One of the most amazing things about the human brain is that as complex as it may be, you can trick it into believing something just by repeating it often enough. The downside, of course, is that if you constantly tell yourself, “I’m not good enough” or “I am terrible at [insert whatever you’re telling yourself here]” or “I’m stupid,” then you’ll start to genuinely feel that it’s true. The not-always-obvious upside, though, is that this means you can change your story by using positive dialogue. So let’s look at how to use affirmations to improve your life.
What is an affirmation?
Before you can learn how to use one, you need to understand what an affirmation is in the first place. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines affirmation as “something affirmed: a positive assertion His memoir is a reflective affirmation of family love.” But for our purposes, it’s a little bigger than that. An affirmation is a statement that you repeat to yourself with the belief and understanding that it is true.
The unfortunate reality for most of us is that our inner critic tends to go on auto-pilot, so much of our time is spent affirming negative things to ourselves. Have you ever noticed how easily it can spiral out of control? It might start with something simple like, “Oh great, I slept in and now I have to rush to get to work. I’m so lazy!” Then it becomes, “I’m such an idiot!” when you spill our coffee on your shirt. Next, you make a mistake at your job, and even if it’s not that big of a deal, your brain says, “See, you’re so stupid. You’re probably going to get fired. How are you going to pay rent? Way to go, loser, now you’re going to be unemployed and get evicted and you’ll be sleeping on the streets.”
That’s a pretty wild train ride that kicked off just because you hit snooze on your alarm clock, right? But it’s so easy to let the negativity convince our brains that we really are lazy, stupid, hopeless, fat, ugly, destined for a life of failure.
What we want to do is drown out the auto-pilot and start using POSITIVE affirmations to re-train our brains to believe the best for ourselves.
How to formulate a positive affirmation
There are three key factors to creating positive affirmations that work:
- Make it positive
- Keep it in the present tense
- Keep it at the front of your mind throughout your day
Let’s break those down one by one.
Make it positive. That sounds obvious. If we want a positive affirmation, then of course it needs to be positive. What I mean is don’t say what you don’t want, say what you do want. Here’s an example: You might decide that you want to break your habit of sleeping in until 11 am on the weekends to make the most of your days off. You could say, “I don’t want to sleep late on the weekends” but there’s a negative statement in that affirmation. Instead, make it positive by saying, “I wake up early on the weekends.” You’re inviting what you want instead of confirming what you don’t want.
Keep it in the present tense. Take another look at that example I just gave you. Did you notice it’s in the present tense? It can be difficult to say “I wake up early on the weekends” when that’s not yet true. Likewise, saying an affirmation like, “I am a successful writer/business owner/data analyst/salsa dancer/etc” when you really don’t feel close to successful at all can feel like you’re lying to yourself. You aren’t so much lying, though, as you are setting yourself up for success. If you put it in the future and tell yourself, “I am going to be a successful writer” then you are always keeping it in the future, just out of reach. When you consistently say it in the present tense, you are training your brain to act as if it is already true and that changes your entire way of being.
Keep it in the front of your mind throughout your day. It’s not enough to sit up in bed, repeat your affirmation a few times, and then forget about it all day. If your affirmation is “I make healthy food choices easily and consistently” it’s not going to be much help if you aren’t still thinking about it at lunch time when you’re heading out to grab a bite to eat. You don’t need to constantly chant your affirmation every waking second of your day, but keep it in the forefront of your thoughts and revisit it regularly. It’s a reminder to your brain to act in accordance with what you are telling it to be true.
How you can use your positive affirmation(s)
Basically, the sky is the limit. Better yet, the only true limit is your own imagination. You can use positive affirmations to reframe everything from your health to your work ethic to your daily habits. Here are some examples of affirmations that I use regularly.
“I am peaceful and I am calm, I am healthy and I am strong.” I use this one as a method of dealing with anxiety.
“I enjoy waking up early on weekends.” “I enjoy getting up as soon as my alarm goes off.” Why yes, I am working on adjusting my morning start times. How did you guess?
“Today is an amazing day.” Said with a huge smile, I like to use this one in particular on Mondays when the knee-jerk reaction might not be quite so enthusiastic.
Whatever story that you’ve been telling yourself that has been bringing you down is a perfect opportunity for a positive affirmation. You are not required to believe the negative things you say about yourself – you can change the narrative at any time.
Once you’ve decided on your affirmation, making sure that it’s both positive and in the present tense, sit quietly and repeat it to yourself 5-10 times. Then, remembering the third factor for using affirmations, repeat it a few times periodically throughout the day as needed.
One final note on positive affirmations
Affirmations are amazing and more powerful than you might imagine, and I strongly suggest giving them a try to see what changes you notice in your life. However, they are not magic wands. Just like you can’t say your mantra in the morning and expect it to magically still be working 12 hours later without giving it any further thought, you also can’t expect them to work if you are fickle with them. If you tell yourself, “I get up early on the weekends” on Friday night, but then say, “I make healthy food choices” on Saturday morning, and follow it up with “I am a smart and successful business owner” on Sunday afternoon you are not giving them a chance to work.
While it’s certainly fine to use more than one affirmation at a time, whatever you choose needs to be re-affirmed consistently. Throwing an affirmation out into the world once and never saying it again isn’t going to change much of anything except maybe the first five minutes of your day. You need to use the same affirmation(s) regularly to see improvements. I suggest at least a week, but longer is better. Like I said, they aren’t magic wands and telling yourself you make healthy food choices once is not going to turn around the habit of years of poor food choices.
Be patient and allow the affirmations time to work. Just because you don’t see them working on day one does not mean that they won’t be working on day 15. Give them a chance.