The Clever Trick That Might Get Your Ex Out Of Your Head — Forever!

Photo: getty
This Clever Trick Will Get Your Ex Out Of Your Head — FOREVER!
Heartbreak

As she picks up her keys and heads off to work, Donna does one final check to make sure she's got everything. She thinks, Ugh, I need to stop by the grocery on the way home to pick up something for dinner.

Without even realizing it, her mind instantly slides into that old, distressing familiar rut: It's so nice not to have to worry about making something he would like every night. I wonder what he is having for dinner tonight. Probably take-out, since he doesn't really like to cook. He certainly never appreciated it when I cooked for him... Wait, I don't care what he's having for dinner! Why am I even thinking about him? We're over.

Throughout her day, the pattern recurs repeatedly. Whenever her thoughts wander — even though her breakup is long over — her ex slides into her mental space. Why is it that after ending a relationship, we just can't seem to grasp the tools for how to get over a breakup?

Why do we have such a hard time getting our brains to stop obsessively thinking about the other person? 

RELATED: 10 Self-Empowering Ways To Get Over A Tough Breakup

Obsessive thoughts about exes can include anything from sneaky like blasé details about our ex, to blatant sexual fantasies about an ex, visualizing them having sex with their new partner, endlessly questioning how you might win them back (or make sure they leave you alone for good), and anything in between.

Either way, throughout the day your mind won't stop thinking about your ex, no matter how much you want it to. Sound familiar? Having obsessive thoughts about your ex is a fairly common part of a breakup or divorce.

There are lots of theories about why we think of our exes almost constantly. Some people think it's because of the energy partners share — sexual and proximal — that don't disengage easily. Others think it's our ego resisting the sting of rejection, thinking about our ex to reconcile (or feel control over) being dumped.

Others say hormones drive the obsessiveness. When we have sex with someone, there are hormones like oxytocin that get released into our bloodstream, which create a feeling of connection and love in the brain.

However, I find that the simpler, more obvious reason is to blame others for those obsessive thoughts. When you were together, you had a LOT of thoughts about your partner. Thinking about them became a normal habit in your day-to-day life.

Now that you're not together anymore, your brain is still stuck in the loop of this habit. Though the resulting thoughts can feel inappropriate, disruptive, and painful, they are merely a habit — a process or behavior now wired into your mind that runs on autoplay. 

RELATED: The 5 Best Things To Do After A Breakup To Get Over Him Faster (And Help You Heal)

To actually get to the point where you can stop thinking about your ex — or at least interrupt unwanted thoughts — you need a way to disrupt the habit.

And you know what? You don't have to become an energy practitioner, a neuroscientist, or an endocrinologist to achieve that goal. Regular, ordinary people can break habits through very simple means. Granted, some of us do need the help of a healthcare professional, but in many cases people can break their own habits if they're willing to put in the effort to do so.

A very simple technique (almost ridiculously so) for interrupting an unwanted, thought-based habit is to put a rubber band around your wrist and snap it every time you catch yourself thinking about your ex. 

No, obviously this isn't an instant fix, as one or two snaps of the band won't banish your ex from your mind forever. But what does happen is that your cycle of repetitive thoughts is continually interrupted, enough so that you'll begin to process what you're going through, instead of staying stuck in an endless loop of obsessing about your ex.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Join now for YourTango's trending articles, top expert advice and personal horoscopes delivered straight to your inbox each morning.

Sounds crazy simple, right? Well, sometimes simple works the best. And there's no harm in trying, other than a slight ouch if you snap yourself too hard.

Why does it work? It reprograms your mind a bit, similar to what Pavlov did with training his dogs. Pavlov famously trained his dogs to associate the sound of a buzzer—or a visual cue, or even electric shock—with being fed.

What you're doing is training yourself to associate unwanted habitual thoughts of your ex with the slight pain of snapping a rubber band on your wrist. In case you're wondering, these types of techniques are known as conditional reflex training.

Admittedly, this is an incredibly simplistic technique, but it's something that just about anyone can do to start interrupting their obsessive thoughts. And that's what makes it incredibly powerful.

What's powerful about the technique isn't the snap; rather, the interruption it causes, providing space for additional awareness and clarity about what's currently happening. The more you return to the present (versus wandering off to the painful past or uncertain future), the more you position yourself to make better decisions in the present.  

RELATED: 10 Mantras That Will Get You Over That God-Awful Breakup STAT

Dr. Karen Finn is a divorce coach. For help understanding what to do next, visit her website.