Success with a Rubber Band

How the power of positive thinking helped one woman lose weight!

Posted in , Sep 1, 2007


The day I started working out with my personal trainer, Teresa, she asked me, "What do you want to accomplish in our sessions together?"

That was easy. I told her that overall, I wanted to get in shape and get stronger. More specifically, I wanted to lose 10 pounds by swimsuit season.

"Good, you have both long-term and short-term goals," Teresa said. "That will help keep you motivated."

Then she warned, "I'm going to push you pretty hard, Sue. And you're going to have to push yourself."

She had. And so had I. Yet here I was at the gym, months later, the same old Sue with the same old flab. I wasn't feeling very motivated.

"Let's start with something different today," Teresa said.

I thought she was going to show me a new exercise. Instead, she took something small and green out of her pocket. A rubber band.

Not one of those big, wide elastic bands I'd seen people at the gym using for resistance training. But an ordinary rubber band, like the ones the mailman puts around my magazines to keep them together in the mailbox.

Teresa took my right arm and tugged the band onto my wrist, a determined look on her face. "This will solve your problem," she assured me.

Excuse me? I didn't mean to be rude, but I had to ask. "How is this rubber band going to help me get in shape? I really need to lose those 10 pounds."

"Your weight is not your biggest problem," Teresa said. "What's really holding you back is you're always putting yourself down. I can't understand why. You have so much going for you!"

Me? Who was she kidding? I knew better. I had grown up constantly comparing myself to others, and I fell short every time. The other kids at my high school were brighter, more interesting and definitely better looking. My girlfriends were thin and pretty. I was the pudgy, funny kid who always needed to peel off at least 10 pounds. They got As, I got Bs. They got the leads in the school play; I was cast in a supporting role. 

I explained all that to Teresa while I warmed up on the treadmill. "I know I don't have a lot of confidence," I admitted. "But put myself down? Nah! I'm just being honest with myself."

Teresa didn't see it that way. She said she was sick and tired of hearing all the barbs I directed at myself. "Your negative thinking is a bad habit, and it's time to break it," she declared.

The plan was simple. Every time I thought or said something that put myself down, I was supposed to snap the rubber band—hard!—and snap myself out of that mindset.

Read More: Positive Thoughts from Norman Vincent Peale

"Pay attention to how many times you have a negative thought about yourself," Teresa said as we moved on to the leg press machine. "I think you'll be surprised at how often you do it."

Could she be right? I knew Teresa really wanted to help me, so even though I thought her plan was kind of silly, I agreed to try Operation Rubber Band. I left the gym and drove home with the green elastic around my wrist, feeling like Dr. Phil's next messed up guest.

A stack of mail was waiting. I shuffled through it. There was an official looking letter from my bank. This can't be good, I thought. I tore open the envelope, my stomach knotting up.

It was an overdraft notice. One of my checks had bounced because I'd been late transferring money to the account. My cheeks burned when I saw it was the birthday check I had sent to my niece. You really messed up now! How could you be so stupid?

That was when I remembered what Teresa said I needed to do. I reached for that rubber band dangling from my wrist, pulled it back and let it fly. Fwwwaaappp!

"Owwww!" I yelped. 

It stung. Hmm, kind of like the negative words I'd dealt myself.

My wrist was still smarting when my husband walked in. He gave me a kiss on the cheek. "Wow, what a day at work," Bruce said, then added as he headed upstairs to change, "I'm starving. What's for dinner, hon?"

Dinner? Uh oh. I'd forgotten to pull something out of the freezer before I went to the gym. First a bounced check and now this, I thought. Can't you do anything right?

Then I stopped, stunned at how I was berating myself. And this was only day one of Operation Rubber Band.

I tugged the elastic back and let it snap against my wrist again. Yeoowww!

That hurt. But didn't my negative self-talk hurt even more? I wondered just how much damage it had done over the years. Were all my demeaning messages at the root of my insecurity? Was my attitude toward myself the reason I walked around with this vague feeling of unhappiness, this sense that something was wrong with me?

And why did I persist in doing this to myself, anyway? Maybe I cut myself down just to beat everyone else to the punch. After all, if I pointed out my mistakes and shortcomings, no one else could.

An uncomfortable awareness settled over me. Teresa was right. I was really hard on myself. Whapping myself with a rubber band didn't seem like the complete solution, though. 

For sure, the snapping made me stop in my tracks when I put myself down. But didn't I need to do something to build myself up, to point my attitude in a more affirmative direction? I decided to replace each negative thought with a positive one before I wound up with a permanent welt on my wrist.

Okay, start now. Replace a negative—telling myself I couldn't do anything right because I forgot to thaw out some meat for dinner—with a positive. Well, I am creative. Time to use my imagination.

I rooted around in the cabinets and refrigerator and came up with onions, mushrooms, garlic, tomato sauce and some leftover pepperoni. I could make a sauce, toss it with pasta. Soon a delicious aroma filled the kitchen.

I congratulated myself. Good job, Sue. How many other people do you know who could whip up a gourmet pasta dish out of seemingly thin air? That felt so much better than putting myself down.

While the sauce simmered, I forgave myself for my accounting blunder and wrote out a new check for my niece. She'll be happy you remembered her birthday. You are a thoughtful person.

But over the next couple of days I discovered that old habits die hard. Like a worn-out recording on repeat, negative thoughts kept playing in my head. I criticized myself over every little thing, it seemed. Teresa had said I would be surprised by how often I did it. I was more than surprised. I was shocked. I reached for that green rubber band around my wrist so many times I lost count.

You're fat. Snap.

You didn't handle that situation right. Snap.

How could you forget such an important appointment? What will they think of you? Snap, snap. 

But now each time, as I massaged my increasingly tender wrist, I made sure to replace the negative statement with a positive one. 

You're not fat; you're a little overweight. But you're working on it. Now you're eating right, and exercising every day. Give yourself some credit.

You handled the situation just fine. Maybe you didn't react as quickly as you could have, but everything turned out okay in the end.

So you forgot an appointment. Everyone makes mistakes. Just call them up, apologize, and make a new appointment.

Yes! I felt like I was making progress. At the same time I couldn't help thinking how sad it was that I had spent a lifetime treating myself in a way I wouldn't even treat my worst enemy. That was going to change. Permanently.

From now on I was going to be kind to myself, be as considerate and forgiving as I was toward others. I would carry myself a bit taller and straighter, and walk with confidence in my step. 

I knew I was going to have to make a conscious effort to do all these things because I wasn't used to it, but that was okay. I deserved it.

Monday afternoon, seven days after Operation Rubber Band began, I got ready to go to the gym for my appointment with my trainer. I looked in the mirror to put on my lipstick, and for the first time in ages, I was happy with the woman I saw looking back at me—she was holding her head high, and there was a sparkle in her eyes. She looked confident and strong. I smiled at my reflection. Way to go, Sue!

I grabbed my gym bag and opened the closet to get a jacket. Hmm, green, I think, to match my rubber band.

I couldn't wait to see Teresa and tell her the good news—I'd lost three pounds this week, but more importantly, I'd gained a whole new outlook.

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