Every morning when I wake up, one of the things I do is write an affirmation in my journal as part of practicing gratitude. An affirmation is basically a statement of what we want to be true in our lives. For instance, if you want to work on keeping your emotions in check (especially) in high-stress situations, you may write, “I am always in control of my emotions in any situation”. If you think your work is overwhelming or you think that your boss frustrates you, you may write, “Nothing affects me outside of the reasoned choices I make”. I am paraphrasing Muhammad Ali here that it’s only when we repeatedly believe something to be true (when it isn’t) that we have a deep conviction to change things from within.
We all have paradigms about things in life based on our conditioning. We see the world not for what it is, but the way we are. We see it through a lens based on our conditioning. I wrote in my draft on paradigms why simply changing our behaviors (what we do) is ineffective without examing the underlying belief system.
Here’s the thing: what we believe informs our behavior. Growing up, society conditions us to be and to act in a certain way, which may not always be to our benefit. Why do you think companies spend so much money on advertising? It would be naive to think that advertising is only about product awareness. It’s not. You see, hearing the same subliminal message repeated really works (for them!). We are not immune to advertising, despite what we may believe. Now, if you want to change those pre-programmed beliefs in your mind, that is where affirmations come in. Put simply, an affirmation is a way for us to change our beliefs by repetition.
So do affirmations even work? Well, apparently they do. Noted researcher, Alia Crum (along with others) famously did a study with hotel staff, where half of the participants were informed how much exercise they were getting as part of their daily work, whereas the other group was given no such information. Amazingly, a few weeks later, they found that the participants from the first group lost significantly more weight than their counterparts and felt better about their work overall even though both groups did the same amount of work and nothing else had changed in their physical environment.
She did another study (along with others), where patients in a hospital received injections. The first group of patients received the injections directly from the doctors, so they were more aware of it, while a second set of patients received the same injections through IV. They found that the first group recovered more quickly than the latter group, though nothing had changed in terms of medicine or dosage between the groups. When patients were aware of the treatment, the treatment was highly effective. When they weren’t aware, the treatment wasn’t as effective, and in some cases, didn’t make any difference.
So what do these studies have to do with having/using affirmations? Well, apparently, a lot. What this means for us is that we have the ability to change our mindset to get results quickly. I touched on this in my draft on achieving goals quickly by creating a shift in identity in our minds. In other words, we can prime our brains to think a certain way by believing the things that we want to be true in our lives. For instance, if you want to make a six-figure income, you might write an affirmation like, “I make $100,000 a year”. This is not to say that you don’t do the actual work — far from it. We need both positive intent and positive action to create the results in the long term.
Another example. Let’s say you want to work on being more healthy and fit. So you might write, “I am healthy, fit, and full of energy”, let’s say. Then, you put processes in place that will help you reach the goal. Thinking that you’re already there in terms of achieving goals combined with consistent action has a significantly greater effect than taking action alone. In other words, what we believe or think about the activity we do is what determines our body’s response. This is not to say that you don’t get any benefits from doing exercise or eating healthily, but their actual benefits may be overstated compared to the physiological or psychological benefits. Exercise is, ergo, a placebo in many ways.
If you have a sales job that entails regular field visits to customers, it can be difficult to have a dedicated exercise routine. In this case, you can think of your work lifestyle as a way of exercise because you’re already moving so much as part of doing your everyday work. Viewing your work as a healthy lifestyle that involves movement will likely have a greater effect on your health than simply moving every day. In other words, believing that you have an active lifestyle coupled with everyday movement will have a significantly greater effect than simply moving every day.
Many times, psychiatrists prescribe antidepressants to patients not necessarily because the patients need them, but because they act as a placebo that causes the patient to think they are getting better because of the medicine. In this case, whether the medicine actually works in helping the patient come out of depression (or what have you) remains to be seen.
