When I wanted to curb my habit of interrupting my husband, I turned to an old rubber band trick for practicing a new behavior (wait until he finishes his sentence, count to two, then speak) enough to make it stick. Here are the simple instructions and some uses.
- Put seven rubber bands on your left wrist.
- Each time you fully succeed with the new behavior, transfer one of the rubber bands to your right wrist.
- If you forget to try the new behavior in the circumstances you want to practice it in, take all the rubber bands off your right wrist and put them back on your left wrist. If you try the new behavior but do it poorly, take all the rubber bands and put them back on your left wrist.
- Do this until all the rubber bands are on your right wrist.
- You may find it useful to repeat the entire process one more time. For most people, by the end of this practice, the new behavior feels more fluid and natural.
I use rubber bands because they’re light on my wrist and I don’t always have pockets. There’s nothing particularly sacred about rubber bands, though: Productivity expert David Stiernholm uses paper clips, as do many grade school teachers. A trumpeter friend of Stiernholm’s used marbles. I’ve also seen people use plastic poker chips, small hex nuts, and thin elastic bracelets. Pick what will work for you and that you can always have on you.
There’s also nothing magical about seven. Five seems to be the minimum I’ve seen, 10 the maximum. Seven seems to work well for me.
Why this method works
One of the basic principles of behavior change is repetition of the behavior you want to ingrain. The rubber bands serve as a constant reminder of your behavior goals and help you track progress without making the tracking an onerous task.
While the “the 21-day rule” is commonly touted as the time it takes to form a new habit, I’ve seen research pegging habit formation at anywhere from 15 days to 254 days. I find it more useful to track actual occurrences than days, since some behaviors can be practiced multiple times daily and some only every few days.
Conflict-related uses for this practice
Here are some examples of the kinds of conflict-related behaviors you can practice using the rubber band method:
- Practicing the 90-second relationship rule when you walk through the door after work each day
- Biting your tongue instead of verbalizing criticism automatically
- Practicing a silent pause for 10 seconds instead of responding when you’ve been sucked into bickering
- Playing the “as if” game with yourself when you need to change your mood
- Resisting the temptation to take constant notes if you’re a mediator
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