Affirmations: What They Are And How We Can Make Them Work For Us

Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

Affirmations and visualization are important tools with which we can change ourselves and the world around us.

Our thoughts shape us who we are. Behind every action there is a thought. We are what we think. We become what we think all day long. The mind utilizes images and words to think, remember and reason. The words we speak influence our brain. Positive words and thoughts can influence us in a positive way and negative words and thoughts can influence us negatively. We can refer to them as "positive self talk" and "negative self talk." Self-affirmations are nothing but self-talk.

What we say to ourselves can be just silent speech or out loud words we say to ourselves. Both have similar effects on our brain. What many people don't realize is that we talk to ourselves silently all the time. For the most part we talk negatively to ourselves. It is not some transient negative self-talk. We hold negative talk SESSIONS with ourselves. According to one report, in our silent self-talk we make about 9 negative statements to ourselves but only one positive statement on average. Children hear "No" from their parents thirteen times and "Yes" only one time. So as we grow, we learn to think in such terms as, "I can't do this," "I won't get it" or "It won't work out." Since, we hear negative stuff all the time and have heard it all our lives, negative talk becomes our "automatic behavior." An automatic behavior is that that we do without thinking or below the level of self-awareness. We tend to think most of the time without thinking. How about doing some thinking about thinking itself?

What we say to ourselves matters! Many cultures of the past or even present have a taboo about saying anything bad because they fear it will come to pass. They are not supposed to say anything bad will happen to them or their loved ones. One may laugh at such beliefs and call them "superstitions" but there just might be some truth in such beliefs. Perhaps, these cultures had some idea that people's minds are influenced by what they say and then the mind works to transform those words into becoming realities. If negative words can produce negative outcomes, it can be argued that positive outcomes can result from saying positive things to ourselves over and over again.

Affirmations are saying the same thing over and over again. Even if you don't believe right now that you can ever achieve those things that your affirmations say you will achieve. Repeat those affirmations enough number of times so you can start believing them. Who was that who once said something to the effect that if you repeat a lie enough number of times, people will accept it to be truthful.

Many people think that self-affirmations are "corny", "cheesy" and childish. Why is it that some don't use such pejorative terms for their negative self-talk? Why the positive self-talk should be regarded childish or corny? Is negative talk a sign of maturity? No, it is not! But, we tend to think grown ups are supposed to be realistic and keep everything toned down and saying anything self-supportive or self-affirming would amount to babying ourselves.

Be aware that your negative mind will try to talk yourself out of the positive self talk or affirmations if you will. It will mock you or say disparaging things. It might tell you that if you say positive and self-affirming things to yourself, you will become self-conceited and people won't be able to stand you for your habit of beating your own drums. Your mind might tell you that any effort to change yourself or better your life would be futile. It might say to you that no change in your circumstances is possible because the odds are stacked up against you. Well, you need to ask yourself "Who is stacking up those odds against me?" The answer you might hear, "Of course me!"

What makes a good affirmation? A good self-affirmation is that which is believable by you. If you can believe it, then your brain and body can believe it and may decide to act on it. When you believe yourself, the world around you can believe in you. By that I mean people around you will begin to see positive developments and changes in you. Affirmation should be about achieving a goal YOU believe is attainable. Design your affirmations about a concrete and specific result or outcome you want to see happen. Or, it may be about performing a behavior you are not able to perform right now or improving on a quality or a skill which is not at a satisfactory level right now.

Write down your affirmations. That's the first step. But, writing down your affirmation is the easier part. More difficult part is repeating them over and over again, days after days and weeks after weeks. Even more difficult is putting your heart and soul in those affirmations. For example, when you say, "I like myself" but you don't really create the feelings you should experience when you really like someone, you are not being very self-affirming. So put strong emotion into your affirmations.

When you repeat an affirmation, feel it in your body, your heart and your soul. Half-hearted affirmations would give you half-hearted results. Tell yourself you are not kidding around. You mean business and you will make it happen! Back up your affirmation with your action. Put your money where your mouth is!

What makes an affirmation work or fail? Make sure you write your affirmations in a positive language and present tense. For example, if you were to say, "I don't want to be a couch potato anymore" or "I don't want to be a procrastinator anymore," you are not telling your brain as to what do you really want to be right now. It is better to say, "I am becoming active and energetic!" "I am an action taker!" I act promptly and proactively.

Here are some of the reasons why your affirmations might yield poor results:
1) You didn't put the right body language, emotions and beliefs that should go with that affirmation.
2) You gave up too soon and practiced little.
3) There was more negative self-talk before and after the affirmations, hence, positive affirmations were outweighed by negative affirmations
4) You had plenty of talk with yourself, but you were short on action or there was little correspondence between your affirmations, emotions and actual actions. For example, affirmation says, "I make healthy food choices" but made faces at the sight of healthy food and hardly ever went to the grocery store to buy healthy food, never found time to cook healthy food at home and ate all the time at fast food places.

Don't sell yourself short! Don't be sucked into the tendency for self-discouragement such as, "Oh I have always been shy. How can I ever be different? I would give anything to be different, but it is not possible." To take another example, you might be closing the doors on yourself for prosperity by telling yourself, "I have always been poor. My parents were poor. All I have known is poverty. So, there is no point for wasting my words on ever becoming rich."

