However, I shouldn’t negatively comment on Barbara Corcoran’s makeup, unless I want to flip my bracelet. I know these are the rules now, because I did both. 

Does it sound like I have lots of loopholes? Maybe I do. This is difficult. I encourage you to try it. Even for one day. It’s fascinating to observe what’s mindlessly coming out of your mouth. 

I realized I have one odd negative pattern after a few days. Chris and I have decided to call it baiting. Here’s how it works: I report on something that could be perceived as simple commentary, but I know that Chris will latch onto it and we’ll go into a negative discussion. Just like the NextDoor conversation on the aggressive dogs. 


Many of you know about my Happy New Month project. Each month I choose one new habit to embrace. The plan is to keep the previous month’s habit throughout the year. 

Zen Month is a part of that. I’m not sure if I’ll keep bracelet flipping the rest of 2016. Maybe I should. Or maybe the lessons will carry over for a while, and I’ll just need to do Zen Month refreshers. Regardless, I know I’ll have more to say on the topic. Hopefully I’ll be offering positivity and solutions. Or at least maybe I can make you laugh.

I got the idea for Zen Month from listening to Tim Ferriss’ podcast. Tim Ferris got the idea from Reverend Will Bowen. The pastor thought his congregation was complaining too much, so he challenged each of them to go 21 days in a row without complaining. For his rules, you start the 21 days over if you complain. The pastor has a book called A Complaint Free World.

Would you like to try your own Zen Experiment? I’d like to offer you a discount on any of my Gems by Kelley bracelet to wear as a Zen Bracelet. You can use my rules, the pastor’s rules, or create your own. All I ask is that you purchase the bracelet with the intention of using it for greater positivity in your life. Use coupon code ZENBRACELET on this website or on Etsy for $5 off any bracelet. 


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