Our thoughts shape our reality. So let me ask you: What kind of thoughts are you thinking?
This post explains how positive affirmations can help us overcome our negative thought patterns and create a more joyful and successful life.
No, we don’t need to be positive ALL the time.
Before you read a word further, know this: I am not one of those people who refuses to ever have a negative thought or utter a negative word or two. Those people are freaks and I don’t care how happy they claim to be, they are ticking time bombs and you need to stay away from them before they blow.
And, the first time a therapist told me about positive affirmations, I burst into a completely unreciprocated fit of laughter that I punctuated with an awkward sigh and something like, “Oh god, shoot me now.”
So I get it. Believe me, I do.
But the content and quality of our thoughts shape our reality.
But also know this: We are what we think.
In other words, the content and quality of our thoughts shape our reality.
And I, unfortunately, have spent much of the last thirty years berating, belittling, and badgering myself about everything. My more recent gems include:
- Why, oh why did I blurt out “Am I right, ladies!?” after I played that David Beckham underwear ad for my students so we could discuss the persuasive appeals being used by the ad company? Way to alienate every gay kid in the room. Superb, Annie. Superb.
- Ugh, I can’t open this jar! What do I do? I’ve tried everything! I’m so helpless. What kind of independent woman am I? I’m so disgusted by how completely useless I am. I would never survive on my own.
And here’s an oldie but goodie, just to show off my range:
- What kind of an idiot misspells “maverick”? M-a-v-a? Really, Annie? (Yall, I was in the fourth grade.)
Negative self-talk is particularly harmful because many of us do it without even realizing it. We have grown so accustomed to it that it just plays incessantly in the background of our lives, shaping our reality and convincing us that we are not good enough.
And my own negative self-talk was so familiar and comfortable and natural to me that I was shocked–absolutely floored–when a therapist told me she never spoke to herself that way. “It’s a wonder you can get out of bed, let alone be as successful as you’ve been your whole life,” she told me.
So if positive thoughts don’t come easily to us, we need to practice them.
We can counteract these negative thought patterns though. And one way to do that is to repeat affirmations, which are positive statements that usually start with “I am” and end with a positive quality or characteristic.
Here are some examples of positive affirmations:
- I am safe and secure.
- I am capable and good at my job.
- I am worthy of love.
The idea is that if you immerse your brain in positive self-talk for a change, your perspective and in turn your actual experience of life will improve.
You don’t even have to believe the affirmations at first.
If you’re like me, you may feel silly saying these affirmations at first. They might sound cheesy and lame, and I was afraid that I’d feel like an even bigger loser after saying them than I did before. But that feeling is fleeting.
And my husband made the smartest observation: “If you didn’t feel silly, you probably wouldn’t need it.”
The discomfort we feel in saying the affirmation is the very reason we are saying it! Affirmations are designed to accustom us to positive self-talk, self-soothing, and self-love.
You don’t even have to believe the affirmations at first. You just need to recite them. The more you say them, the more comfortable you will get with them. Then, the more possible and real they will seem to you.
Fake it ’til you make it, as they say.
Now be warned. Saying them out loud to yourself might feel so foreign and uncomfortable that you cringe, gag, or turn bright red with mortification. Or, you might need to hear those words so much that they strike a nerve and cause you to burst into tears. All of these reactions are normal.
The most important part is to say them, over and over again, with growing intensity and conviction, until they become just as true and comfortable to you as the ugly, negative thoughts that may come more naturally.
Where do you start? How do you pick an affirmation?
If you think of affirmations as intentions, or even goals, then they become easier to select based on how you are feeling. What feeling do you want to cultivate? What is important to you that you are having trouble living up to at the moment? Pick an affirmation that will help you get there.
For example, I periodically experience intense anxiety. While various breathing techniques and grounding exercises help me cope with bouts of anxiety or panic, positive affirmations also help. One of my favorites isn’t particularly profound, but it does the trick: “I am okay. Everything is okay.”
Want a more specific example? As a tenure-track professor, I get evaluated about every other semester by the members of my tenure committee. This means the department chair and the dean of Humanities both periodically observe my class. Yup, they sit in the back of the room and watch my every move.
On those days, I’m so nervous that I’m prone to second-guessing everything: my lesson plan, my slides, my handouts, even my shoes. So, on the drive to work, I’ll repeat the following affirmation: “I am a capable and inspiring educator. I love my job and am great at what I do.”
Let me know what positive affirmations get you through hard times or just put you in a great mood in the morning!