by May Bleeker, 5 March 2009 (updated 14 July 2012)
Effective affirmations are easy to create if you know how. But sometimes people create them in a way that does not fit the simple rules of how they work. By mistake, they start to build new habits of thinking that are not necessarily better than their old habits were.
Here are some guidelines to follow, and also of some common errors to avoid:
To be useful, affirmations should be in the present tense.
Correct: I easily find and explore my talents. / I am easily finding and exploring my talents.
Incorrect: I will easily find and explore my talents.
'Will find' means you will find something in the future. But everything you do or experience is always experienced in the present. Even memories and plans are thought about in the present moment only - because that is where we live!
Using affirmations that are set in the future tense will only help you create a belief that what you seek will be found in the future. It defeats the purpose. You don't want to find it in the future. You want to find it in your present.
Your aim is to build a belief that you can access what you need in the present. Using affirmations in the present tense will help you do this.
Effective Affirmations are in the first person.
Correct: I experience joy and love in my life.
Incorrect: Joy and love are all around.
There is actually nothing wrong with: Joy and love are all around. It is a lovely statement. But it does not relate directly to you. Working with this affirmation cannot do any harm, but if you want to experience more joy and love in your life, using affirmations that include you, in the first person ("I") will be more effective.
Effective affirmations are positive statements.
Correct: I am developing my ability to communicate well.
Incorrect: I won't freeze up on stage anymore.
In building new habits of thinking you want to emphasize the positive, not the negative. Instead of focusing on what you don't want (freeze up on stage) focus on what you do want (to communicate well). If you keep repeating what you don't want, you will just keep getting what you don't want.
Effective affirmations do not include words like: don't, won't, am not, am stopping etc. They are always worded in a positive way, with a focus on the behaviour or quality that you wish to have in your life.
Sometimes you might want to work with an affirmation for something that you want, but don't feel you have. In other words, you come up with an affirmation that you don't necessarily 'believe'.
For example, say you are dealing with a physical imperfection or visible difference. You might choose an affirmation to work with that deals with physical attractiveness, such as:
I am becoming more physically attractive.
But you might find it hard to 'believe' this statement if you have an issue with your appearance.
While I personally think that affirmations you don't 'believe' still have some effect, it is not an efficient way of using affirmations. Here's the reason why.
Whenever you repeat the statement that you don't believe:
I am becoming more physically attractive.
- your mind responds with what you do currently believe e.g.:
Oh, thats not true, I'm not physically attractive because of xyz.
This means your original negative belief (I'm not physically attractive) pops up each and every time you repeat the positive affirmation. Every time you reinforce the new belief, you reinforce the old belief at the same time! A waste of your effort!
It is much more effective to work with a statement that you can believe, even if it tackles the issue from the side instead of head on.
For example you might choose something like:
I accept my physical appearance more and more each day.
Working with this affirmation and internalizing it may bring about changes in your attitudes towards yourself that makes it easier to accept and appreciate yourself exactly as you are right now.
Accepting yourself more fully brings you one step closer to feeling physically more attractive. When it no longer seems unbelievable you can start working with: I am becoming more physically attractive. And see where that leads!
The more 'heart' you can put into your affirmations, the greater their impact will be. In other words, the more you can feel it and believe it - the more effective affirmations are.
Your mind is a busy place. Working with effective affirmations is something like dropping pebbles in a stream in order to change the direction of the flow. Persevere long enough and you will see some change. But it took time to become who you are. And it takes time to change habits that have built up over years.
There is a danger of thinking of affirmations as 'tools' or 'levers' that you can pull and hey-ho-presto a new you will appear! It doesn't. You are always who you are in this very moment. If you expect something else you will be disappointed.
Appreciating who you are right now, without changing anything, is quite a crucial step towards well-being. I don't think you can experience happiness without this. That being said: our attitudes, beliefs and actions are merely habits. And changing your habits means changing how you respond in this moment. If this will change your life for the better - go for it!
I've also found that meditation is a powerful catalyst for change. I somehow doubt that my work with affirmations would have been as effective if I had not been practicing meditation at the same time. I add this as a thought as I wish to present the full picture and the success I've had with affirmations I believe is also partly due to the effects that meditation has had on my mental 'busy-ness'.
Sometimes I make lists of the affirmations I am working on - in my diary or elsewhere. I enjoy coming across them later, seeing how my life has changed in line with the affirmations. In some cases it has taken years, but there is always evidence of how the affirmations have taken effect. I wish you the same success!
Click here for more guidance on how to use affirmations.