Einstein once said that your imagination is a preview of the life's coming attractions. If you are shy, first you have to be able to imagine that you are holding conversations and enjoying it to overcome shyness. If you are poor, you have to first imagine what you would be like as a happy person or a rich person. Imagination leads to thinking of the ways that can make that imagination a reality. Imagination is nothing but visualization of something you have not yet experienced. Dr. Norman Vincent Peale used to say "Visualize in order to materialize." When you can imagine having achieved what you truly desire, your mind begins to think of ways to get you there in reality.

When you verbalize and visualize something over and over again, it begins to sink in the mind. The term, "sinking in the mind" means that what we are saying is becoming a part of our subconscious. Repetitions make inroads into our deeper mind. When you hold something in your mind for a long time and you repeat affirmations over and over again for a long time, perhaps you might begin to dream about new life and a new you. You begin to think about them in your sleep and semi-sleep and wake up with thoughts related to them. They begin to sit there in your subconscious mind and may prompt appropriate actions.

How often should I repeat the affirmations? Until it comes true! If a goal or an outcome is that important to you, keep on doing it until it comes true! Bear in mind what you are up against. If your affirmation consists of developing a new behavior or habit that is opposite to a life long habit, then it would take a decent length of time. Bear in mind that affirmations often might have to be repeated for weeks rather than days. How long do you repeat them and how long do they occupy your conscious mind? What occupies the conscious mind for a good bit of time filters down to the subconscious!

How do you know if your affirmations are doing any good to you? Be careful how you measure progress. Register even a small increment of progress. Against a life- long firmly entrenched trait or habit such as shyness or procrastination, even infinitesimal progress is progress indeed and needs to be celebrated.

How do I fight off negative thoughts against positive affirmations? Become an expert in identifying your negative thoughts quickly and instantly rather than spending the whole afternoon or morning and then realizing, "Oh my! I have been thinking nothing but negative thoughts and casting doubts and self- aspersions on myself all this time1" Stop them quickly before they leave too many "foot prints" on your mental ground.

Instead of "fighting" with your negative thoughts, just be aware and watch them. Don't get sucked into them. Stay away and watch. Then, simply go back to your affirmations as a counter measure.

Tips for increasing the chances that your affirmation will come to pass:
a) Generate strong feelings and emotions that go with your affirmations.
b) Let your body feel how you would feel if your affirmations have come true
right now. For example, stand steady, tall and strong if your affirmation concerns winning an award for a performance.
c) Relax and breathe fully and deeply with your abdomen when repeating your affirmations.
d) Back your affirmations up with action
e) Always, counter negative affirmations that negate your positive affirmation

Here is an example of a person who utilized affirmations to change her eating behaviors and develop new health habits:

"K" has struggled with her weight for last two decades. She knows she should eat healthy and exercise. But she doesn't get down to eat healthy or do exercise with any consistency. If she gets started at all, she would quit in a matter of just a few days. She is aware that she keeps procrastinating actions related to eating healthy and exercise regularly. She acknowledges she really likes the taste of junk food and at the end of the day, enjoys putting her feet up on the table and watch TV rather than exercise. She describes herself in negative labels, "I am just a procrastinator" or "I am too lazy to exercise in the night" and uses them to explain to herself why she doesn't stick to a plan. But hates her weight, hates herself being that way and doesn't want to go out or socialize because of her embarrassment with her weight. This has caused problems in the marriage because her husband wants to go out and entertain friends at home. She is afraid of exercising

She developed goals for liking herself in spite of her weight. She decided she would eat healthy and in small portions and not focus on any diet plan or banishing any specific foods. That she wanted to be active and energetic and healthy rather than slim or loose specific number of weight. However, it was important to her to have a number like loose one pound a week. So, she wrote her affirmations consistent with these goals. She rehearsed these affirmations with the right body language and emotions. She also taped them so she could listen to them when she was getting ready for work or doing household chores.

She then began to stand in front of the mirror and repeat affirmations about how likeable, funny and attractive person she was. Because why would you do anything for someone you were really embarrassed or disgusted with? She would in front of the mirror act, stand, walk around and feel that she really was attractive, funny and likeable. She practiced to smile on the negative thoughts and focus on her affirmations.

She put in her daily/weekly plan to buy healthy food and cook at home. She set a specific time for exercise first thing in the morning before going to work so the other demands would not encroach on her exercise time. She hated to exercise because she was totally out of practice. She developed a strategy to start with a mild exercise and started with five minutes exercise. Once she broke the 5-minute barrier, she kept on increasing the time and intensity of her exercise.

First she had to do her affirmations many times a day or all the time in her silent thoughts. She had to move herself to action by repeating to herself, "Move. Get on with it. Now is the time," etc. She would hear music in her head to make her feel like dancing or doing something. She would hum or whistle to get into the spirit of starting her exercises.

Six months have passed. She is working with her plans. She doesn't have to do her affirmations now except occasionally silently tell herself to persist with her program. Now it has become very much a part of her daily routine.

In summation, put your money where your mouth is. Affirmations without action are mere words. Develop a strategy for action and a strategy how you would act towards your goal every day in some way. Affirmations without strong corresponding emotions are also mere words! Put your heart and soul into it.

Start today! Take some action today. That's the secret of getting started.

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Copyright 2005, Mind Publications 
Posted March 2006


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