Want to stop your negative thinking in its tracks? Try the “rubber band technique” to be more mindful of your negative thoughts throughout the day.
Negative thinking can be so commonplace for people that we rarely notice it when it’s happening.
Instead, our days are often filled with negative, critical, and unhealthy thoughts that pass through our minds unquestioned and unchallenged. Negativity becomes our natural mode of being and we forget there is any other way to think.
If we want to change our mindset, we have to pay more attention to the daily workings of our minds.
A big part of this includes cultivating healthy mental habits such as reflecting on our strengths, identifying things to be grateful for, and reframing negative thoughts as they happen.
There are many tools and exercises available for gaining more power and control over your mental habits. One classic exercise is known as the “rubber band technique,” which combines the science of mindfulness and habit change to help you train your mind to be less negative and critical.
Here’s how to do it!
Rubber Band Technique
- Find a rubber band or elastic band to wear on your wrist throughout the day.
- When you catch yourself thinking an unwanted or negative thought, snap the rubber band on your wrist to ground yourself in the present moment.
- Don’t snap so hard that you hurt yourself or leave a mark. The goal isn’t to “punish” yourself, but to bring the thought into focus. The snap is just a sensory trigger – think of it as splashing cold water on your face to wake yourself up – a mindful jolt.
- Take a deep breath.
- Once you catch a negative thought, there are many different things you can do with it…
- Accept the thought, then politely decline it. Think to yourself, “Thank you mind for this thought, but I don’t need it right now.”
- Recognize the impermanence of the thought. Remind yourself, “this too shall pass.”
- If it’s a sticky or powerful negative thought, consider reframing it. Ask yourself, “What’s another way I can think about this situation that’s more healthy or constructive?”
- Write the negative thought down on a piece of paper, then destroy it or burn it later as a symbolic ritual.
- Change your thinking with a mental game, such as the alphabet game where you go down the alphabet identifying one thing you are grateful for with each letter.
- Just choose one strategy for now, but keep in mind you have many tools available to you.
- Give yourself a mental pat on the back and continue your day.
- The next time a negative or unwanted thought comes up, repeat the process.
- If you have trouble reframing a negative thought, simply write it down and revisit it later.
- Try to go one full day monitoring your negative thoughts.
Instead of thinking: “This is the worst meal I’ve ever had.” → “I’m grateful I have something to eat.” or “John is a real jerk!” → “John’s in a bad mood today, hopefully he feels better soon.”
The rubber band technique is simple in theory but difficult in practice.
Often the conscious act of being more aware of our negative thoughts can help disempower them.
But of course it’s difficult (if not impossible) to monitor your thoughts 24/7. The rubber band technique is just one way to become a tad more mindful of your everyday patterns.
When practicing this exercise, there will likely be many negative thoughts you miss or fail to recognize. That’s OK – the point isn’t to catch every single one.
Go easy on yourself – the goal is to be more aware, not to be too harsh or judgmental.
Any awareness is better than zero awareness.
After completing this exercise for a whole day (or even half a day), you’ll often be surprised by how much your mind tends to default to “negativity mode.”
You start to realize that you complain and nitpick about everyday things a lot more than is necessary. You begin to notice the exaggerated language you use – and how you often amplify negativity rather than downplaying negativity.
Many of us have negative habits that are ingrained into our way of thinking and we never question them or challenge them. We naturally look for things that are wrong with a situation rather than looking for things that are right.
The best way to stop these habits is to first become more aware of them. The rubber band technique is a great place to get started – find a day this week to try it out for yourself!
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