Affirmations can work for some people, but there’s a catch. The effectiveness of an affirmation depends on how you feel about yourself when you utter a positive self-statement.
Psychological researcher Joanne V. Wood at the University of Waterloo in Canada discovered that a person's level of self-esteem determines whether a positive affirmation will be psychologically acceptable. If you already have high self-esteem, a statement such as "I am lovable" fits with your world-view. If you don’t feel good about yourself, you will resist the idea. It contradicts your self-perception. Instead of helping you feel better, the affirmation will take you down. If you suffer from low self-esteem when you say, "I am lovable," what happens? You start an argument with the voice inside your head. "Who am I kidding? Look at what happened with my ex-boyfriend? He really dumped on me. I always pick the wrong guy. Oh – those are negative thoughts! I can't do this right. See, I'm hopeless, and probably unlovable, too!"
Dr. Wood also found that accepting–and not judging–contradictory thoughts was key. A non-judgmental attitude towards the process was beneficial for both low and high self-esteem individuals. It turns out that the struggle against contradictory thoughts –and berating yourself for not staying positive–reinforced negative self-esteem.
This research provides guidance on how to use affirmations effectively. Here are five tips:
Start with a positive statement that isn't a huge stretch
If you’re worried that you will run out of money at the end of the month, repeating “I have a million dollars in the bank,” will not help. Instead of creating a sense of positive expectancy around your finances, you will be more aware of how large the gap is between what you have and what you want. Instead, try something like: “I have more than enough money to support me today. I feel so good to have bus fare in my purse, and more! I am grateful that Spirit is providing the things I need to live an abundant life today.”
Put yourself in a good mood before you repeat affirmations
Focus on something that makes you feel good to raise your vibration before you start your practice. You could look at a photo of a loved one, or a pet, or something you find beautiful. Let yourself enjoy the good feeling, then repeat your affirmations. Ten affirmations are good, a hundred is better. It’s important to do this daily.
Let go and do not judge contradictory thoughts
If contradictory thoughts intrude on your affirmations, pause and take a deep breath. Inhale fully and feel the breath expand the lungs. Then, on your exhalation, let go of the thought. If you’re having difficulty letting go, you can tell the thought: “I don’t need you right now. Good-bye!” Feel your muscles relax, and return to your affirmations.
If you are still struggling with affirmations, stop. Mindfulness meditation is a better option for you.
Meditation instruction will train you to let go of these thoughts, without judgement, and center yourself. If you haven’t meditated before, it’s very helpful to start with a group. There are many free meditation classes; sometimes they are offered at the public library or a local community center. If it is not convenient for you to sit with a group, you could try a guided meditation. Most well-known meditation teachers have free podcasts or tracks to download. Another great option is to use a meditation timer app for your phone or tablet. Insight Timer (insighttimer.com) is a free app that is quite popular and used by an international community of meditators from many different traditions.
Affirmations too easy? Go big!
If you’ve incorporated many modalities into your spiritual practice–meditation, journaling, yoga–and you’re feeling that affirmations are effective for you . . . take the next step! Move beyond “positive self-statements” and create affirmations that are blessings for those around you. Claim perfect health for the delivery person. Affirm the kindness of your child’s teacher. Acknowledge and praise the beauty of a spring day.
The greatest reward is when you use affirmations to create a sacred mental space. This is the gateway to something deeper and more profound. Some call it spiritual mind treatment, some call it communing with the Universe, some call it prayer. Here’s one that has always worked for me:
(Say:) The Spirit within me makes all things new. Every negative thought or condition is erased from my experience. I am aware of my union with Good. I am conscious of my Oneness with Life. I expect more happiness and more harmony than ever before! I walk in the joy of ever increasing Good!
Maryjane Osa, PhD, is a sociologist, speaker, and educator. She is writing a book about the "spiritual but not religious" cultural trend in American society. She is a spiritual practitioner working in the New Thought tradition.