Let me give you a personal example. My mother had chronic knee pain for some time. She was taking pain killers at regular intervals to give her some relief. Every time she would take the medicine, the pain would inevitably return after some time, thus making her consider the possibility of having a knee operation in the future to permanently get rid of the pain. During this time, she learned about the power of having a positive response in any situation, and how it was ultimately her choice to view any situation. When others would ask her about her knee, instead of complaining about the pain, she would reframe it and say that she was getting better (and she would actually believe it) coupled with some physical therapy. Guess what: within a couple of months of taking the last painkillers and not taking any after that, her knee recovered 80-90% without taking any medicine. In other words, because she believed she was getting better, it was her strong conviction combined with the physical therapy that worked for her. Granted, she didn’t write or have any affirmations, but she didn’t need to. She already believed in her mind that she was recovering. By the way, this is not to suggest that you stop taking medicine to recover from your health issues.
Most of us are skeptical about using affirmations and their positive effects on our lives (and rightly so!) because what we are affirming does not yet exist, and we feel our minds resisting it. We know that the statement we are writing isn’t true yet, so we just don’t believe what others are saying. That said, affirmations give us a chance to view our dreams becoming a possibility in the future. So, rather than asking what if it doesn’t work, ask yourself what if it does. Instead of asking, why will this work, ask yourself how will you make it work. It all depends on how you see it. Choosing a positive response goes a long way. When things are not working, figure out a way to make them work instead of complaining about them. This is what the army officers are trained to do. How you see a half-filled glass is your choice.
Gary Keller, founder and chairman of Keller Williams Realty, has famously said:
“If I’ve learned anything in life, it is that if you believe something is possible, you tend to focus on the constructive means necessary to make that possibility a reality. I’ve also learned to believe the opposite. If you don’t think something is possible, then you will be blinded to the ways it could be done. It’s like a self-imposed blind spot”.
So how do we use affirmations in our lives? Well, it starts with writing a positive “I am…” statement. The key is of course to write it in the present tense as if it is already true. For instance, when you find yourself worrying about things, you may write this affirmation (and believe), “I am too large for worry, too noble for anger, too strong for fear, and too happy to permit the presence of trouble”. This comes from Christian D. Larson, American New Thought leader and teacher.
What are the things you want to have true in your life? Take a minute every morning to write down an affirmation for each area of your life (start with health, work, and relationships). For instance, if you want to take more vacations, you may write, “I take a mini vacation every quarter”. If you want to be in a healthy relationship, you may write, “I am in a beautiful and healthy relationship”. Or, if you want to be totally present with your friends and family to spend quality time with them, you can write, “I am always fully present in the moment with whoever I am”. If you want to have a successful business, you may write, “I have a healthy seven-figure business that gives me the discretionary time I need to do things outside of work”, let’s say. If you need help sleeping and waking at the same time each day, make that an affirmation. Instead of seeing it as a struggle, write it down as an affirmation: “I sleep and arise at the same time every day”.
Here are some other affirmations you can consider for different areas of your life:
- I live with purpose.
- I am grateful to be alive and well.
- I am in a loving and passionate relationship.
- I am comfortable in my own skin.
- I am always in control of my emotions.
- I am driven by values, not feelings.
- My calendar is not monotonous but rhythmic.
- I make a healthy seven figures a year in my work.
- I am the kind of person who exercises every day and eats healthy most of the time.
When we write out these daily affirmations, we are basically priming our minds to build these beliefs in our minds. Then, it’s a matter of being consistent, which will help you to create that change from within.
As a result of writing down affirmations, we may be more optimistic toward life. It increases our field of perception and we notice more opportunities than we might otherwise. We are more likely to succeed in life. Part of the reason I think affirmations work is because you’re focused on those things in a sea of distractions, so you’re more likely to achieve your goals.
When it’s all said and done, it’s the self-limiting beliefs that we have about the way the world works that keep us from living larger. Ultimately, it’s our beliefs that determine our attitudes, which in turn determines our actions. Having affirmations is what helps us change our beliefs.