stopping negative thoughts

Type “stopping negative thoughts” into Google and you’ll get almost 2.5 million results. People recognize that although they have negative thoughts there is nothing that requires negative thoughts for health or mental stability. I believe you can live easily without them. Stopping them is a whole different problem.

A million different self-help gurus can give you seminars and motivational tools designed to help you wean yourself off the negative thought habit. The best tip I ever picked up, though, is a simple one. I can’t tell you where I heard it first, although I think Tony Robbins made a passing anecdote about trying it in his early days of self-improvement. I’m sure it’s not original to me, but then again “spend less than you earn” is offered up as advice by everyone on the planet and that’s pretty old advice, too.

I made a comment once that I am very fond of complicating things. What do I mean by that? If I need to poach eggs, I will buy an egg poacher instead of using a pan. If I need to crush spices, I will buy a mortar and pestle instead of using a big spoon. Write a blog? Download LiveWriter. Paint a room? Buy 15 different types of brushes: one for corners, one for edges, one for broad strokes, etc. I have never seen a problem that I can’t complicate by attacking it with overwhelming force and a multitude of tools.

This trick, however, works so well for me that I always wonder why I don’t do it more often, or even 100% of the time. It probably comes from my desire to buy a book to conquer negative thoughts, or watch a DVD. None of that is necessary (although it probably doesn’t hurt).

The simple solution? Put a rubberband on your wrist. Every time you have a negative thought stretch it out and let it snap. Pow. That hurts. It may even leave a welt if your rubber band is too thick. Take it easy, you aren’t trying to maim yourself, but you are trying to create a little bit of a pain avoidance reflex with the negative thoughts.

I have done this exercise for days at a time, then stopped or forgotten about it for weeks or months, then done it again. Currently I’ve been doing it for about a week. My post yesterday, which was at best gloomy and at worst outright negative, was actually written about a week ago – right before I donned the rubber band.

Generally the rubber band is pretty effective. The biggest problem is that it looks a little odd, but I imagine if you’re a woman with long hair you can tell people it’s for your hair in case it gets unruly. If you’re a man you can tell people it’s to remind you not to forget something. Or you can tell people it’s a hot new accessory, the Vulcanized Rubber Happy Thought Maker, and sell them one for $3.99 on eBay. Lance Armstrong did it, after all.

Try it for a few days. Every time you feel a negative thought creeping in, pop! If you complain to yourself or someone else – pop! If you feel sorry for yourself – pop! If you feel tired, or irritated at work, or even let down about a sports team – POP! It’s strange but you’ll find if you do this simple exercise the negative thoughts start dying down pretty quickly, and you’ll feel a lot happier.

photo by Cristiane Sousa