When my friend asked me to join her on a 30-day no complaining challenge I was sure that I could do it. After all, I am often that person in the room who is speaking about seeing the blessing in the challenge and spouting inspiring quotes to the point where it annoys most people around me. I’m the type of person who is up before her alarm goes off because I am so excited to start my day, which makes me especially hard to live with, especially at 4 AM.

My friend, on the other hand, is much more of a reserved, sleep-in personality type. She’s not necessarily a complainer but she isn’t a relentless optimist either. So I figured I would have a much easier time with our 30-day challenge.

Comparing our charts at the end of day one (we filled in an X every time we voiced a complaint about something) I was shocked to discover that my intensity went both ways. I approached my day with optimism and energy, but I was also an extreme perfectionist, trying constantly to control everything around me. My friend had two complaints on her chart that first day. I had fifteen. It was too hot. It was too cold. The traffic made me late, and I kept getting stuck behind someone who didn’t know how to drive. There wasn’t enough time for my work, and why did it take so long for my six-year-old to go to bed? And these were just the complaints I was saying out loud!

I woke up on the second day of our challenge far more humbled and far less convinced that I was Mrs. Positivity. I thought twice before I said anything and worked very hard to choose my words. It was so challenging that I wasn’t even sure that I wanted to continue, but my friend was down to zero complaints and I am competitive to a fault so I pushed on.

I never managed to get down to zero complaints but the challenge transformed not only how I speak but also how I perceive myself and the world around me.

Here are the three lessons I learned while trying.

1. Our thoughts create reality. In order to stop complaining, I had to look at the things around me differently. It was like driving down the same road every day and suddenly noticing that there had been a beautiful garden alongside it that I hadn’t noticed before. When I opened my eyes to seeing every moment of my day as an opportunity for growth and gratitude, it wasn’t just that I saw things in a positive light – the things themselves changed. There were gardens in places where I had thought there were just shadows. There were open doors in spaces where I had before only seen walls. When we change the way we look at things, the things we look at change.

2. How we speak to ourselves, moment by moment, is a choice. The hardest part of the no complaint challenge for me was monitoring and then changing my own self-talk. Despite being a psychologist and the kind of mother who is very careful not to criticize her children, I found that not only was I my own harshest critic, but that I was relentless in my litany of complaints about myself.

At first, I wasn’t even aware of the background chatter in my mind. But it reached a point when I realized that the source of my complaining wasn’t always connected necessarily to my environment but rather with the way I perceived myself. Why did you say that? Why didn’t you say that? Why did you accomplish so little today? Why didn’t you pay more attention when the kids were speaking to you? The list was endless, and before the challenge, I had just accepted my self-talk as the way it is and had always been.

But controlling what I was saying out loud taught me that not only can I choose what I say to others, I can also choose how I speak to myself every moment of the day. And the more compassion and kindness that I began to use in my self-talk, the more open and empathetic I was to seeing the good and the beauty in others.

3. We are wired to see the negative. Our brains are naturally wired to find what is wrong or missing in a situation. We do this out of a pure survival instinct; if we can pinpoint the source of danger, we can figure out a way to avoid it. If we worry about scarcity, we will be more likely to find and store food for tomorrow.

But it’s easy to fall into this negativity bias for everything in our lives, even when there is no danger or threat of starvation. So the most powerful lesson of the 30-day no complaining challenge was learning that not complaining was more than a nice habit; it was literally a way to rewire our brains. It was changing the fundamental way that we saw ourselves and everything around us. It was a constant effort to search for and find the good. And it was hard. Every moment became a choice. Thirty days is only the beginning of the challenge.