Fed up with the damaging impact of negative thoughts? How about giving affirmations a go?
Updated: Apr 19, 2021
I had a 35 minute walk home and I cried all the way. I was 18 and I'd just been to pick up my A-level results.
After working hard at them, attending every lesson, getting good marks in my coursework and revising hard I failed two of them. Nobody from the college talked to me about it or ever raised the question about what on earth had gone wrong. The exams were 80% of the mark and nobody had picked up that I was dyslexic.
I don't remember telling my parents or having to explain to anyone else. I do remember that my parents never made me feel bad about it but rather encouraged my strengths. I also remember a card someone wrote to me with really kind words in.
However, I remember the effect it had on me for decades to come. The messages in my head, that I created myself, were: trying hard wasn't enough; it wasn't worth learning because I couldn't retain information; and I was stupid. It knocked my confidence and self-esteem and I felt ashamed.
Years later, in my late 30's, I sat in a room with an assessor being tested for dyslexia. When going through his findings he just dropped into his sentence 'Yeah, and your IQ is perfectly fine.'
I nearly fell off my chair. Trying not to cry I said to him, 'I've spent my whole adult life thinking I was stupid'. Tears are even rolling down my face as I write it. I feel sad that I spent so many years being so cruel to myself.
As you read this it's quite likely that failing some A-levels or not having dyslexia picked up is not your story, but I'm pretty sure most people can relate to living with harsh and negative thoughts towards themselves for whatever reason.
There's plenty of other parts of my story that added to my negative thoughts about myself and I'm sure you'll have plenty of your own stories too.
It's not a raw story for me to tell anymore, and lack of confidence doesn't cripple me like it used to. I've done a lot of looking at myself, talking, exploring what was going on for me, working it through, and achieving things I didn't think were possible. Getting my degree meant the world to me, and proving my negative thoughts wrong in various ways has brought healing.
Proving myself wrong has made a massive difference, but in order to prove myself wrong I had to create (with the help of others), some better thought patterns. I had to chose to believe in myself.
I hadn't planned this blog to be so personal - I just wanted to write about affirmations as I've been feeling inspired about them.
Using affirmations literally has the potential to change our thought patterns and impact our behaviours. They are simple, massively effective and completely free. What's not to love!
Where have the negative thoughts come from?
There are all sorts of reasons people start thinking negatively about themselves. Here are a few examples:
- Maybe you've picked up a voice inside your head, or had a label put on you by others. It could be a parent or care-giver when growing up, a teacher or classmate, a fellow colleague, anything that other people said to you or about you.
- A conclusion you came to about yourself based on your understanding and assessment of a situation.
- From a label or diagnosis you've been given by a professional.
- What society as a whole left you feeling if you didn't fit into it's norms, cultural expectations or what the media portrayed as acceptable.
- Areas in life you feel you have failed in (the fact that failure is an incredible means of growth, learning and development is often pushed under the carpet).
- Spending a lot of time in situations that highlight the areas you're not good at, as opposed to playing to your strengths.
Repeating negative patterns
It's loads easier to ponder all our negative bits; what we're not good at; what we've done wrong; our failings and the things we don't like about ourselves, than it is to focus on the good bits.
And by doing this we can create a self-fulfilling prophesy.
We think we can't do something, so we don't try, so then we end up not doing it. We think others are better qualified, so we don't put ourselves forward and then we'll never know, and interpret that as us being right about ourselves in the first place.
It's a downward spiral.
Each negative thought adds to the previous negative thought and they get harder and harder to shake off.
And it's likely to get worse and worse unless we try something different.
Side note: these negative patterns that we repeat often have a lot to teach us about ourselves. You can check out one of my previous blogs if you want to consider that more. It's definitely worth considering alongside finding positive ways to overcome them.
Creating new pathways
The things we do, our attitudes and behaviours, are the negative thoughts that are familiar are like the concrete path above - easy to walk on, the fastest, most comfortable journey. When we want to make new habits, in our mind or involving action, it's like creating a new path (you can see the start of one on the left of the photo). It might be slower and involve more effort, picking our feet up, maybe pushing through overgrowth. We may end up muddy or wet, and we may need to concentrate on what we're doing and where we're going more. The more that path is trodden, the easier it will become and a new path is established.
