An Introduction to Affirmations
Rerouting Automatic Negative Thinking with Positive Affirmations
When my counselor first suggested using affirmations to better my mood, I did not agree with the idea. I thought, “If I’m already in a shit mood, how is lying to myself an being blindly positive going to help at all? I’ll feel so fake doing that.” After some further discussion of those points, I realized just how wrong I had it.
Affirmations are not lies, nor are they statements of blind positivity. Affirmations are truths that you define for yourself, and they are used to reinforce the idea of positivity as a way to prevent automatic negative thinking.
Okay, great, I understood then. But what is automatic negative thinking? I was unaware of how often I defaulted to self-deprecating thoughts and conclusions in nearly everything I did. For example:
The question, “Why was this person mad at me?” was answered with, “Because I must have done something wrong.”
The tasks I failed to complete during the workday were met at the end of the day with, “I’m a bad worker. Look at everything I failed to do.”
If I had a bad day, for whatever reason, I’d wake up the next day thinking, “Yesterday sucked. Today’s probably going to suck to and there’s nothing I can do about it. That’s just how my life is.”
Other peoples’ successes were met in my own mind with, “Look at how great everyone else is. I’ll never achieve that.”
I could go on with examples of how I fell victim of automatic negative thinking, but these were the instances that I found were most common in myself. The worst part of them was not their inherent negativity, however. The worst part was that I was unaware that this was a problem.
Once we identified that my automatic negative thinking was an issue resulting in emotional spiraling, self-hate, depressed mood, etc., we could define it and then discover what part it played in my daily life. I discovered that my automatic negative thinking was a survival tactic my brain used to protect myself from further pain. I used it subconsciously to lower my standard of life so that further disappointments and negative emotions would have less of an impact on my mood. This was a very unhealthy way of dealing with difficult emotions. This method of self-protection nearly ruined my ability to think positively about anything, again because my default had become self-deprecating thoughts instead of something more supportive in nature. We now had this automatic negative thinking pinned; we knew that it was an issue, we discovered how it played a part in my life, and we saw the effects it had on my mental health. It was at that moment that I learned the importance of affirmations and how creating them and using them could reroute this automatic negative thinking.
But, how do I create affirmations and how do I use them to achieve this goal?
Let’s first look at creating affirmations. I define affirmations as ‘emotionally supportive statements that promote strength and happiness in the self or another person.’ Regardless of whether you’re creating these affirmations for yourself or another person, it’s important to remember that they need to be specific. They need to speak to you or that other person on a deep level that makes you or that other person feel supported, strong, and happy. In short, I believe affirmations are most effective when they…
- Are specific to the person using them.
- Are honest.
- Have direction.
If you’re creating these for yourself, be mindful of the things that cause you frustration or sadness throughout your day. What kind of negative things are you saying about yourself and when are you saying those things? From there, you can create effective affirmations that will turn those negative thoughts into positive ones. I know this all sounds pretty vague, but I’ll provide some examples later that will hopefully create more context.
If you’re thinking of affirmations you could use to help someone close to you, try to think back on the times that person has confided in you for support. What are the subjects they’re comfortable talking about? In your eyes, as someone close to them, what do you think would make them happy to hear from you? It’s very difficult to put yourself in another person’s shoes, especially if you can’t really relate to the issues they’re going through. That being the case, try to avoid any statements that could be taken as “constructive criticism” and err on the side of more general supportive statements.
Here are some examples of affirmations I’ve used with myself, some of which I still use almost every day:
“You are worth it.”
“Today is a new day, and you have every opportunity to make it a good one.”
“You are a work in progress, and failure is okay because you can learn from it.”
“Your mistakes are a part of you, they are what give you the experience to be a better person for tomorrow.”
“You have the ability to be positive and happy in every moment.”
The key when making these for yourself or even another person is to word them in a way that doesn’t put unnecessary pressure on you or them. You want each message to be positive and instill strength and confidence in you or that other person.
Using these affirmations to reroute the automatic negative thinking that I’d become so used to doing was difficult at first. I started by appending one to sentences in my journal entries immediately following a negative thought. For example, if I wrote about the bad day I had yesterday I would continue the sentence and say something like, ‘but today is a new and I’m going to make it better than yesterday,’ or, ‘that was yesterday and I’m not going to dwell on the past.’ Personally I enjoy some kind of action or direction in the affirmations that I use for myself; they help to keep me pumped up about the self-care I’m doing.
After a few weeks I noticed that the positive affirmations that I used to append to my negative journal entries started to become the main focus of my journaling. I began defaulting to positive statements instead of the negative ones because the affirmations just made me feel so much better about myself and my situation. Fast forward to now, those negative thoughts rarely occur to me, even in my mind, and even less so in my journal. The positive thinking is now my default. That’s not to say I’m never negative though. I still have times where I think negatively about my day or about myself, but now I take that as a further learning experience on my path of self-healing. My negativity is objective, and I do not let it affect my mood or my perspective like I used to.
So to recap; my automatic negative thinking was defaulting my perspective to thoughts that only made my state of depression worse. The identification of this led my counselor and I to create some positive affirmations that I could use to reroute those negative thoughts to positive ones. My method of doing that was slowly introducing those affirmations into my journaling, which was a space in which I felt I could be completely honest with myself about my emotions. Eventually, the introduction of those affirmations parallel to my automatic negative thoughts led to those negative thoughts not only being replaced on paper, but also in my mind.
This was a really important step in my journey for better mental health, and I think it’s something that every single person can use to become happier and healthier. Yes, it takes time and effort but all that work is an investment in yourself, and you are worth it.