Affirmations make us think of the stereoptype of sportspeople or popstars staring at themselves in the mirror and repeating mantras before a big event. These mantras are affirmations and come as a result of the visualisation techniques they have learned to help them picture the success they crave. Affirmations are declarations made in the present tense, designed to increase a person’s confidence in their ability to achieve a certain task or change. They are used as an antidote to negative self talk such as that now full-grown man who still hears a parent tell him he can’t manage or the yo-yo dieter who expects failure again. A quick gaze over the internet will display thousands of ready-made affirmative quotes but the most beneficial statements will be personal and related to specific goals.
Self esteem is proven to increase in many people who use affirmations, however there is some evidence that if the affirmation is too distant from the perceived ability of the user it can do more harm than good and may even reduce the confidence of a person to achieve their goal. For this reason, affirmations must stretch the person using them but still be feasible.
Picture our example from before of the smoker trying to quit. They have visualised themselves in the comfortable and warm environment of the break room instead of the smelly, cold and dreary outside smoking space. Even before they have thrown the cigarette packet away their affirmation could be “My daily actions improve my health”. This is achievable without being specific and allows the smoker to take charge of a difficult habit even if they decide to only miss out on one cigarette and spend that time in the more comfortable and healthier environment.
How to write the perfect affirmation.
Affirmations must be in the present tense, even when they are related to actions planned for the future. They are designed to bring visualisations to life in a simple to remember and repeat phrase. Much like the stories of the variety show hypnotist who can make the audience member squawk like a chicken when they utter a key word, the repetition of an affirmation should immediately bring the desired emotional response.
When you write your affirmation, use positive terminology. An affirmation is designed to filter as quickly through the brain as possible and words like no, not, don’t or won’t will slow this process down. The old phrase “don’t think of a pink elephant” applies here. We miss the word “don’t” and still picture the pink elephant. An affirmation should be free from negative imagery and instead focus on the desired outcome.
Use “I” or “my” in your affirmation. This is undeniably about you and your life so make it as personal as possible. In addition, use emotional and powerful language to create a bold statement about what you plan to achieve.
Avoid words like “want”, “need” or “desire” as this highlights a lack in your present state of mind. The idea is to surpass your current mental state and look to a better future. One way to do this is to think of a negative statement you have made about yourself like “I’ll never fit into that dress” or “I can’t walk into that gym” and flip them to “I feel comfortable in this dress” and “I am confident when I exercise”
If our soon-to-be ex smoker from earlier had stated “I do not smoke”, his affirmation would be incorrect, negative and focussed on the activity he wants to avoid. Instead, he considered the achievable, true and positive phrase of “My daily actions improve my health” which steers him closer to his desired goal.
I won’t eat cakes
I need to exercise daily
I want to be fitter
I’m not going to give in to temptation
I love the taste of fruits and vegetables
I feel comfortable in my body
I crave new and healthy experiences
I am in control of my choices
Use your visualisation to form your affirmation and repeat it as often as you remember. You can even set a reminder on your phone to help.
Affirmations help people make good changes by safely and non-judgementally allowing them to become more aware of their desired healthy habit or change. Repetitive and positive mantras also help people experience stronger emotions about their poor health habit. These are, as we learned from the transtheoretical stages of change model, key components in making long lasting change.
Write an affirmation today.