Making Affirmations Work for You
Affirmations are power tools, so although people may talk about whether they work or not, the real key to using affirmations is learning how to make them work for you. The truth is that all of us are using affirmations all of the time, although we might not think of it that way.
Researchers estimate that we have somewhere between 6,000 and 70,000 thoughts per day, and that about 80% of those are negative. Yikes! If you actually pay attention to the words you’re saying to yourself, or thinking but not saying out loud, what are they? Since we’re feeding ourselves this information all the time, wouldn’t it be great if we could change the message? Here are some ways to use affirmations to create a path to where you want to be.
Where do you want to be? Begin with one step.
When you become aware of some negative self-talk or something you’d like to shift, start with one affirmation. Just addressing one issue helps you focus. What are you repeatedly thinking or saying to yourself that does not feel good? (If you would not say that to someone you love, that might be a good one to start with.)
Stretch a bit, but not too much.
If you’ve been struggling with something for a long time, affirming the opposite of that will probably feel unbelievable to you. Try to move in the direction you want to go, but soften the language. Often, in-process affirmations are easier for us to say to ourselves – “I’m learning,” “I’m becoming,” or “I see myself changing,” can feel more believable to us than saying “I am. ” For example, it may be easier for you to say things like, “I’m learning to be kinder to myself,” “I’m becoming more patient with myself,” or “I’m finding ways to like myself,” if saying, “I love myself” doesn’t feel true yet. Start where you are. Stretch as you go. When that gets easier, dial up the positivity.
A funny thing about negative affirmations is that our brains will edit out the negative, and what stays with us is actually the impact of the rest of the sentence. If you’re trying not to eat chocolate, and you affirm, “I don’t crave chocolate,” the words “crave chocolate” are what get lodged in your memory. Not helpful!
Remember when creating affirmations, adjust the language so that words like no, not, can’t, and won’t, are omitted. For example, “It’s getting easier for me to focus on healthy foods,” “I’m learning to take better care of my body,” or “I’m proud of myself for eating better” will affirm that you’re moving in the direction you’d like to go.
General is better than specific.
Affirming is not the same as wishing. “I’m going to get that job” may not be particularly helpful and may lead to disappointment. (And, you might even end up wishing you hadn’t wished for “that job” at all!) A broader affirmation like, “The job I’m looking for is looking for me,” allows you to remain positive as you go through the process, and leaves room for outcomes that might be better than what you imagined.
Address, don’t suppress, the negative.
A friend who’s now in her 80’s shared that she grew up understanding the power of affirmations by watching her mother, a single working parent at a time when few good jobs were available to women, repeating aloud, “We’ve always had a roof over our heads and enough to eat.” This kept the focus on the security of what they had, rather than allowing anxiety in. Affirming something that helps us remember we are okay, even in the midst of worry, challenge, or struggle, can be very reassuring. Sometimes we need to talk to ourselves in the same way we might talk to a child who is afraid. When we repeat a comforting or uplifting reminder that feels true, we can steady ourselves, regain our balance, and slowly move forward.
Empower your affirmations with feeling.
For many years now, I’ve used the Louise Hay “I Can Do It - 365 Daily Affirmations” calendar. Almost every morning (for the better part of a decade), as I’m making my coffee, I look at the affirmation for the day. And I’ve found something that, at first, really surprised me. I don’t always like the affirmation! Periodically I’m aware that the affirmation for that day is not a good fit, or my first thought is something like “Yeah, not really,” or occasionally one might even make me cringe. But I’ve learned this is not a problem as much as it is an opportunity to stretch.
Whether you’re writing your own affirmation, or trying one on, getting the feeling of those words might be the most powerful shift you can bring to the whole process. Take a moment and imagine what it would feel like if the words of that affirmation really were true for you. Just try that feeling on, as if you were trying on a coat, breathe into it, and then notice what that’s like for you. Now, please don’t hang around in the idea long enough to allow the critical part of your mind to calculate where you are, or everyone and everything that would have to change, or how to measure! Just visit the feeling and notice your reaction. Reflecting on that gives you a chance to ask, “What would it be like to believe that?” Or, if the words of the affirmation feel completely impossible, ask yourself what part of you might you need to support and encourage in order for even a small shift to happen?
Practice, practice, practice – and take advantage of your privacy.
Finally, here is one of my favorite tips – your bathroom mirror is your friend! You have to go in there anyway, and no one really wants to know what you’re doing in there. Turn on the fan, and take a few moments while you’re washing your hands to look at yourself in the mirror and repeat your affirmation directly to yourself. There is power in the brain connection that happens when we look into our own eyes! And if it makes you laugh, or cry, or smile at yourself, all the better.
Dianne Frances, MFA, MS, LPC, NCC