People often reflect on the past twelve months around this time of year. What changes occurred? What could be done differently in 2015? These are all helpful questions that can guide us toward more enriching lives. But for many people, these questions carry shame or guilt. Such emotions can be difficult to release and lead to frustration or depression. Instead of feeling inspired about the future, a person may develop anxiety or doubt. A powerful way to counteract this negativity is to use something called a positive affirmation.
What is it?
A positive affirmation is a clear and concise self-directed statement that describes something a person would love to achieve, have, be or do.
What does it do?
When used regularly, positive affirmations can improve a person’s mood, self-esteem and overall health. Affirmations promote confidence by focusing on up-lifting and inspiring thoughts instead of negative and self-limiting thoughts. The repeated use of positive statements over time can lead to reduced stress levels, which has been shown to improve physical and mental health. At the neurological level, repetition of positive self-affirming messages can actually change the nerve pathways in a person’s brain, leading to the development of new neural patterns associated with positive thinking. Over time, these patterns can begin to strengthen and override old pathways associated with negative thinking. This adaptive quality of the brain is called “neuroplasticity” has profound implications for a person’s ability to “retrain” his thoughts by changing the physical structure and activation patterns of the nervous system.
How do we create one?
There are three key elements to creating effective positive affirmations. The first element is that the affirmation is written in the present tense. This makes the statement easier to believe in because it is stated as if it is already true. The second element is that the affirmation expresses something positive rather than something that is untrue or should be avoided.
Here are three examples:
- For weight loss: “I eat healthy and nutritious food,” instead of “I don’t eat junk food.”
- For wealth-building: “I’m a master of my finances,” instead of “Someday I won’t be poor anymore.”
- For self-confidence: “I believe in myself and I am going to have a great day,” instead of “I don’t care what anybody thinks about me.”
The third element is that the affirmation reflects a genuine desire or goal of the person stating it and not just something that someone else wants or demands.
How do we use one?
Positive affirmations are most effective when they are said several times a day in private. For maximal benefit, a person states them out loud in a confident voice. It’s especially helpful to write affirmations down so the words are seen as well as heard. Leaving notes or other visual cues around the home or workplace can remind a person to repeat affirmations often.
It’s important that affirmations are also complemented by action. Going back to the previous examples, this could mean throwing away junk food and buying fresh produce (1), saving a portion of every paycheck (2) or seeking help from a licensed therapist to address underlying mental health issues (3).
A helpful reminder is that affirmations can work even if the person doesn’t believe in them at first. Consistency and complementary action are key.
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