Affirmations are one of the ways we can create these new pathways in our brain - new thought patterns.
So what are affirmations?
Affirmations are positive statements that can help us challenge and overcome self-sabotaging and negative thoughts. When we repeat them often and believe them, we can start to make positive changes.
We can use them to:
- encourage ourselves
- remind ourselves of something
- motivate ourselves
- challenge ourselves
- help us with self-belief
- calm us down
- change the way we look at things
- increase our confidence
- improve our chances of a successful outcome
- build self-esteem
- control negative feelings
Here are some examples
- I did it before, so I can do it again
- I've come this far, so I can go a little further
- I'm doing better than I think
- I am capable
- I have amazing potential
- I will reap the rewards of my effort
- I'll feel good when I've done it
- I have a lot of strengths
- I am brave and courageous to try
- Brighter days will come
- It's not as bad as I think
- I deserve this
- I am enough
- I'm okay
- My future is bright
- I'm changing
What if I honestly don't believe what I'm saying?
There's a difference between what we feel and the facts. We may not feel we can, but it doesn't mean that it's true. We may not feel we have strengths, but it doesn't mean we don't.
Distinguish between feelings and facts.
We may not feel it's true now, but it doesn't mean it can't be true in the future.
Choosing to believe something can help create the energy to bring it into being.
Sometimes I've not done things because I haven't thought I was good enough. Then I've seen someone else doing that thing, and known I could do have done it better. (Not that l like to compare or measure myself against others, but I have slipped into that). And I've realised the only difference between them and me is that they've believed they could do it and got on with it, whilst I'm sitting in the corner too scared to try.
We can always adjust the statement a little to something we can believe, and change it as we grow in belief. For example, if we can't quite manage 'I have amazing potential', then maybe we could start with 'I have potential' then add in the 'amazing' at a later date.
It creates hope, and hope is a powerful thing.
Tips for success
- You can use affirmations that are already out there. Look on Google - I'm sure you'll find a multitude. But it can be better to write your own that are very specific to you.
- Being realistic and making them achievable is important and means you're more likely to succeed.
- Pick statements that are the opposite of the negative thoughts. If you really believe you can't then pick an 'I can' statement.
- Keep it positive. If someone is trying to lose weight and says: 'I won't eat that, I need to lose weight', this sounds like hard work and focuses on the nice thing that's being missed out on. But if instead it was said: 'I'm really looking forward to being a little slimmer' it creates a good feeling. There's an excitement there about the end result and how it will feel, and that's far more motivating.
- Always start with an 'I'. You'll be speaking to yourself about yourself. I am... I can.... I will... etc.
- Use them alongside visualisations. Imagining the place where you want to get to means the dream can spur you on.
- Use them alongside goal setting. Where do you want to be? How or what do you want to change? What do you want to think? How are you going to get there? Then pick affirmations that will help you and motivate you.
- Write them in the present tense. You might not feel you're quite there in believing them yet, but write as if they're already happening. I am strong. I am equipped. I am able.
- Write them down or print them out. Have them where you can see them. Think them. Say them out loud. Say them with feeling, like you believe it. If you feel able to, then tell them to others. Drum the message home to yourself.
- Repeat, repeat, repeat.
- Refresh them regularly. You don't have to stick with the same ones all the time. Adjust them according to what will be most useful to you in the situation you're in.
Have a go
As you can probably tell, I'm really excited about affirmations. I'm excited about the potential they have. I'm excited at the thought of people turning their negative thought patterns and low self-esteem into self-belief that leads to positive change. It fills me with hope thinking about it.
Remember 'Rome wasn't built in a day' and 'The journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step'.
Like we exercise our body the muscles grow and it gets easier with practice, the same is true when exercising the mind. We're growing new muscles, forming new pathways in our brains. It's amazing that it's within our reach to do that. We can do it.
Be patient with yourself as you try a new attitude or behaviour, allow yourself time, enjoy the new places it will take you, and believe for the day it will become familiar and easier.
Think - what negative thoughts do you want to change and what will your affirmations be?
Good luck on your journey. I'm excited for you, and for myself as we develop this more.
As always feel free to give me a shout if you want help with working on any of this: your negative thoughts, low self-esteem, lack of confidence, creating new pathways or anything else this may have brought up for you.