Positive affirmations have the power to change your life over time, but that’s not the main reason I use them. I use positive affirmations for the change they make in a moment. When I’m feeling anxious, that moment feels like all there is, so getting to a better place means everything. It’s always a relief being able to work through that anxious thought and discover a positive affirmation (i.e., healthier perspective) on the other side.
The power is in the process
If you’ve seen how I keep my worry journal, you know what I’m talking about.
I start out with high anxiety over a negative thought and end up with an alternative thought – or positive affirmation – that makes me feel better.
Actually, it’s not the positive affirmation itself that does the trick so much as it is the process of getting there. So I encourage you to create your own affirmations. That’s not to say mine, or anyone else’s, can’t be helpful to you, only that the ones you write for yourself will probably be more personal and, in turn, more impactful.
What’s worrying you?
I ask this question at the end of every worry journal exercise, encouraging you to use this same process for turning your negative thoughts into positive affirmations.
Here’s how you do it:
1) Write down the negative thought. It can be a new one specific to something that happened recently, like “I’ll never find a new job.” Or it can be a more general mistaken belief that’s been playing in your head for years, like “I don’t have the power to get what I want.”
2) Write down your anxiety level, on a scale of 1 to 10.
3) Write down “evidence” that the negative thought is true. Be as specific as you can with examples that provide some level of “proof.” For example, “I’ve sent out dozens of resumes and haven’t gotten a single response.” Or, “I can’t bring myself to try new things I want to do.”
4) Write down “evidence” that the negative thought is false. For instance, “Last time I was looking for work, I sent out a hundred resumes before I found a new job.” Or, “I’ve tried lots of new things I wanted to try; at one time, everything was new to me.”
5) Write down what’s more likely. For instance, “Finding a new job is going to take longer than I want it to, but I will eventually find something.” Or, “I have the power to get what I want. I’m just afraid to use it.”
6) Write down an alternative to your original negative thought. This is your positive affirmation. Two important points here: (a) Make sure it’s written in present tense, as though it’s already true; (b) Make sure it’s something you can actually believe in. For instance, “I’m ready to go to work at a new job I love.” Or, “I trust myself with my power.”
7) Write down your anxiety level, on a scale of 1 to 10.
Or try it the other way around
Start with the positive affirmation and work your way through negative thoughts from there.
This is author Shakti Gawain’s preferred approach described in her book, Creative Visualization.
On the front of a piece of paper, write out the affirmation you want to use 10 to 20 times. “Don’t just write it by rote,” says Shakti, “really think about the meaning of the words as you write them.”1
It can be one you make up yourself or one someone else has shared with you. Like one of mine: “I love myself, as is, all the time.” Or one of Shakti’s: “I am the master of my life.”2
Here’s the part where you work through the negatives
As you’re writing out the affirmations, Shakti says to:
“Notice whether you feel any resistance, doubts, or negative thoughts about what you are writing. Whenever you do (even a slight one) turn the paper over, and on the back write out the negative thought, the reason why the affirmation can’t be true, can’t work, or whatever.”3
When you’re done, take a look at all the negatives and let those inform a new affirmation to work with.
Write it, post it, speak it
The more you say and see a positive affirmation, the more good it will do. There’s no one right way to work with it, so try what you’re drawn to and keep doing what feels right for you.
- Write it out, over and over again. Not by rote, as Shakti stresses, but with real mindfulness behind every word. You can use whatever piece of paper is lying around, but I like devoting a notebook to it.
- Say the affirmation silently to yourself as often as you can remember. In her book, You Can Heal Your Life, author Louise L. Hay recommends trying this technique with “I approve of myself.” “Do this three or four hundred times a day, at least,” says Louise. “No, it’s not too many times. When you are worrying, you go over your problem at least that many times.”4
- Say the affirmation aloud, looking at yourself in the mirror. (Both Shakti and Louise recommend this approach.)
- Make art out of it. Cut and paste letters from a magazine, or use colored pencils or paint. Then hang your affirmation some place you spend quiet time every day – where you journal, where you read, where you meditate.
- Plaster it all over the place. Try a notecard here, a notecard there, using the same affirmation on all of them, or mix it up. It may even be the same affirmation, just worded a little differently each time.
- Meditate to it. Say it as a mantra silently or listen to a recording of yourself.
Remember the most important part
Work with positive affirmations you can believe in
Otherwise, you’re always going to be inclined to reject in. This not only pushes what you want further away, but makes you feel worse in the process. For instance, if you’re trying to improve your finances, “I’m good with money,” might be more believable than “I’m a millionaire.”
If you take a look at some of my worry journal exercises, you’ll see all of my positive affirmations are believable ones, some bordering on “neutral” versus positive (click the links to see how I got there):
- I spend most of my time on things that feel good.
- I love myself, as is, all the time.
- I trust myself with my power.
- What’s right for me is right.
- I know what I know; I let the rest go.
- I’m doing plenty.
- My best is different every day. My best is plenty always.
Oh, and make sure it’s in the present tense
You want it now, so word your positive affirmation accordingly.
Changing core beliefs takes time, but you can change negative self-talk today
As I write in Women and Anxiety:
“You may not actively contemplate your core beliefs about the world – or about yourself – but they color your every decision, every experience, and every relationship. Unfortunately, many of these core beliefs, most learned early in life, are dead wrong. And they translate into negative self-talk that poisons your confidence and your goals. Core beliefs like these don’t change overnight. However, the negative self-talk perpetuating these beliefs can change today.”
Positive affirmations are a great way to get there.