A sceptic’s guide to affirmations
Affirmations get a mixed reception; some people rely in part on their positive vibes for their happiness and wellbeing, while others reject them as mindful mumbo-jumbo.
SO WHAT ARE THEY?
‘Affirmations are statements that cultivate or reinforce strengths, values or actions we desire to manifest’, says chartered psychologist, yoga teacher, health coach and author of The Self-Care Revolution, Suzy Reading. ‘The most powerful affirmations are personal, specific, framed positively and in the present tense.’
They’re designed to help structure the mind during meditation, especially for those who struggle to clear it of thoughts. Focusing on positive thoughts, rather than getting distracted, helps the mind from wandering.
‘Just as the eyes are designed to see, the mind is designed to think, so rather than trying to clear the mind, which is a tall order for even seasoned meditators, it can be more helpful to anchor it on constructive thoughts,’ says Reading.
‘I use affirmations to harness the power of the mind, to cultivate what we want rather than ruminate on what we don’t want. Having a set of affirmations to turn to can keep self-sabotaging thoughts and the inner critic at bay.’
They can focus on a range of things, like lifting moods to tapping into qualities like compassion, kindness, curiosity and gratitude, which help can help navigate times of stress and anxiety.
HOW LONG HAVE THEY BEEN AROUND?
Though gaining traction in recent years, as the west has welcomed much of the east’s philosophy and lifestyle, affirmations are comparable to the ancient practice of mantra.
While mantra is sacred in nature and focus around words, sounds or invocations that develop concentration, deepen meditation and can facilitate connection with a higher power, affirmations are more motivational. The concept of was made popular by Louise Hay in You Can Heal Your Life (1984) and The Secret (2006) by Rhonda Byrne. It’s also linked to the rise of neurolinguistic programming.
HOW CAN PEOPLE PRACTICE AFFIRMATIONS IN THEIR DAY TO DAY?
Affirmations can be repeated to one’s self, out loud or silently, or they can be written down.
‘Like any self-care practice’, says Reading, ‘they need to be tailored to the preferences and circumstances of the individual. They can be done anywhere, anytime. Whenever you want to connect with something personally galvanising, turn to affirmation. I particularly like to use them at the beginning of my day to set the scene. I use them throughout my day to focus and self-soothe. I also use them at the end of the day to disentangle from busyness and pave the way for sleep.’
She recommends pairing affirmations with other senses, like creating a complementary ritual with an affirmation, scent (like a room spray), breathing technique and posture.
HOW DO YOU KNOW WHAT TO SAY?
‘How do you want to feel?’, asks Reading. ‘Frame an affirmation around what you want to cultivate and repeat it or write it with intention. Or, better still, use your body to really set it into action. For example:
Yoga mountain breaths with ‘I am ready’
Yoga warrior lunge with ‘I am resilient’
Childs pose with ‘I soften into this moment’.
‘I am whole and perfect the way I am’
‘I am calm/resilient/courageous/resolute /strong/patient/resourceful…’
‘I am the architect of my life’
When my monkey mind wants to counter my affirmations, I revert to a simple ‘I AM’. That fact is irrefutable.’