Affirmations Demystified – a helping hand for the hopeful.

You’ve probably heard of affirmations, but not everyone agrees how to make them work. What is really going on?

Essentially, an affirmation is a carefully constructed statement that you repeat to yourself in order to create a positive change.

The idea of creating change through affirmations comes from the ‘positive thinking’ movement and is a fairly old idea. However, few people can agree on how this seemingly magical phrase should be worded. The most commonly stated criteria are that it should be:

  • present tense
  • positive
  • personal
  • specific.

However, there are certain difficulties with creating effective affirmations. That’s not surprising because, in essence, you’re supposed to tell yourself something that isn’t yet true.

Let me give you an example. Let’s talk about Mildred. Mildred weighs about 300 pounds and wants to lose weight. So she stands in front of her mirror and says “I weigh 200 pounds and look great”. That is the intended affirmation. However, she knows deep down that this isn’t true and her internal voice says something like “Oh no you don’t. You’re a big fat liar”. This is the actual affirmation.

Think about it like this: If someone in the supermarket told Mildred that she weighed 200 pounds and looked great, she would probably smack them in the mouth. It’s just not believable to her.

So if you do affirmations that way, you may spend a lot of time beating yourself up.

Each of us has a ‘reality strategy’ – in essence, a way of knowing what is real and what is not. We can stretch this a bit (expand our comfort zones through a learning experience) but if something falls too far outside that statement of reality, we reject it as untrue. This is a completely normal and healthy mechanism which prevents us from believing the most outrageous things too readily.

Is the solution to make an affirmation about a very small change? Probably not, because affirmations that stretch your reality just a little bit will run the risk of being underwhelming. And – let’s face it – if you were desperate to make tiny changes in your life, you’d probably skip talking to yourself about it and just do the thing.

So how can we use affirmations for something useful? Read on.

Reality Sandwich

In one sense, an affirmation is a form of self-hypnosis. It’s a suggestion you make to yourself that you want your unconscious mind to accept as a directive or as a new ‘truth’. That sounds like self-hypnosis to me.

So how do you make a more useful affirmation that is acceptable to your unconscious mind?

There’s a three part structure in hypnosis that is often referred to as the ‘baloney sandwich’. It goes like this:

  1. I am/have X
  2. I don’t want (to be) X
  3. I want (to be) Y

So Mildred would say “I weigh 300 pounds. I don’t want to weigh 300 pounds. I want to weigh 200 pounds and feel great.”

So how does this work? It’s like a form of hypnotic goal-getting. Let’s break it down:

You start by stating where you currently are. This is completely acceptable to your unconscious mind because it is verifiably true. (Hypnotists call this a pacing statement).

You finish by stating where you want to be instead. This is also verifiably true because you do want that. So you are ‘pacing’ the outcome too and you’ve set up the change as a journey with reasonable starting and finishing conditions.

Next, the structure contains the basis for motivation. The middle statement “I don’t want X” is affirming that you want to change from the current state of affairs – engaging your natural motivation to move away from unpleasant things. The final part contains the positive component of your motivation – the thing you want to move towards – especially if it contains how you will feel when you get there. In Mildred’s case, the towards motivation was to ‘feel great’.

Will your mind accept this chain of suggestion as an affirmation? If it’s all completely true and you’re sincere, it certainly will work.

Going deeper

When most people encounter ‘tips, tricks and hacks’ that sound suspiciously like pop-psychology wisdom, they tend to ignore them and walk away. Most of the time, this is a good idea. However, my advice is to take the time to look beyond the surface. If you go deeper into the idea of affirmations, you will find something more profoundly useful: well-structured self-hypnotic suggestions and ways you can choose the rules of your reality.

Choose your methods carefully – you could stand at the mirror and lie to yourself or you could instead affirm a deeper truth than you ever imagined.

You decide.

Affirmations Demystified - a helping hand for the hopeful. by

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